Read our full Nintendo Labo review here. Go on, treat yourself.
The beauty of Nintendo is that they put fun at the heart of everything that they do. Whereas the mainstream AAA video game industry has been ploughing along the same homogenous path for years now – more graphics, more power, it’s not a game it’s a “service” etc. – Nintendo has never lost its Nintendo way. Their products have always felt like toys in the best possible way – the Wii’s wand-like controller, the snap clasp of the DS consoles, literally just Amiibos, and now: Nintendo Labo.
More specifically, we’re talking about the RC (remote controlled) Car, arguably the flagship Toy-Con of Labo’s initial launch line-up. It’s the most straightforward build, taking 10-15 minutes, and gives you a great crash course in how the software and cardboard interact. Using the either Joy-Con or the Switch’s touchscreen you can move forwards and backwards through the (sometimes wearyingly) comprehensive instructions which do a good job of making it very clear which cardboard pieces you need and where they should be going.
A word of caution however: it’s always worth checking which way each particular cardboard fold should go, getting it wrong can potentially mess you up and, in a stunning reversal that’s sure to catch many gamers by surprise, the cardboard is real life – ain’t no reloads here.
In no time at all I had my very own RC car looking all cute and beetle-like. I was inordinately proud of myself. The next step for any self-respecting Labo-rer (we’ll go back to drawing board with that one) was decorating. Labo heavily emphasises customisation and making everything you do your own, from exterior cosmetics to the coding functionality housed in the “Discover” section (read our full review for the lowdown on that, but let’s just say that if you’ve ever wanted the ability to program a cardboard fishing rod to control a cardboard remote controlled car then you’re in luck, you weirdly niche person). Ultimately, it’s really hard to overstate the sense of achievement and attachment you end up building with your cardboard friends.
A quick 5 minutes later and I was the proud owner of THE BOWSCAR. I continued to be excessively proud of myself; if you think it’s easy making Bowser’s luscious locks out of pipe cleaners then I can’t even tell you how wrong you are, buddy. I could probably have spent the entire day customising and designing – adding supporting splints to the legs for extra strength, gluing a lance (note: a pencil) to the front to act as a joust for battle, putting stabilisers in the back to help with drift, using one of the extra items like the elephant mask that comes with the Labo kit to bolster the front of the car, equipping a miniature flamethrower in the front to stay in character… the possibilities are endless! But there was actual play to be having.
Playing is a case of fitting your Joy-Cons into either side of the car and making them vibrate using buttons on the Switch’s tablet screen which makes the car move. It’s genuinely impressive and surprising in that weird and wonderful way that Nintendo has perfected over the years (and doubly impressive was how sturdy the whole thing felt, these things may be made of cardboard but there’s no flimsiness here).
They’re also really good for pranking your cats:
The surprises didn’t end there though – I quickly found a sub menu with a live camera feed from the infrared sensor on the right-side Joy-Con (!) which you can view in either heat or night vision, and below that was a bell which triggers a timer with dramatic battle music for fights. For something so ostensibly simple, there’s a crazy amount of tools for customisation and potential play.
Invariably this all meant only one thing: a sumo wrestle. Using sticky tape to crudely mark out a ring on the table, the Bowscar (a.k.a. The People’s Champion, a.k.a. The Ultimate Rage Boy, a.k.a. The Monster of the Mushroom Kingdom) took on a couple of chumps resulting in a resounding victory where I very slowly managed to push the other RC Car up against the tapeline. Hey, a win is a win right? Overall, it was good, goofy, fun and more than demonstrated the RC Car’s playtime potential (for example, you can also control two different sets of Joy-Cons from the same Switch console if you want to set up some race tracks at home).
Frankly, I would quite happily buy the RC Car kit by itself and I really can’t wait to see what crazy designs and modifications people come up with over the next few weeks and months. And, if anyone fancies a pop at the Sumo World Championship title, come give the Bowscar a call…