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Programming a song on Nintendo Labo with Toy-Con Garage took all of my brainpower

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Over the last few weeks on YouTube, Nintendo’s been teasing what you can do with Labo — the DIY cardboard accessory kit for the Switch — which comes out this Friday. One of the most intriguing videos was a demonstration of Toy-Con Garage, the programming platform within Labo’s software. Using the toy piano included in the Variety Kit, a makeshift cardboard guitar, and multiple controllers (including one attached to some Crocs), Nintendo showed off a Labo band.

Image: Nintendo

There are some really creative use cases for Toy-Con Garage, many of which allow for Rube Goldberg machine-like possibilities. But using the Switch as a tool for music production seemed like one of the most practical and promising features of Labo, so I decided to test it out for myself. One of the biggest challenges was finding a song that was simple enough to play on the toy piano’s limited number of keys, and also used minimal guitar chords, since I’d have to program each note individually. I chose “Rainbow Connection” from the Muppets movie because I naively thought it would be easy. It was not easy. It was one of the most mentally draining experiences of my life, and I may have concentrated harder on this than I did on my actual SATs.

Toy-Con Garage works with a series of input and output nodes. You can set your input (for instance, a touch bar) and connect that to an output node (in our case, making a guitar sound). Inputs and outputs are highly customizable. You can set them so that a part of the screen lights up when you shake a controller, or make a blue controller vibrate when an IR sticker is detected by the infrared camera on the red controller. You can also have outputs be dependent on multiple inputs, which was the part I had the most difficulty with.

Switching chords on a real guitar is easy. Switching chords on a Switch takes more calculation and planning because you have to individually program every note in each chord, and then assign each chord to a button on the controller, which is a separate input. With “Rainbow Connection,” I had to program eight different chords, with six notes per chord. That is a lot of nodes! Plus, there’s only so much space you have to work with, so I was constantly moving nodes accidentally while trying to program something else. The end result looked something like this:

An actual nightmare.
Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Just like how Apple’s Swift Playgrounds doesn’t actually teach you how to code, Toy-Con Garage is a platform to teach kids about code. Maybe I understand the concept of “if this then that” programming better now, but still, the only thing I’m able to apply this knowledge to is within Labo. And that’s fine! That’s part of what Labo is all about: trial and error, learning and experimentation.

I’m looking forward to the future of Labo in the coming days after its release this Friday. As the platform grows and more people get their hands on it, we can expect a growing community of creators sharing their own codes for various projects and all the new discoveries they’ve made.