Nintendo encourages players’ creativity by taking us behind the scenes of programming with an adventure suitable for everyone.
Surprisingly announced during Nintendo Direct in early May, Videogames laboratory fits with elegance within a long-term strategy of the great N, eager to encourage creativity of their fans young and old. With an ambitious goal: to dispel the myth of the inaccessibility of programming for those who do not handle lines of code with the skill of John Carmack.
The philosophy adopted by the title is simple, but effective. Nintendo Switch is populated by lively and over the top creatures, called Nodon, with the mission to help us understand the incredible world behind the development of a video game. A move behind the scenes that knows how to surprise, entertain and make the player smile, called to a role that at first may scare, but which turns out, over the hours, incredibly satisfying.
We are immediately introduced to our two guides: Bob, a blue dot that leads us step by step through the seven game levels, and Alice, willing to test our knowledge with interesting practical quizzes (which we will talk about later).
Seven challenges, therefore, e seven different games to program, starting with one that … does not work: the first gesture of the game is the useless attempt to move a character. Bob invites us to analyze what is wrong – and we quickly understand that, to be successful in Videogames laboratory, it is necessary to reflect on the logical steps and the connections between the various elements in the programming screen.
In this colorful and instantly recognizable realm as Nintendo-made the protagonists of the scene are the Nodons, each characterized by its own function and also by a very specific personality, outlined by the witty dialogues that make development sessions with Bob flowing and discursive.
The Nodons come with very useful icons for their recognition, and we can say that, except for some situations in which they begin to accumulate in large numbers in a small space, the screen remains tidy and clean, without any navigation difficulties for the player. Videogames laboratory leads the user to discover that a video game is like a well-oiled mechanism: make sure that each gear is in place, ready to perform its function. Relationships between the Nodons are vital, and exploring their infinite possibilities of relationship, connection and interaction brings great satisfaction to the user, more and more “geek” as you go through the seven lessons. At the level of use of the title, we point out that the modality handheld of Switch is really convenient to enjoy Videogames laboratory: the screen touch allows you to move between the various steps with the touch of a finger, for sessions characterized by speed and immediacy. No technical problems plagued the playthrough, but it must be said that the (deliberately) simple graphic level does not test the capabilities of our Nintendo Switches. For those who wish, it is possible to deal with Videogames laboratory with the click of a mouse – an option that will be appreciated by those who play mainly on PC.
In general, the effect is less immediate than a Super Mario Maker (here our review of Super Mario Maker 2), in which the elements of the various levels are made available to the player without taking him behind the scenes of development. Nintendo wanted to dare with an operation that is perhaps less captivating at first glance, but very profound from a conceptual point of view, without giving up a accessible approach and within everyone’s reach. In this sense, the choice to combine Bob’s lessons with the Alice’s Handbook, a series of extra insights that specifically focus on individual Nodons or programming mechanics.
The Manual is very useful in the course of Checkpoint sessions conducted by Alice. No boring questionnaires: even here you dive straight into action to solve concrete problems! We really enjoyed these phases, which are sometimes challenging, but can be tackled by squeezing your brains out and using the explanations in the Manual, if necessary. Seeing a non-functioning level set in motion thanks to our cunning is an experience capable of satisfying the player and to urge him to move forward to the next level. There is also an interesting one Nodopedia, a real encyclopedia which, with a slightly more technical language than that used in the lessons and in the manual, illustrates the operation and logic behind each Nodon.
Puzzle game, aliens and wild rides in the desert
The path traced by Videogames laboratory is aimed at increasing the player’s awareness of the concrete foundations of videogame development, taking inspiration from graphic programming languages based on objects and properties. It can be said that the result faithfully replicates the logic of real programming, and therefore it is a great way to approach this subterranean realm, mysterious and terribly fascinating.
The aesthetic key chosen by Nintendo helps a lot, characterized by a typically Japanese cleanliness and essentiality: even when the levels become full of elements, some specific Nodons allow you to translate the inputs here and there around the screen, keeping everything orderly and usable in view of sharing your creation and any future changes.
In Guided Lessons mode a variety of games to be developed are proposed that have satisfied us: they range from the classic shooter two-dimensional al puzzle game, passing through the adventure in three dimensions that closes the seven levels / lessons of Videogames laboratory.
At the beginning Bob perhaps takes the player’s hand too much, leaving a narrow space for autonomous interaction with the Nodons, but continuing in the experience we increasingly abandon the reins to allow us to vent our creativity. Lessons can be completed in 8-10 hours, a time that also depends on our ability to solve Alice’s Checkpoints, which separate one level from another and consolidate the accumulated knowledge. After the finale, the nice Alice will surprise you with extra challenging challenges!
A unique journey
As in any game based on the User Generated Content self-respecting, too Videogames laboratory has as its ultimate purpose to encourage the creation of video games by users, with their sharing among players from all over the world. And here comes a sore point, because the mechanism is far from brilliant: the two sections Share and Receive operate on the basis of the IDs of the player and the video game, and there is no central hub where you can view the products of the ingenuity of community. To find a work you must therefore enter either the ID of the game or that of its creator. A procedure that is not exactly comfortable, which we hope will be reviewed by Nintendo on future occasions. We also remind you that A Nintendo Switch Online subscription is required to use online sharing services.
Another aspect that could make some turn their noses is the lack of personality of Bob and Alice, nothing more than two dots on the console screen. However, it must be said that this choice is perfectly functional to the objective of the game: to make the user concentrate on programming in a simple and fun way. More “invasive” characters would have hindered the understanding of the interface and the linearity of the experience. Despite the lack of a story behind the path, Bob, Alice and the Nodons have entertained and involved us, also thanks to the lively explanations and dialogues that season the rhythm of the game.
For obvious reasons, Videogames laboratory it is characterized by a considerable amount of texts, translated into Italian in a simply flawless way. The sound contributes to the pleasantness of the adventure, resulting effective and full of winks to the style of the great soundtracks of Nintendo’s past. Unfortunately, no images or music uploaded by players can be inserted, but the resources offered by the game make it possible to make up for this lack – a sign of the desire to create a somewhat “controlled” experience – with an infinite number of options, combinations of existing elements and tool creatives that certainly won’t leave users short of ideas.
Videogames laboratoryVersion Analyzed Nintendo SwitchProposed at the interesting price of € 29.99 starting from 11 June, Laboratorio di Videogiochi is a courageous experiment that deserves the attention of those who are not satisfied with remaining on the surface of the videogame medium. The experience appears at first as less captivating than titles like Super Mario Maker, but the satisfaction that comes from entering the rabbit hole and discovering the secrets of programming is priceless. We are curious to find out how the Video Game Lab community will evolve, and we will try with interest the creations of budding developers from all over the world.