Nintendo Switch cardboard toys bring 'screen time' to physical world

Nintendo Labo: DIY cardboard kit brings gaming off-screen
Nintendo Labo: DIY cardboard kit brings gaming off-screen

Nintendo's new cardboard toys may be just what screen-addicted kids need to spend more time in the real world.

Last month, the Japanese company announced Nintendo Labo kits, a series of do-it-yourself cardboard toys, for its popular Switch gaming console.

The Switch -- which is one part handheld device, one part home console -- has sold 10 million units since its March 2017 launch. It has sold more units over the first 10 months in the U.S. than any console in history, the company announced last month.

Nintendo Labo's cardboard accessories can interact with the Switch in a number of ways. For example, by popping out pre-cut pieces, users can build a piano that plays musical notes or an RC car that can be controlled with the gaming console.

The kits are aimed at children ages 6 to 12 and go on sale starting April 20. The variety kit -- which includes projects like a fishing rod and piano -- will cost $70, while the robot kit sells for $80. The Nintendo Switch ($300) is sold separately.

At a recent event in New York City, CNN Tech got an early look at the new low-tech creations, which Nintendo calls "Toy-Cons."

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When making the cardboard toys, the Nintendo Switch serves as a high-tech instruction manual. The Switch's screen lights up with which cardboard cut out parts you need for a specific project.

nintendo rc car cardboard
Nintendo's DIY cardboard RC car.

The fishing reel, which is one of the more challenging projects, took about an hour to put together. The pieces have cute nicknames such as "Baby Bear" and "Papa Bear," which refer to the smaller and larger sized components of the rod. Overall, the cardboard was sturdy and durable, but still easy enough to fold and assemble.

The process, both intuitive and fun, is similar to putting together an advanced Lego set.

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After you're done building, you can use the cardboard toys to play games on the Switch. For example, the string on the cardboard fishing rod connects to the Switch's Labo game and lets the user catch digital fish and physically reel them in for points. The toy fishing rod clicks and offers resistance like a real fishing rod.

nintendo labo fishing rod
Nintendo Labo's fishing rod game.

The RC car is the simplest project and took about 10 minutes to put together. You can control the car using the Switch controller, by moving it side to side, and race against another player. There's an infrared camera in one of the controllers that can detect and follow sources of heat, such as a person's hand.

nintendo labo rc car
A child plays with an RC car at an event in New York City.

Related: Nintendo's latest video game devices are made of cardboard

Nintendo hopes mixing physical products with tech could be appealing at a time when "screen time" is in the spotlight. Recent studies have shown that smartphone addiction among children and teens can cause them to be less attentive in class, get insufficient sleep and have a higher risk of depression and suicide.

"More parents are searching for different ways to have quality time with their kids," said Cindy Gordon, Nintendo's VP of strategic communications. "This is a guided, cooperative and creative experience where the kids can use their imagination and have fun while learning some fundamentals of technology."

The Toy-Cons are a way for Nintendo to expand its user base for the Switch, as well.

"Some of the best games ever made launched on Nintendo Switch in 2017," said Mat Piscatella, a games industry analyst at NPD. "Nintendo Labo looks to significantly expand that reach, broadening appeal to parents and kids, and to both players and creators. It is, for the video game world, a new and unexpected direction with intriguing market potential."

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