Nintendo Labo review: When toys come to life

The Nintendo Labo is unlike anything you've ever done with a video game accessory and yet, once it's put together it's hard to imagine life without it.

When Nintendo announced the cardboard accessory earlier this year, it generated a lot of interest. I mean, $70 or $80 for some cardboard? People were asking, "Can't I just use an old box laying around my house and get the same result?" The answer is a resounding "no." After playing with both the Variety Kit and the Robot Kit, it's a remarkable achievement by Nintendo and its target market of younger children is perfect, even if adults wind up having more fun than expected.

Getting people to think, build and be creative is what the joy of playing video games should be about. It's not always about unlocking achievements or getting the highest score. It's a sense of enjoyment and escapism and the Labo provides that in spades.

Nintendo was kind enough to send me demo units for the Labo kits after inviting me to an event on February 1 (on my birthday no less!) and letting me get a greater feel for how they work and interact with the Nintendo Switch.

It's a great activity to do with your child and it's clear that Nintendo designed this to be a bonding experience for parents and kids.

I remember when I was young and my dad would play "Madden" with me. Those were some of the best moments of my childhood and Nintendo is trying to replicate that feeling with the Labo.

Nintendo Labo 2

 (With Nintendo Labo Robot Kit, you can build a wearable robot suit, including a backpack and visor, which allows you to assume control of a huge on-screen robot. Smash buildings and UFOs in Robot Mode, make sound effects using your Toy-Con Robot in Robo Studio or customize your in-game robot in the Hangar. (Photo: Business Wire))

Building is the battle

The first thing you'll notice is that the cardboard used isn't flimsy – it's pretty sturdy so you don't have to worry about tearing it.

Depending upon which set you have (at $70 for the variety kit and $80 for the robot kit, you may have to choose), building can take a while. 

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It took me about an hour or so for the variety kit and a little more than that for the robot set, so it's definitely something you need to take your time doing, but that's more than half the fun. The joy you get creating something and then putting your own spin on it, either by using markers or stickers or whatever you want to personalize it and show off your personality is a reward for a job well done.

There's been a lot of talk about adult coloring books providing therapy and de-stressing and this is Nintendo's version of that. It's almost therapeutic to just sit there, not worry about anything else for an hour or so and just build the piano, fishing rod, RC-cars, motorbike or house from the variety kit or the robot suit from the robot kit.

There is a suggested age of six on the kits, so if you have a child younger than that, it's definitely a job for a parent. But if your child is older than that, they can probably handle it themselves, but it's still fun to do with your child and provides a great way to be in their world for a little while.

The software that is provided with the Labo is super easy to use and teaches kids that they can go at their own pace. If you've ever had trouble building something (looking at you, Ikea), this is a reprieve from that. You can rotate the pictures to see how the creases are supposed to look or what piece of cardboard is supposed to interact with another. It's very user-friendly and innovative, like almost everything Nintendo puts its name to. I had no issues with the software.

Gaming gripes

The mini games that come with the Labo are just a shadow of what they could/should be, but you can see the potential there.

They're pretty basic games, like racing the motorcycle around the track or using the fishing rod to capture fish that give you certain amount of points. They aren't anything to write home about, but again, it's the building that is the great part of it.

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There is one set that can be hours and hours of fun, something incoming Nintendo CEO Shuntaro Furukawa alluded to Thursday when he said that he wanted to ensure the Labo is something customers can enjoy for a long period of time. It won't be confused with a Bösendorfer or a Steinway, but the piano has all the requisite keys to let you play any song you know or make up your own songs. It's a blast and it's something anyone who has ever played a piano can do, no gaming experience necessary.

The robot set is where things really start to get interesting, though. The minigame is terrific and I wish Nintendo had expanded it. It's on the path to being a magical feeling and it almost makes you feel like you are your favorite robot character come to life, punching buildings, flying in the air and shooting lasers from your body.

Final thoughts

After putting the various kits together and playing the video games Nintendo has shipped along with them, I felt like Andy from "Toy Story." My games and toys had come to life and I was interacting with them. It's that sense of wonderment, nostalgia and excitement that Nintendo continues to perfect after all these years.

The games might not stack up to the latest "God of War," "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" or even "Super Mario Odyssey" when it comes to graphics or game play intensity, but that's missing the point. The point is the journey and putting the Labo together and getting enjoyment out of it has that in spades.

So come on, it's time to play.

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia