On January 18, 2018, Nintendo sent a message out to their fans to prepare for "a new way to play" aimed for "kids and kids at heart". Later that same day, they lifted the veil on their newest entertainment project — Nintendo Labo, a franchise aimed at marrying the Nintendo Switch hardware with the creative freedom and imagination that comes from cardboard.
Nintendo Labo, released on April 20th the same year, combines software playing in the Switch with props which are physically built from patterns embedded in cardboard sheets. The console's Joy-Con are placed strategically inside of the props — playfully called Toy-Con — so that their motion sensing technology and IR camera can be manipulated by the props' movements, affecting elements of the game whose cartridge is inserted in the system.
The games are packaged in kits, thus far divided into the following options:
- Variety Kit — A Minigame Game entry with several patterns available for play including a piano, a house, a fishing rod, RC cars, and a motorcycle.
- Robot Kit — Players construct a backpack which connects via string to foot and hand grips to emulate a Humongous Mecha.
- Vehicle Kit — Players construct a variety of vehicle controllers including a car, airplane, and submarine, then use them to explore an open-world island. Released on September 14, 2018.
- VR Kit — Players construct a series of new Toy-Con including a blaster gun, camera, bird, wind pedal, and elephant, along with a set of VR goggles to use the Toy-Con in a virtual reality experience. Released April 12, 2019.
Later on, Nintendo introduced Labo compatibility with other titles. The following games thus far are compatible with Labo:
- Mario Kart 8 Deluxe — On June 25, 2018, Nintendo released a free update for the game granting compatibility with the motorcycle from the Variety Kit. After the reveal of the Vehicle Kit, it was also revealed that the game would support the steering wheel and pedal from said kit.
- Deemo — First shown off as a proof-of-concept video demo on YouTube, it was later confirmed that the Switch port of Deemo will become the first third-party game to support Labo, specifically the Toy-Con Piano from the Variety Kit. The update adding Labo support was released in October 2018.
- Fishing Star: World Tour — This former mobile game, GREE's first home console release, shipped with compatibility with the Variety Kit's fishing rod.
- Super Mario Odyssey — The game was updated on April 25, 2019 with three mini-levels to be used with the VR Kit.
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — The game is playable with the VR Kit as of April 25, 2019.
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate — An update on May 30, 2019 added the ability to play matches against the CPU with the VR Kit, with some restrictions as to the rules and stages allowed.
- Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker — A July 30, 2019 update allowed four stages to be played with the VR Kit.
- Rooms: The Adventures of Anne and George — A December 13, 2019 patch allowed compatibility with the VR Kit.
- Spice and Wolf VR — Released September 5, 2019 and is compatible with the VR Kit.
- Neonwall — Support for the VR Kit was patched in on January 16, 2020.
The game's built-in game-making software, known as the "Toy-Con Garage", was spun-off into a fully-fleshed out product called Game Builder Garage.
The trailer can be seen here.
This franchise provides examples of:
- Always a Bigger Fish: In the Fishing game, fish attached to your fishing rod can be used as bait to lure even larger fish. That said, it's not required to catch any fish, as even the rare sailfish and shark will take the default bait.
- Anti-Frustration Features: As soon as it was unveiled, complaints arose on the internet that children would naturally tear right through the cardboard within an hour, or that 3D printers would shortly become gold mines for people to craft their own without touching the kits. When the games finally released, their online store included a Labo-centric page with pre-made replacement sheets available for purchase, and they also have PDF files of the patterns for those who want to use their own materials.
- Anti Poop-Socking: Completing a step in the building process of any of the Toy-Cons will result in the game suggesting that you should take a break before you move on to the next step.
- Additionally, playing the minigames in the VR kit for long enough will have the game remind you to take regular breaks.
- Big Anime Eyes: The VR Kit's camera minigame involves photographing various fish nearby. Also included in the kit is a cardboard pair of glasses with a little snorkel attached to them; if you aim the camera at someone wearing the glasses, the fish currently being aimed at will approach the camera with large toony eyes.
- Bilingual Bonus: The game's title, "Nintendo Labo". "Labo" is a Japanese loanword for the word "laboratory", but since it's a loanword it's close enough to its English counterpart that it's easy to just use it in the English name.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: The creature in the House has an single orifice where its eyes and mouth are located, and its fur can change colors and patterns just by eating something.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Yellow for Make, pink or red for Play, blue for Discover. Even the clothing colors for the Toy-Con Development Team reflect which parts of the Nintendo Labo philosophy they personify.
- Cordon Bleugh Chef: You can mix some rather outrageous things together in the House game's microwave room, resulting in a cupcake that contains things like an egg, a sardine, or a bar of soap as the decoration. And the creature still eats it.
- Design-It-Yourself Equipment:
- Players are encouraged to decorate their Toy-Con however they see fit, with officially made Customization Kits available for purchase as well.
- Given that the labo garage is basically a programming system in and of itself, people are already starting to come up with their own games and other such things involving it, with one player managing to recreate the first Game & Watch game, Ball, in it.
- Even more versatile is the VR Plaza in the VR Kit which allows for the creation of entire 3D objects and small level scenarios with them.
- Developers' Foresight: They really didn't have to, but in the build tutorials whenever there's a Joy-Con on screen, the insides of the Joy-Cons are rendered in case you clip inside one (circuit board and everything). The Joy-Cons are also rendered to match the colors of the Joy-Cons currently connected with the console.
- Difficult, but Awesome:
- The Labo's Garage Mode is basically a Programming tool that requires a lot of thought and planning. That said, it's surprisingly versatile, and many a person has made great things with it (including recreations of Game And Watch games).
- The VR Plaza is just a more in depth Labo Garage that allows for the creation of scanrios with full 3D objects. With good use entire new 3D games can be created with it.
- Extreme Omnivore: The creature in the House game changes its primary color by eating large foods. Some of them include robotic escargot that is still alive (Orange), bars of soap (Blue), bones (White), and acorns (Brown).
- Fishing Minigame: Complete with a rod-and-reel you craft yourself.
- Game Maker: The VR Plaza in the VR Kit allows the player to construct 3D objects and then use if/then statements in the same way as the Labo Garage to make simple games with those objects.
- Giant Enemy Crab: One of the bosses in the Blaster minigame is a massive mechanical crab.
- Haunted House: Send the creature in the House to bed, continue to watch him, and some surprisingly creepy things start to happen...
- Homemade Inventions: The Video Game Adaptation.
- Intentionally Awkward Title: For non-Japanese audiences, anyway. "Labo" is a common abbreviation for "laboratory" in Japan, as well as shorthand for a workshop or classroom setting. Outside of Japan, it just looks like a goofy take on the abbreviation "lab", adding to the childish whimsy inherent in the titles.
- Laser Blade: An Easter Egg in the Joy-Con motion control demonstration menu allows you to turn them into lightsabers, complete with clashing sparks.
- Levels Take Flight: The bird in the VR Kit can be played in an endless game where the player is flying around a large world.
- Marathon Level: The Robot Build is a fairly elaborate machine and building one can take around 3 hours from start to finish. The Variety Kit's Piano, similarly, can take between two to three hours. The VR Kit's Blaster can also take about three hours.
- Minecart Madness: The House game has a simple mine cart minigame activated by using a combination of the Button and Key Blocks on the sides of the house.
- Motion Capture Mecha: The mecha in the "Robot Kit" game operates using an apparatus that allows the player to control their mecha with their own body.
- Mythology Gag: One of the videos in the VR Kit is a video showing gameplay of Mario's Tennis on the Virtual Boy.
- Never Trust a Title: The "Art of Replacing Rubber Bands" topic in the VR kit ends up being about Professor Riggs going on a friendly Rambling Old Man Monologue about old cameras if you say you wanted to drop by, with Gerry lampshading this by saying what the topic was going to be about. Subverted since, as pointed out by the professor at the end, you can just tap "Retry" at the top of the screen to restart the topic from the beginning.
- Nonindicative Name: The "RC cars" look more like some sort of giant insect in their bare state, and the trailer and Discover segments of the RC Car shows them decorated to resemble animals such as elephants and cats.
- Likewise, the same can actually apply to every Toy-Con. You are encouraged to decorate them anyway you want, after all.
- Nonstandard Character Design: The "fish" you create in the Aquarium using the Piano are simple, cartoony fish versus the photorealistic species that inhabit the ocean by default.
- Pinball Zone: One of the pre-made minigames in the Labo VR Plaza is a pinball machine.
- Programming Game: "Toy-Con Garage", a feature within the main game, lets you customize how your Joy-Con and Switch touchscreen respond when interacted with using basic if/then instructions. The VR Plaza in the VR Kit goes a step further by including provisions to make entire 3D objects.
- Punny Name:
- The Toy-Con are cardboard toys that utilize the Joy-Con.
- The names of the Toy-Con Development Team: Gerry Riggs, Plaise Allatyme, and Lerna Lotte.
- Plaises dad gets an offhand mention, too: Eton Allatyme, who is a Big Eater.
- Spiritual Successor: Labo's Robot Kit resembles the Wii U's cancelled Project Giant Robot in concept, being a game where the player controls a giant robot.
- Labo would get a spiritual successor of its own in 2021 with the release of Game Builder Garage.
- Tech Demo Game: Whereas 1-2-Switch showed off the Joy-Con while you're holding them in your hand, Labo shows off just what they're capable of while they're inside of something else, away from direct player interaction.
- Threatening Shark: The ultimate catch in the Fishing game.
- Virtual Pet: Downplayed with the House in the Variety Kit. You're given a little fuzzy companion to interact with, and you can feed him, but he cannot grow up (only change his colors and patters), never shows any signs of hunger, and cannot be physically hurt or die in any fashion no matter how much hell you give him.
- Wide-Open Sandbox: The Vehicle Kit's Adventure Mode is this. It consists of several hexagonal zones with a different theme, and each zone has several missions available to the player. Similar to the Assassin's Creed games and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the individual zones start out as greyed out on the world map, but when reaching each zone's gas station, the zone is revealed and the objectives are displayed.
- The VR Kit's bird game is a flying version of the Vehicle Kit's Adventure Mode.
- Widget Series: It's safe to say that only Nintendo could have come up with a franchise such as this. The various Toy-Con run the gamut from functional to silly.