Nintendo Labo makes me giddy with excitement and it deserves to be a big hit. It’s exactly the sort of creative risk-taking that Nintendo has made pay in recent years. But getting the message right is still key.
And that initial key video is pretty much perfect. It’s clever that the people featured are, as much as possible, ageless. They’re largely hidden or shot at long distances, there’s no one you could definitely identify as a child. Yes, there’s some colouring-in towards the end, but that long transcended kids as a leisure activity. The message is that Labo is for everyone.
It’s a long way from the somewhat cringe-inducing, wealthy, metropolitan millenials that Nintendo used to launch the Switch initially, with their rooftop parties and their gigantic dog.
Nintendo backs Labo’s universal appeal in its statement, with Nintendo of Europe’s president, Satoru Shibata, saying: “Our goal is to put smiles on the faces of everyone Nintendo touches. Nintendo Labo invites anyone with a creative mind and a playful heart to make, play and discover in new ways with Nintendo Switch. I personally hope to see many people enjoying making kits with their family members, with big smiles on their faces.”
So Labo is for everyone, but even then Nintendo recognises the potential of the new platform (for that’s what it is) as something that will bring families together, and put the Switch at the heart of creative projects.
In that respect it’s reminiscent of both Google’s Cardboard VR viewer, which was great fun with the kids, and also the creative, craft-aesthetic that Media Molecule’s Little Big Planet brought to the TV. Although, neither of those actually got their users away from a screen of course.
"So often we ask ‘will no one think of the children’ and the answer now is: Yes, Nintendo will think of the children and parents can rejoice"
And in a world which is in a panic about screen time the Labo is the perfect antidote. The screen is there, but it’s not the centre of attention, rather acting as a controller or simply providing feedback to your actions.
The Guardian’s Keza MacDonald, who got a hands-on with Labo, said: "It invites players to engage intellectually and creatively with the technology, and the careful process of building them makes for a more mindful toy than most digital entertainment, which will appeal to parents trying to moderate their kids’ screen time."
So often we ask ‘will no one think of the children’ and the answer now is: Yes, Nintendo will think of the children and parents can rejoice.
Or can they? For the cost of saving your child from a (supposed) screen-based hell is pretty steep. £280 for a Switch plus £60-odd pounds for Labo is the kind of pricing that will make force many parents to rethink just how bad that screen time is for them really.
Thankfully, then, a lot of Switch owners are already parents.
That millennial launch advert was designed to aim Switch at a broader, older audience than some of its consoles had reached, and while it was unlikely to have been overly effective, Switch has been a hit with an older demographic than most Nintendo consoles and even consoles in general – probably due to the nostalgia effect of the console selling to gamers who remember the company’s pre-Wii golden era. The SNES was launched in 1990 – so anyone who owned one then is likely to have kids by now (if they’re ever going to).
And if there’s a Switch and kids in the house already then Labo is a non-brainer. Sign them all up now for a copy, and watch Nintendo print money by printing cardboard.
It’s too early to say that the Labo is going to drive Switch consoles into homes in the way Wii Sports did. However, for families, and anyone who likes to build things and get creative, it’s yet another great reason for them to buy a Switch. And if it can use some of those scare stories about ‘screen time’ to sell a console that will then also let people play Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild, then all the better.