This past Friday was April 20, known in some circles as 4-20 or Four-Twenty. It’s not like it’s a true special day or anything but for Nintendo fans this year it’s going to be known as Nintendo Labo Day.
A couple of months ago Nintendo revealed their latest experiment, Labo, a series of new “toys” that are basically do-it-yourself crafts, made entirely out of cardboard. Right around the time this new product was unveiled, many Nintendo fans began cracking jokes immediately about the new venture. I even made a video that included my own lame joke.
Now that Nintendo Lab day has arrived the internet is crawling with a whole new assortment of videos reviewing the products. I didn’t want to get into the actual product line itself or even discuss the reviews. Instead I just wanted to contemplate the deeper meaning behind it’s existence and what it means for the future of Nintendo.
It’s not much of a secret to most Nintendo fans that the company started out as a maker of playing cards. What might be lesser known is Nintendo previously created card board toys back in the 1970’s. Even I didn’t know that but I did my share of research once Labo was announced. For me, however, I actually connected it back to the days of the Nintendo GameCube. During that period Nintendo had a product on the market known as the e-reader. This item combined trading cards with the Nintendo GameCube and Game Boy Advance. This was the time when Nintendo really began working towards combining their home console and handheld markets. The e-reader worked with the GBA and the GC using GBA connectivity. Mostly this was done via the Game Boy Player.
What does any of this have to do with Nintendo Labo? If you take a look at Nintendo’s product cycles they tend to repeat themselves. There are certain patterns a person can see to get ideas into the insight of the future products Nintendo might be considering. One of the ways you can do this is look at their toys from pre-NES/Famicom lines. To this day Nintendo has made a concerted effort to create modern, digital versions of many of their previous entertainment products.
When the GameCube was announced Nintendo was in a low point where Sony was dominating them. The company responded by doubling down development of their more profitable hand held division, relying heavily on their lucrative joint-venture with The Pokemon Company. For all of their talk about keeping their video game consoles limited to playing games only, Nintendo released some videos on the GBA.
Around this time Nintendo began making strides into combining their two units. The connectivity was one product that was obvious. Eventually they continued combining the products until the Switch. While the Wii was a curve ball it also wasn’t entirely out of left field if you knew where to look. For starters, Nintendo invested heavily in VR in the 1990’s, they were the ONLY major video game company from the time to actually bring a VR product to market. If you look at the design of the Project Reality, it was clear they were contemplating making it a VR based system. Once it was obvious the technology wasn’t right yet, with the failure of he Virtual Boy, Nintendo distanced themselves from VR. However, they continued to make strides in making games more interactive and immersive. One thing they did was use features from the VB controller into the design of the GameCube controller. This was followed by the company re-introducing motion controls with the Wii, a control scheme they have incorporated into every home console they have brought to market since.
Again what does this have to do with Labo? If you think about it, Nintendo continues making strides into trying to make video games continually more immersive and interactive. What this leads me to believe is that combined with the continued success of the Switch and the strides Sony is making in VR and with the rise of Augmented Reality, I see Nintendo Labo as Nintendo’s next step towards realizing a truly interactive VR/AR hybrid that will make the company’s products even more unique. I can’t begin to imagine how this will play out, I do think it’s a hint at where they will be going next. Based on the time line, it makes me assume we won’t see the realization of this future tech they are clearly working on behind the scenes, until after the next generation. We saw them using cardboard (e-reader) with the GameCube, itself an extension of Virtual Boy, which was before the N64. Now we are starting to see the return to them using this technology to interact with a product that combines touch, portability, card board, motion controls and VR/AR concepts all in one. The reason Labo even works in the first place is their new HD Rumble and 3D sensors that are built into the Joy-Cons.
What we know from Nintendo’s history is they rarely abandon old tech, they just find new ways to adapt it to their next product line. I am anticipating the console that follows the Switch’s successor will probably incorporate all of the things we have seen attempted in the last few years. Again, I won’t try to predict what Nintendo will do, but I can safely assume the features we are seeing with Joy-Cons, Switch and Labo are here to stay, in one way or another.