Ever since it was announced, the biggest question surrounding Nintendo Labo is about durability: just how long will a bunch of cardboard accessories hold up, anyway? It was a question that only time could answer; a few minutes with a cardboard piano isn’t nearly enough time to determine how long it will survive the clutches of an aggressive toddler. I’ve had a slew of Labo accessories around my house for the past three weeks, and I have been playing with them along with my kids (a two-year-old and five-year-old) quite a bit. Not daily, but enough to really put them through their paces. And aside from a few minor issues, the Labo kits have all held up wonderfully.
The biggest issue so far has been with the piano. The cardboard contraption looks so much like a real instrument that it’s easy to treat it like one. This can be especially true for kids: it’s just a lot of fun to bang on the keyboard, especially when you use some of the stranger sound modifiers, like one that turns each key press into a kitty sound. The problem is those keys aren’t exactly solid. The small rectangular sheets of cardboard that you roll to make a key-like shape are probably the most fragile bit of any Labo kit. They also aren’t held into the piano body very firmly. They simply rest inside, balancing on a thin cardboard strip.
The piano works in a clever way: you slot a Joy-Con controller in the back, and its IR camera is able to read stickers on the back of each key, so it knows what you’re pressing and then relays that information back to the Switch, where the sounds are produced. But this requires some level of precision. If the keys don’t sit properly because they’re a bit squashed or one of the stickers on the back starts to peel off, things don’t work as they should. The good news is that, at least so far, I haven’t run into an issue that couldn’t be repaired fairly easily. With the piano, the keys can simply be refolded, and they work as good as new. You can also just glue the stickers back on. (But don’t tape over them, as this will cause problems with the IR camera.)
I’ve had a few similar issues with both the RC car and toy house Labo kits. (So far, the fishing rod and motorcycle kits have had no real problems.) The bug-like cars are especially flimsy. They stand up on thin legs and move around via the surprisingly powerful vibration of the Joy-Con controllers. It’s clever, but it also means those legs get wobbly pretty quickly, which makes them move around somewhat erratically. Again, it was an easy fix: I was able to reinforce them with a bit of tape, and they seem sturdy enough for now.
The house, meanwhile, features a series of buttons and cranks that you can slot into a window on the side. These allow you to interact with a tiny creature inside the house that’s displayed on the Switch’s screen. Turn the crank, and you fill its room up with water; smack a button, and it turns from night to day. Just like the piano keys, these small accessories are composed of lots of fiddly bits that are easily squashed or separated. But they’re also easy to repair. I’ve had to reassemble each of the buttons and cranks a few times over the last few weeks, but I haven’t yet run into any irreparable damage.
Repairs never felt like a chore
One area I’ve had to be careful about, though, is customization. One of the cooler aspects of Labo is that you can decorate your custom accessories, which is especially fun for kids. The cardboard is a blank canvas, and my youngsters have really enjoyed decorating the Labo kits with markers and stickers. But this can also lead to some issues. One day, I handed them the house kit and let them have at it, unsupervised. They turned the roof tiles into a rainbow mosaic, and then they slapped on some bright, sparkly foam stickers of butterflies and stars.
It looked adorable, but it also didn’t work properly anymore. Some of the stickers blocked the chimney where the controller rests, as well as the slots on the side where the various interactive bits fit in. It was a simple repair — I removed the stickers — but it does illustrate the limitations of Labo customization. You can make these kits look cool, but you also need to make sure you’re not interfering with the way they work.
Overall, the Labo kits are pretty resilient, even after three weeks of extended use. I’ve needed to do some fixes, sure, but this never felt like a chore. It’s in keeping with the DIY ethos of Labo. Unlike pretty much every other gadget or toy in my house, when something doesn’t work with Labo, my kids can work with me to figure out why and sort out a solution. The repairs are part of the fun.