Nintendo Labo
A completed Toy-Con RC Car . IBTimes UK

Everyone knows what to expect from Nintendo when it comes to Mario, and at least half of the legendary developer's output. Whether it's a game's quality or how it plays, more often than not players know what's in store. When Nintendo throws a curveball however... boy, do they.

Nintendo DS, the Wii, Wii Music, Wii Fit, basically everything else involving the Wii, the Wii U, Virtual Boy, Miitomo, the Miiverse, GameBoy Camera, that device that's a handheld and a home console - when Nintendo goes out on a limb conceptually, they make an impact.

"What on Earth is that?" "It'll never sell." "Who is it for?" Those are just a handful of the usual responses when Nintendo lifts the veil.

Whether or not the questions are valid and regardless of the eventual success of these products when they hit the market, Nintendo are at least bold enough try new things.

Enter Nintendo Labo.

Announced just a few hours after a jam-packed Nintendo Direct that revealed Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Mario Tennis Aces and Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition, Labo was immediately framed as something different, a "new interactive experience specially crafted for kids and those who are kids at heart".

What we saw in the announcement was cardboard, a lot of cardboard, folded carefully and slotted together to create peripherals putting to work the nifty tricks of Nintendo Switch's Joy-Con controllers.

Pianos, fishing rods, motorbike handlebars, small houses, RC cars and a full robot exoskeleton are just a few of the 'Toy-Cons' glimpsed, and the ones available to sample at a recent hands-on event in London.

Members of the press were joined by young families of eager kids and parents eager for something to do during half-term. Mixed groups gathered at tables for a little bit of arts and crafts as we all made Toy-Con cars from scratch.

After construction came the play. Using the Joy-Cons' incredibly detailed haptic feedback (or 'HD Rumble') the controllers on either side of the car steered it left, right, and together forward. The aim could be to race, or to knock over other players with the aid of additional scoop-like ornanments.

Some people opted for a front scoop, others like me went for the elephant. Both were the focus of the next stage of proceedings as everyone personalised their cars with enough felt, pens, glue, stickers, string and ribbons to supply a city's worth of playgroups.

Nintendo Labo
A pirate-themed custom RC Car and my own ridiculous elephant son. IBTimes UK

Sat there for far too long colouring in my painfully amateurish purple elephant (which had Princess Peach eyes, felt ears, pom poms on its head and yarn wrapped around its trunk) it wasn't until one of Nintendo's assistants reminded me that I realised I should probably go sample everything else Labo has to offer.

What wows you about Labo is how it can feel like virtual reality without the usual trappings, or like motion control without the waggle. When using the Motorbike Toy-Con the one-to-one movement was uncanny. I instinctively turned too hard, anticipating a need to overcompensate, but I didn't need to. Small, steady movements were all that were required as I hit jumps, clipped curbs and nudged other players.

The Fishing Rod is even more complex. Its line is connected to a reel on either end: one obviously on the rod, the other in the bulk of the contraption that houses the Switch screen. This reel is supported by rubber bands that create a give and resistance. What's on the screen - a Ridiculous Fishing-style game - fills in the blanks.

Players guide their lines down to tempt and snag a potential prize, after which they must pull it to the surface. Should the fish pull too tightly on the line it'll snap, so players need to loosen it by moving the rod down or unspooling the reel.

They might be made of cardboard, but the inner-workings of the Toy-Cons can be incredible. Most make use of fiendishly simple reflective strips recognised by the right Joy-Con's infrared camera, which convert patterns and movement into in-game actions.

In the case of the Piano, that means different base sounds and the ability to insert shaped waveform cards to create your own. Then there's the ability to dig even deeper, tweaking and tuning reverb, octave and more to customise every note that can be played.

The house meanwhile is a home-shaped box with slots into which you can insert blocks - a button, a crank, a switch for example - and depending where they're inserted and in what combinations, the on-screen interior of the house will change and conjure up mini-games to play.

Nintendo Labo
Nintendo Labo
Nintendo Labo

Then there's the Robot suit.

Sold as a seperate kit, this behemoth is what children (of all ages) will immediately flock to. Attached to your feet and hands, and with a natty visor to boot, the Robot suit asks for big exaggerated movements in a fun, destructive mech game based.

Players stomp their feet to move, crouch down to enter a faster car form, lean to change direction, pull down their visor to enter first-person mode and punch to, well, punch - the aim being to rack up points and combos levelling tower blocks and flying alien craft.

All that would be enough for most studios but Nintendo takes it further with a wealth of customisation options that run deeper than felt, googly eyes and pipe cleaners. Labo players will be able to go under the bonnet and tinker around to create and program their own creations, and in turn their own games.

Using a basic "if this, then that" interface, players can program any combination of Joy-Con and cardboard construct to do whatever they choose. You could attach a Joy-Con to a figure that falls over when 'shot' with another Joy-Con's IR camera, or you could construct a guitar if pianos aren't quite your style.

Nintendo's Labo is a legendary company at its unexpected, creative and daring best. It's fun and engaging on its surface level, with a greater depth than anyone would have expected from a company that doesn't often lift the lid on its creations. There's more to come too.

The initial announcement trailer glimpsed a camera, a bird with flapping wings, a steering wheel, a joystick and more. So what we've seen of Labo so far, it's only the beginning.