Nintendo Labo Piano

The last thing you can build with the Nintendo Labo Variety Kit is a piano!  And it really works, too.  But not like a regular piano.  It’s also the most complicated thing you build, but also the most impressive.  So let’s tickle the corrugated ivories and check out this cardboard instrument!

In reality, the piano works a lot like the Labo house does.  You stick the right Joy Con in the back of the piano like you did the chimney in the house.  Inside it is dark but when you press keys, flip switches, and turn knobs on the piano, reflective stickers show to the camera letting it know what to do.  So when you press the C key, the Switch will make the correct sound, for instance, because it sees that reflective sticker pop up.  When you press down keys, they’ll pop right back up either because of how they’re balanced or if they have a folded piece of cardboard behind them that acts like a spring.  And that’s the simple explanation on how the piano works.

There are two modes of play with the piano.  The regular mode is simpler and best for younger kids and anyone who doesn’t want to mess around with too much of that music stuff.  In this mode, you see these different colored creatures peeping out of holes, and when you press the keys, they’ll pop out and make the right notes.  Default is a piano sound, but when you insert in one of the knobs in the hole, you can play different sounds, too.  Knob 1 turns them all into cats for meowing sounds (why no dogs?).  Knob 2 gives them headphones and they all make singing noises.  Knob three turns them into middle aged men with moustaches who hum, but if you make them hum too long, when you release they’ll cough, which is funny.  The last knob which has no number will make notes by making the Switch controllers vibrate at different frequencies, which is pretty amazing the first time I heard that in Kirby Star Allies.  Turn the knobs while they are in the hole to change the pitch.  Buttons on the top play sample songs.  If you have the Switch screen in the stand, you can even shake the whole piano to make the notes vibrate!

The second mode, called Studio Mode, is a bit more complicated.  You can do everything you can do in the other mode, but it’s a bit less kiddy looking.  The knobs now do things like change the pitch and reverb of the notes, but the last one still makes the Switch controllers vibrate.  You can record a lick of music and play more music over it to make different channels of sound.  Then you can wave the other Switch controller like a baton to ‘conduct’ the tempo of your recording (the game even comes with a cardboard baton attachment). Flip the lever on the side to switch octaves. There is a slot where you can put in sheets of cardboard or paper to make more things.  Cut out waves in the sheet to make the piano notes sound different.  The game even shows you how to make it sound like a violin.  Another sheet has holes you can punch out to make rhythm drum beats.  Although I imagine it would be hard to put the punched out holes back in when you want to make new rhythms.  You can even use the piano to cut out a fish shape to use to make your own fish in the aquarium!  Which reminds me of a joke: What is the different between a fish and a piano?  You can tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish!

So yeah, the piano is pretty amazing, but it does have a few problems.  The keys are hard to make straight, and I had an experienced adult model-builder helping me make this, so I can’t imagine how much trouble a kid would have.  Also, the stickers on the knobs come off very easily, which is disappointing.  The game recommends that you do not use tape to stick the reflective stickers back on, because it may mess up how the reflective stickers work.  They suggest using glue instead.  Still, it’s pretty disappointing how easy it is for the piano to not work as well because of these flaws.  But if you enjoy making music and learning about how sound works, the piano is still a great Labo toy!  –Cary

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