For the past few years, I've gotten heavy into journaling. Like clockwork, every year I spend way too much money on a bunch of pens, washi tape, and a Hobonichi Techo, a Japanese brand of planner that's well-regarded for some reason (it has nice paper) in the journal-blogger community. (On Instagram, I follow probably a hundred Hobonichi fans for inspiration.) I don't remember quite how I fell into it, but I did. As someone who's always wanted to be crafty but never had the skill for it beyond sloppy scrapbooking, journaling scratched that itch.
Nintendo Labo is a new cardboard D.I.Y. playkit for the Nintendo Switch, a long ways away from the obsolete Wii Vitality Sensor. The project is aimed towards kids (or crafty adults) and encourages building creative structures using cardboard, a biodegradable material that's much better than the alternative of plastic. The things built range from mini-RC cars to interactive birds that flap their wings to a lo-fi 360-degree, VR-esque headset that amounts to an extra elaborate version of Google Cardboard. In just its short trailer, nearly a dozen projects are shown, showing the breadth of the D.I.Y. hardware.
After the costly toys-to-life era has slowed to a near-stop with the ends of Lego Dimensions and Disney Infinity, and Skylanders taking a hiatus this past year (ironically, Nintendo's Amiibos have lasted the longest—though people like them more for being figures than actual things that interact with games), there has been a void left in their wake. Nintendo Labo, being more cost-effective and recyclable, has substantial potential in the peripherals-geared-towards-kids space. As reported by The Guardian, if something breaks, people can just buy a replacement—or stretch their D.I.Y. talents with some tape and glue to make amendments.
In addition, Nintendo will be selling their own sticker packs, stencils, and something only I, a disgusting collector of too much of the following will be hyped for: washi tape. Of course, this being cardboard and all, customization won't be limited to Nintendo-branded items. I'm sure once the Nintendo Labo is in the clutches of players everywhere, we'll some exciting, wildly decorated things. As someone with some very creative younger cousins, I'm excited to see what sorts of ways they'd decorate the variants of cardboard things to stick JoyCons and the Switch tablet into.
The Nintendo Labo, overall, may seem like a risky prospect on the surface. For me, it feels warmly familiar though. It hosts the sort of experimentation that's been in the independent scene of games all along. For instance, every year at the Game Developer's Conference, I walk the floor of the small section of Alt.Ctrl.GDC, a hub for experimental games. The games are usually a mixture of Arduinos hooked up to weird items. In fact, last year there was even a game where players sat in a cardboard box and controlled a space ship by leaning around. The Nintendo Labo, while there are no Arduinos in sight, doesn't need 'em. It has the Switch to pave the way instead, to be its interactive core. It's experimental play, like those I've seen among Alt.Ctrl.GDC for years, made mainstream and, best of all, accessible. It's the sort of silly experience that I can see other developers (and D.I.Y. crafters) building on in the future to come for the peripheral.
For the launch of the Nintendo Labo though, the games that utilize the blueprints for the make-your-own things might end up being shallow—like the probable pond for the fishing minigame. Yet, as more inevitably releases for it and players figure out ways to warp D.I.Y. things for other games—such as possibly using the giant VR-adjacent robot build for Arms; I'm just throwing it out there man—Nintendo Labo can shape up to be more than just an odd experiment or another failure like toys-to-life.
At the center, it's an ecological step forward for Nintendo—a smart step forward, in a time where global warming is dooming humanity's continued existence more and more every day. Just as Pinterest feeds into the interest of D.I.Y. enthusiasts everywhere with just a virtual collage, the Nintendo Switch can feed that directly by being a console that needs little else to support its more creative whims. No hacking, no breaking, nothing limited by the processing power of the Nintendo Switch: just imagination, some cardboard, and some strings; and we're blessed with the knowledge that it won't be clogging up a dump somewhere, someday.