A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Nintendo Labo Toy-Con Variety Kit combines real-world crafting with video games and digital activities for the Nintendo Switch, which is required to put these creations together. Kids work with cardboard cutouts to create complex models -- a fishing rod, a robot, a piano -- and insert the Switch screen and Joy-Con controllers to turn their constructs into interactive objects. Smartly designed video tutorials lead players through the entire building process and provide instructions on how to program the Joy-Cons to make new cardboard toys. There's a constant sense of creativity and discovery associated with the making and programming modules that kids are likely find highly rewarding. The games and activities associated with each cardboard model are simple and innocuous, containing nothing more mature than some cartoonish exploding bombs. There's also a second kit, the Labo Robot Kit, that lets you build a robot backpack to stomp around cities -- but, again, no violence other than cartoonish destruction is seen.
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What's it about?
NINTENDO LABO TOY-CON VARIETY KIT is a collection of mini-games and digital activities with a real-world cardboard crafting component. The game comes with dozens of large cardboard sheets containing punch-out pieces that must be carefully folded and assembled to create complex mechanical creations ranging from a fishing rod to a working piano. Players follow video instructions that provide detailed instructions illustrating how to build each model, then insert the Switch Joy-Cons and screen into special slots embedded within their models to transform them into interactive objects. In addition to the piano and fishing rod, kids can build a toy house with cardboard switches and buttons used to initiate various mini-games, a skittering, Hexbug-like remote-control robot, and even a motorbike handlebar that lets them play a little racing game. Beyond the curated building projects and activities, players can also tinker with another part of the software dubbed Toy-Con Garage that lets them program how their Joy-Con controllers interact with their cardboard creations, providing an opportunity to learn some basic programming concepts while exercising their imagination. Another Nintendo Labo kit -- Nintendo Labo Toy-Con Robot Kit -- sold separately, allows players to build a wearable robot suit and play a game that lets them go rampaging through a city.
Is it any good?
If there's another product that combines complex cardboard crafting, video games, and basic programming, we haven't seen it. That alone is enough to make the Nintendo Labo Toy-Con Variety Kit interesting, but what makes it really special is the effort that's gone into creating something so sophisticated yet easy to enjoy. The ingenious model building -- which involves terrific explainer videos that take players through every crease and fold -- is the highlight of the experience. You'll hardly be able to believe just how complex and functional these working mechanical cardboard objects are. The 13-key piano, which uses cardboard springs and infrared reflective stickers, is particularly impressive, as is the retractable fishing rod, which has a working reel. And ambitious kids who really take to Labo will no doubt have a great time fiddling around in the Toy-Con Garage, using a simple and intuitive visual programming language to program their own creations to behave in fun new ways.
You should know, though, that the games and activities are pretty basic. It's fun to bang out simple songs on the piano, tinkering with sounds and pitch, and the motorcycle game is akin to a simple Mario Kart racer, but kids will remember the building long after they've forgotten what they did with the software. That's also true for the Nintendo Labo Toy-Con Robot Kit, which is sold separately from the Variety Kit and is slightly more expensive. It has kids build a working robot suit -- which is admittedly pretty fun -- but provides companion software that grows stale rather quickly. Nintendo Labo is like an expensive -- though very high quality -- crafting project for kids that happens to come with a digital component. It probably won't keep their attention as long as other games, but the time they spend with it will be creative, educational, and memorable.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about screen time. Some cardboard models take several hours to build, but do you take breaks between steps, as the software recommends?
Talk about character strengths like imagination. Can you think of something to make or program with Nintendo Labo Toy-Con Variety Kit that no one else has?
Discuss creativity. Does Nintendo Labo Toy-Con Variety Kit give you idea of ways to create your own games? What about models or other do-it-yourself projects?
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch
- Subjects: Language & Reading: following directions, reading comprehension
Arts: music, playing
- Skills: Thinking & Reasoning: hypothesis-testing
Creativity: combining knowledge, imagination, making new creations
Tech Skills: digital creation, using and applying technology
- Price: $69.99, Robot Kit is $79.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Not available online
- Developer: Nintendo of America
- Release date: April 20, 2018
- Genre: Mini-games
- Topics: Cars and Trucks, Music and Sing-Along, Robots, Science and Nature
- ESRB rating: E for Mild Cartoon Violence
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.