On Tuesday, January 16, nobody knew what the heck a "Labo" is. On Thursday, January 18, it's the main topic of discussion on gaming sites and game-related social media. Life comes at you fast, as the kids say.
People have been approaching the news about Nintendo's series of cardboard construction kits with the cautious curiosity of cats stealing up on an unknown object:
"What is it?"
"What's it do?"
"Who's it for?"
"I like this!"
"I hate this."
Once we all knew what the heck was going on, Twitter lit up with responses. People with kids generally seem excited, as Labo is clearly engineered to be best enjoyed with an adult and a kid working side-by-side. Oh, and there are jokes, of course. Lots of jokes. Like this Tweet from champion sihtposter Pixelated Boat, which I'm still not over 24 hours later:
Wow, Nintendo is betting big on cardboard pic.twitter.com/9h2mcANNW9— pixelated boat (@pixelatedboat) January 18, 2018
There's also plenty of snark and cynicism to go around, coupled with the suggestion Nintendo's got a racket going by charging $69.99 USD for "a cardboard box."
The genius of Nintendo: $69 for a cardboard box. (And some software it seems). pic.twitter.com/sJmiXTOFzC— Geoff Keighley (@geoffkeighley) January 17, 2018
Truthfully, The Labo's price tag might prove the biggest hindrance to the gimmick's wide-spread success—but not for the reasons you may believe.
Nintendo needs to sell two different audiences on Labo. The first audience consists of established Nintendo Switch owners, especially game-loving moms and dads who enjoy playing with their kids. That's the easy sell, and by all available accounts, $69.99 is a fair price for Labo's Variety Kit. There are already some hands-on impressions of Labo from UK-based publications like The Telegraph, and they praise Labo as a weird but wonderful marrying of complex "software" and simple "hardware." While there's some worry about the cardboard wearing down with repeated use, the test-players don't project any indication of feeling uneasy about the Variety Kit's $69.99 tag.
"[The Labo piano is]one of the most complex and time-consuming builds, but it is quite the thing," writes The Telegraph's Tom Hoggins. "The keys are chunky and responsive, with the proper resistance at each press. The Switch sits in the middle, belting out each keystroke you make in perfect time. Run your fingers across the whole board and it rings out a perfect glissand." That's not an achievable feat with crummy cereal box cardboard.
I can't make any final judgements until I try Labo myself, but the impressions make me feel confident in saying, "Yes, this kooky new thing from Nintendo is definitely worth the asking price if you're a Switch owner with a curious kid, or if you're just an adult in search of a simple but fulfilling art project."
But Nintendo's not interested in what I think of Labo. It wants to know what people who generally don't play games think of it. Just earlier this week, Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima told Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun he intends to expand the Switch's audience in 2018. Labo is obviously a key player in that plan.
It's a risky one, too: $299 USD for a Nintendo Switch plus $69 or $79 USD for Labo is a big expense to swallow for "people who barely touch game consoles," the audience Kimishima is trying to court in the coming year. The Wii, a system that attracted a lot of non-gamers, cost $250 USD, and it was bundled with the much-publicized Wii Sports. $250 is "Eh, I'll try this" money. $370 isn't.
We'll have to wait and see if Labo sales meet expected sales (and target demographics). Nintendo's tough to get a read on these days: It's become very good at surprising us. Just a year ago today, we were hemming and hawing over whether the Switch would have a chance with its $299 USD price tag. Well, we have our answer.
Even if Labo does bomb out, at least most of its components are biodegradable. I don't want to think about how many Spyro figurines are buried in dumps around the world, all doomed to scream silently for a death that will never come.