Nintendo always keeps you guessing. In the several years I’ve reported on the company’s many innovations—the successful and the not-so-much—I’ve seen several wild Nintendo ideas come and go, from the motion controls of the Wii and the gyroscope of the 3DS, to the second screen of the Wii U and the bewildering Wii heart rate monitor. The latest to surprise me is the Nintendo Labo, a new peripheral kit system unveiled by the company earlier this week. With the Nintendo Labo, users can purchase a set of cardboard sheets, along with other necessary construction materials, to put together controller add-ons that can be used with accompanying games. You can turn your Switch and Joy-Cons into a tiny piano, a fishing rod, and a motorcycle handlebar, among others.
After the announcement, far and away the biggest criticism I heard from my fellow critics is that the instructions for the Labo cardboard peripherals seem difficult for a child to do without help, but are too simplistic to be fun for an adult. I would argue that is the point. While those of us who are no longer kids are entitled to our nostalgia and love for Nintendo, at the end of the day, that nostalgia was built on games that were made specifically for us as children. Nintendo didn’t become who they are by catering to the age their original audience is at now. They maintain a foothold in the greater console arena by prioritizing families.
One thing that bums me out about the short career span and young average age of videogame journalists is that often our focus often lies with single adults and our own demographic instead of the broader consumer base. I started writing about being a parent who games largely because there are so few others doing so, and the feedback from my audience overwhelmingly was in favor of seeing more articles that take into consideration what it is like to buy and play games with your kids. Nintendo Labo is a good reminder that not all games or accessories are “for us”—that at the end of the day, while games may be art, they’re toys too. Our own desire to facilitate human expression does not always transcend the more trivial uses of the medium. Personally, I think the peripherals are a smart, fun idea, and I’m almost in awe that Nintendo seemed to anticipate how to make that work, economically and practically, for families with small children. I’ve had beef with other games in the past, like Disney Infinity, for being too expensive and easily lost or broken. Nintendo Labo seems to understand what the parental concerns might be, not only offering a low-cost material that is easily replaced but can also be customized with crayons or stickers without ruining the entire device. So far the accounts coming out of demo events indicate that the instructions for each are well designed and easy to follow, making it that much easier for the less technologically savvy adults too.
Indeed, the promotional materials from Nintendo directly indicate this is one item made specifically for their younger audience, and we should just accept and embrace it. Not everything has to be for adults.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.