This is such a Nintendo thing to do, a company with a history of releasing surprisingly (and refreshingly) different ways to interact with games.
It started off with a mysterious announcement that they were about to unveil a “new interactive experience for Nintendo Switch that’s specifically crafted for kids and those who are kids at heart”.
Then there was the speculation: would this be a new accessory with fancy new tech to take the Switch to the next level?
After the announcement today, the reality is yes, this will take the Switch to the next level, but no, there's nothing fancy about the tech behind it.
Basically, "Nintendo Labo" is a series of DIY accessories, made from kits comprised mostly out of cardboard and maybe the occasional rope and rubber band. And it looks friggin' awesome.
I probably couldn't describe it well enough to do the product justice, so check out the teaser trailer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3Bd3HUMkyU), then plan a way to borrow a niece or nephew for an afternoon for a valid excuse to build a cardboard robo-suit and then proceed to hog all the play time with it.
Seriously, though, the thing I'm most excited about is the potential for kids to explore and invent. One of the main aspects that Nintendo are pushing with the Labo is encouraging discovery; children are shown how their cardboard creations interact with the Switch sensors and encouraged to create new ways to utilise these physical-to-digital relationships. For example, the cardboard piano utilises the device camera to detect which keys move, which hopefully leads to thinking along the lines of "how can I make something else which uses the camera in a similar way?"
It's another example of Nintendo prioritising unique experiences over faster, stronger, better hardware; making the Switch, already a vastly different experience to other competing games consoles, even more quirky by utilising its unique features. And whilst it remains to be seen how successful Labo will eventually be, I'd like to think that, when it comes to inspiring a new generation of tech tinkerers and leaders, sometimes cardboard trumps teraflops.
Labo is both unlike anything Nintendo has made before, and something that feels distinctly Nintendo. The company has a history of exploring trends in unique ways, like with the exercise game Wii Fit, or the Brain Age series of puzzle games, inspired by the work of neuroscientist Dr. Ryuta Kawashima. Labo similarly takes something very of the moment — the idea of giving kids a better understanding of the technology that surrounds them — and fits it into an unconventional and playful package. Labo isn’t going to teach children how to code, but it could very well be the starting point for getting them interested in being more than a passive consumer of technology.