Nintendo Labo: The piano

By Olivier Patry, August 30th, 2018

We’re following up on the two previous Nintendo Labo posts with the piano kit this week, the third model in the set that we’ve built and tested.


Assembly is still fun and enjoyable, but as the number of cardboard sheets suggests, the level of complexity is much higher than in the previous two models. Indeed, we devoted a full two hours putting this little piano together.

Overall, the main cabinet and keys were quite easy to assemble. However, to complete the job we had to add a number of small stickers to specific locations on the piano, a task requiring a great deal of skill and attention to detail, which might be too much for kids under eight. Since the positioning accuracy of the stickers is crucial for the proper functioning of the instrument, this is a step that is not to be taken lightly.

Fortunately, the application offers verification tests throughout the assembly process to ensure the piano functions according to plan.

Once all the pieces are assembled, you’ll end up with a piano with 13 keys and different visual interaction indicators. Plus, two buttons, one with a “Play/Pause” pictogram and the other with a “Record” icon, so we can forsee that we’ll be able play and record our own compositions. There are also four independently numbered keys, small pre-punched cards, and small pieces of cardboard pre-cut into unique shapes.


Now the question is how do all these analog elements come alive in the Nintendo Switch digital world?


Once the game is launched, you quickly discover the tremendous ingenuity behind the piano’s design, both from a physical and interaction point of view. The response of the keys is impressive thanks to the resistance in the folds on the various pieces of cardboard. This very simple mechanism delivers convincing feedback.

The real tour de force is in the interaction between the movement of the keys and the console through the infrared camera from the right Joy-Con. This captures the movements of the stickers inside the piano and associates them with musical notes. Simply brilliant and pure music to our designer ears!


“Play” mode gives free rein to your little inner virtuoso. The numbered keys can replace the sound of the piano with meowing, a small choir, or a raucous-voiced old singer. All of which can yield some very exquisite results.

The fourth key generates the most interesting effects of all. It commands the console not to produce sound, but rather activate the vibration engine in the second controller instead. In other words, Joy-Con 2 starts vibrating at different intensities and each vibration frequency activates different variations of musical notes. Placing the controller on different surfaces (glass, plastic, metal, concave, or convex) changes the tone and the sound produced by the vibration.

As suggested in the tutorial, we placed the controller on a cardboard box which became our sound box. THE RESULT IS NOTHING SHORT OF SENSATIONAL!

The last thing to note in this mode is the small side lever that allows you to vary the tone of the sounds, to create crazy effects or add two more notes to the treble and bass.


This mode turns out to be richer and more complex than the previous one and so less accessible for younger kids. The possibilities are close to infinite. You can play, record, mix, and listen to your creations.

In “Studio” mode, the four keys allow you to change sound settings like volume, tone, and reverb.

The lever meanwhile allows you to change octaves. With the addition of small punch cards, you can get pre-packaged rhythms and save new ones.

Finally, you can get more new sounds by using the comb-shaped pieces. The musical results are only limited by your imagination...and maybe by your talent, too.


The piano kit is simply amazing, even mind-blowing. The Nintendo designers really pushed the envelope for what you can achieve with a few pieces of cardboard, self-adhesive tape, and a video game console. Solid design work all around.

By offering a real recording studio, the piano experience goes way beyond just being a game. It’s a model in the Variety Kit you can play with forever without ever getting bored. It remains to be seen whether the cardboard components will last as long as our desire to play!

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