The games behind the cardboard: We finally know how Nintendo Labo will play


Wednesday night saw the reveal of a brand-new series of videos for Nintendo's big, weird Labo launch coming on April 20. We learned a lot about the build-your-own-cardboard toys of this new Switch "game" when it was first announced in January, but now, we're getting a better idea of the actual games in this thing—and there might actually be some decent ones in here.

  • You had me at "two-player complicated cardboard backpack combat."
  • I will not be held responsible if I "accidentally" punch the crap out of Ars Technica's Kyle Orland while testing this versus mode.
  • The Labo Robot Kit comes with everything seen here. Shame sold separately.
  • Lift a single foot to walk forward and stomp.
  • Twist your body left or right to rotate your robot.
  • The more stuff you destroy, the higher your score.
  • Do a Creed album-cover pose to start flying.
  • Singing of the song "Can you taaaake me hiiii-ghyah" is not required.
  • Squat to become a tank…
  • …and then punch to shoot lasers. Into it.
  • Oh, yes, and the tank can fly. You thought of everything, Nintendo.
  • We'd seen Labo's attachments for hands and feet. Today, we got a closer look at the visor…
  • …which can be tipped downward to toggle a "first-person mode."
  • Hold this pose for a second…
  • …and you become an even bigger robot.
  • Challenge mode lets you unlock, learn, and master new skills.
  • Nice charge punch there, Mr. Roboto.
  • Hold one knee up like so to do a diving-stomp attack.
  • Stick your Switch console inside of the backpack, and you can enable a "make funny sounds by moving around" mode. I suppose kids'll be into that.
  • Now we know what those little holes in the Robot Kit backpack do: they let you adjust the menus for custom colors. Bit of a disappointment, honestly.
  • The one thing that went unmentioned in today's news is this "calorie" mode. What's wrong with a robot having some ice cream and hot dogs now and again?

The biggest information dump comes in the form of the Labo Robot Kit, which will ship with a game that requires building and wearing a cardboard backpack rig. Wednesday's explainer video went further to break down how gameplay will work. A default mode will dump players into a cartoony city, which they will destroy by punching, stomping, flying, shooting lasers, and transforming into either a tank or a larger robot. The more stuff you smash, and the more combo attacks you trigger, the more points you'll get. Only one level of this mode was shown, and it's unclear whether this will play as a rudimentary arcade game or as a more complicated campaign.

The game will also ship with specific challenges—which players must beat to unlock new robot moves—and a two-player robot-combat mode. Meaning, if you have a friend with his or her own Labo Robot Kit backpack rig, they can bring theirs over and punch and stomp at your side in what looks like a bonkers mix of Street Fighter and Virtual On.

  • More details on all of the Labo modes can be found in this gallery.
  • The motorcycle toy-con is arguably the most intriguing, if only because it combines the racing and level creation aspects of Excitebike.
  • The cardboard form for this toy-con is designed so that you have an up-close view of the racing action.
  • As a result, this mode appears to default in a first-person racing view.
  • You can switch to third-person if you want, apparently.
  • The Joy-Con's infrared camera will convert any shape into driveable terrain.
  • …yeah, any shape. Something tells me we won't be seeing a lot of hand-based racetracks.
  • Might need to rate this M for Mature, Nintendo.
  • The original reveal answered a lot of questions about the RC car mode, which is the most toy-like of them all. Joy-Con vibrations will make the left and right legs of this toy-con rumble in such a way that the cardboard critter moves forward.
  • A closer look at the Switch screen interface, which can be toggled to reveal the infrared camera's view.
  • You can toggle a "heat-seeking" mode, which will then automatically rumble your cardboard critter towards any shiny-sticker object it sees. (Labo comes with a bunch of shiny stickers for the sake of various sensing capabilities.)
  • Two-player sumo mode.
  • The fishing game honestly looks a little… shallow. (Yeah, I had to go there.)
  • That being said, I'd love for its basic fishing actions to at least feel soothing. I'm not against a perfectly chill Switch-powered fishing moment or two.
  • This mode also supports the scanning of cardboard cutouts via the Joy-Con's infrared sensor, which will let you craft your own symmetrical fish.
  • Again, I see "rated M for Mature" potential here.
  • The more fish you catch, the bigger your collected aquarium can grow.
  • As shown in the video, the "house" toy-con looks the most like a full-blown Tamagotchi. Which isn't a bad thing.
  • You can even see a Tamagotchi-like image on the TV in this little critter's house.
  • Stick various cardboard switches into the openings on the toy-con house to have buttons, switches, and tunnels appear.
  • In fact, some of the toy-con house switches can open up entire mini-games. Here's a mine cart race.
  • A jumping-rope mini-game.
  • A float-to-the-top, avoid-obstacles mini-game.
  • A tilt-to-aim bowling mini-game.
  • We also know a ton about how the toy-con piano works, with sensors keeping tracks of the keys that you push down. We've learned a little more today about its finer points, including a wah-wah effect that you toggle simply by shaking the whole piano.
  • Use cardboard switches to change the instrument sounds. Want cat sounds? There, now you have cat sounds.
  • This is admittedly a treat: you can turn objects like cardboard boxes into receptors for the vibrations of a Joy-Con. Then, when you play the toy-con piano, the buzzes will match the keys you play. Nice one there, Nintendo.
  • By cutting shapes into a cardboard flap and putting them inside the toy-con piano…
  • …you can create custom waveforms, which the Switch will then convert into sounds on your piano's scale.
  • Dot-covered cardboard arrays also work to let piano players insert pre-made rhythms.
  • There's a whole Mario Paint-like interface for creating loops of music.
  • Interactive sequences show off what exactly the Switch's various sensors are doing as you play with each toy-con that you've created.
  • Another look at the magic inside of Nintendo's cardboard Oz.
  • Details are still a little scant about how Labo's "create your own toy-con" system will work, but Nintendo offered a few samples that it insists can be made with the kit's included tools.
  • First, a race mode in which two rumbling Joy-Cons try to touch the Switch's screen first. Whoever taps it first sets off a video and audio alarm.
  • Second, a makeshift toy-con guitar, with strums tracked by the infrared camera and notes controlled by tapping various Joy-Con buttons.
  • And last, a makeshift piggy bank that actually can tell the difference between dimes and quarters, thanks to that infrared camera. (Seems like a real waste of a Switch to just leave it inside of a piggy bank, though.)

The Labo Variety Kit will ship with five discrete games, each with its own "toy-con" that you build out of cardboard. The most interesting one, as per today's information dump, revolves around the motorcycle toy-con. This mode lets players race through a single-player 3D game that looks like a cross between Excitebike and Wii Sports. You can pick up nitro power-ups and enable speed boosts with well-timed drifts, but that appears to be as far as the game goes in resembling Mario Kart. The Excitebike</em< descriptor mostly comes because the game lets you create your own racing tracks in a few ways. First, you can wave a Switch Joy-Con controller in the air to steer and guide a road generator, which you can then manually touch up with items and other tweaks. Second, you can scan a real-life object using the Joy-Con's infrared sensor, and the game will import its 3D shape as terrain to race on top of.</em>

(Something tells me we're going to see people riding Nintendo motorcycles on genitalia-shaped hills within minutes of this game coming out.)

New details about the rest of the Labo games—and more details about a new "make your own toy-con" mode—can be found in the above gallery. The most intriguing stuff revolves around gameplay ideas that you can import by simply cutting up a piece of paper, then having your Joy-Con's infrared camera scan it and convert it to gameplay. We'll have lots more on Nintendo Labo as it nears its April 20 launch date.

Listing image by Nintendo

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