Nintendo is clearly in for the long haul when it comes to Labo. The first pack – dubbed the 'Variety Kit' – is all about exploring the possibilities of Labo via a range of different 'Toy-Con' builds; it's an effective demonstration of just how versatile this system is, even if the resultant flood of cardboard contraptions presents something of a headache when it comes to storage. The second kit – and no doubt the first of many – is a far more focused proposition; you get a single model to build, but in return the gameplay horizons are dramatically expanded when compared to the toys seen in the other pack.
With Nintendo Labo - Toy-Con 02: Robot Kit, you get to construct your own robot (or mech, Jaeger, Mobile Suit – pick your preferred parlance, basically) and step inside to cause all manner of on-screen destruction. The main mode involves stomping around a city destroying everything in your path, the objective being to score as many points as possible before the timer runs down to zero. Taken at face value, it initially feels like a shallow throwback to the dark days of Wii 'waggle' games, but there's actually a lot more depth here than meets the eye.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves; as we noted in our review of the first kit, you have to dedicate some serious time to this game before you even get close to attempting high score runs. As the grandest Labo kit released so far, it's perhaps unsurprising that the robot takes an incredibly long time to construct; the game estimates that even the quickest builder will take at least three hours to create the entire thing. With a little help from a 9-year-old Nintendo fan, it took us longer than that; we actually had to spread the build over two days, much to the chagrin of our eager companion. If you have kids, you might want to build this before giving it to them, as the wait is going to be unbearable for some; there's fun to be had seeing how it all fits together, but that wanes after the first hour or so. On the plus side, the interactive instructions are utterly fantastic – we dream of a time when companies like IKEA commission Nintendo to create similar digital documents for the hell that is flat-pack furniture.
The robot itself takes the form of a backpack – which contains a series of weighted 'power blocks' connected to strings which are in turn linked to your hands and feet – and a cardboard headset. A Joy-Con is inserted into each of these components (the right-hand Joy-Con goes into the backpack, as its IR camera is used to track the movement of reflective tape stuck to the aforementioned power blocks), allowing your motions to be replicated on-screen by the robot itself.
As you might expect, punching in the real-world results in your droid avatar throwing a punch of similar force in the game. Stomping your feet causes the robot to walk, and tilting from side to side makes it turn. In addition to these basic moves you can access other features, such as extending your arms to fly or crouching down to transform into a tank, complete with laser guns. Build up your power gauge and you can transform into a giant robot, with suitably enhanced destructive capabilities. Everything is viewed from a third-person perspective so you can actually see the weighted power blocks rise and fall on the back of your robot, but flipping down the visor on your cardboard headset gives you a first-person view of the action – it's like a super-cheap version of virtual reality, in a way.
After each match, your points are converted into experience and your robot's level rises accordingly. This might all seem very basic, but hopping into the 'Challenge' mode allows you to not only hone your existing powers, but unlock brand new ones – such as the rocket punch (which sees your fist fly at targets) and the powerful beam attack (activated by punching with both arms at the same time, ARMS-style). With their tight focus on completing objectives, the missions in the Challenge mode might even be more compelling than the main 'destroy everything' mode; you'll most likely divide the majority of your play time between the two. If you've got two kits, then you can go head-to-head with another player – sadly, we weren't able to test this portion of the game as we only had the one.
Beyond these modes, there are other features which extend the longevity of the kit. You can use cardboard screws – which are inserted into the side and top of the backpack – to alter the colour of your mech; it's a similar mechanic to that seen in the Variety kit's 'House' Toy-Con. You can also place the Switch console inside the backpack for 'Robo-Studio' mode, where your movements are turned into sounds. This is handy when you don't want to use the TV for play and it's predictably a hit with kids, but it won't keep you coming back for long.
Like the Variety kit, the Robot kit also comes with the Toy-Con Garage, as well as a few token parts which can be used to create your own cardboard gadgets. The programming system is incredibly versatile, and when the appeal of being a robot that's as tall as a building wears off, you can rely on this feature to keep you coming back for more – provided you have the patience to not only master the node-based system, but also to build your own models out of cardboard, that is.
It's easy to see why Nintendo decided to release two Labo kits at launch; they both offer very different experiences. This particular kit gives you a strong focus at the expense of – you guessed it - variety, and that's both a positive and a negative. The game's two main modes boast much more depth than those seen in the Variety Kit, but sooner or later you'll tire of the relatively simplistic gameplay; then you have the very real problem of where you're going to store a massive cardboard backpack which cannot be disassembled easily. We dare say that just like the Wii Balance Board and the myriad plastic Wii Remote accessories from a few years back, plenty of Labo Robot kits will find themselves either dumped in the garage or disposed of entirely. 'Storage' seems like an odd thing to knock a Switch game for, but with Labo this is a genuine concern; once you stop playing the main game you can always experiment with the Toy-Con Garage mode, but what incentive is there to keep the backpack assembled?
When compared the sheer volume of Toy-Con seen in the Variety Kit, it's no surprise that it outsold the Robot Kit by quite some margin. However, this second pack arguably does a better job of showing the kind of depth we can expect from more focused Labo kits in the future. The main mode is undeniably fun and gives a sense of immersion that is impressive for something fashioned out of cardboard. On the downside, it takes an age to assemble and the core 'game' isn't robust enough to keep you playing for long; you then have to decide if you're going to store that bulky backpack away somewhere or spend a considerable amount of time taking it carefully apart, knowing full well that another four-odd hours of construction time is required to make it again – if the parts are in good enough condition to do so, of course. Labo has been labelled a gimmick by its harshest critics, and while we think that's a tad unfair, the Robot Kit does feel like something from the Wii era in terms of its throwaway appeal.