When Nintendo started teasing a "new interactive experience" to be revealed on Wednesday, few minds jumped to the assumption that they were talking about cardboard.
Nintendo Labo is billed as "a new line of interactive build-and-play experiences designed to inspire kids and those who are kids-at-heart." The sets unveiled so far are made primarily of cardboard cutouts but also involve things like string and tape, all of which you fold and slot together into various toys like a 13-key piano or a fishing rod.
The coolest part, though, is that these creations are paired with software on the highly successful Nintendo Switch console to make each of them interactive. That piano you can make? It actually works, once you place the Switch and its controllers into the appropriate slots.
To be fair, this isn't coming cheap. In addition to requiring a Nintendo Switch (a $300 investment, though it opens you up to playing some of the best and most family-friendly video games of the past year), the Labo "Variety Kit" will retail for $69.99. That sounds like a hefty chunk of change to spend on a chunk of cardboard, but remember that you're also getting a bundle of game software in that exchange. The other announced Labo set so far, the "Robot Kit," will be $79.99 and will focus entirely on letting you build and wear a robot suit.
That's a bit more expensive than a variety pack of Lego, but the desired effect is similar: Encourage people of all ages to ignite their imaginations and build physical things. Labo has an added advantage, though, of having its digital, video game component. Can't get your child off their Nintendo Switch, but want them to do more than just stare at a screen? Have them make and customize their own Nintendo Switch accessories.
The announcement of Labo represents some of the most exciting aspects of the company known for video games like Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda: It's weird, it's completely unexpected, and while you never would have thought to ask for it, the second you see it you say, "Oh, hey, that's actually a brilliant idea."
It's the same recipe that made the Wii such a juggernaut -- You didn't know how much you wanted to play digital bowling with your grandmother in your living room until you did it.
As Patrick Klepek wrote over at Waypoint, this is the beauty of having a financially successful Nintendo that is actively making hardware, as opposed to just games. Not a year goes by without somebody suggesting that the company should just make Mario and Donkey Kong games for competitors' consoles instead of making their own systems, but without the Nintendo Switch, you don't get to the zany risk that is Nintendo Labo.
And hey, maybe Labo won't pan out. Maybe it will be a bunch of overpriced sheets of packing material that easily break and fail to find an audience. But the concept itself is fascinating, and I can't wait to try it out with the young video game fans in my life.
Nintendo Labo will be released on April 20. The Variety Kit will sell for $69.99, while the Robot Kit will sell for $79.99.