It was announced as “simple VR.” And that’s exactly what it delivers.
Nintendo chose wisely in using Labo to plot the company’s path into a virtual reality future. There’s already a global market familiar with the idea of “cardboard VR” — and cardboard, of course, is the glue that holds Labo together — and the low-tech approach keeps the price family-friendly.
Now, having actually spent some time playing with the Labo VR Kit, I’m happy to confirm: It’s good stuff.
Let’s talk about what’s in the box first. A basic $40 starter set gets you the VR Kit software, the cardboard pieces you’ll need to build the headset — which includes a hard plastic component for the lenses — and the Toy-Con Blaster, one of several build-it-yourself peripherals that work in tandem with the headset.
The more complete $80 VR Kit packs in four additional peripherals: Toy-Con Camera, Toy-Con Elephant, Toy-Con Bird, and Toy-Con Wind Pedal. Starter set buyers will also be able to pick up those extras up separately, in two $20 expansion packs: one for the Camera and Elephant, the other for the Bird and Wind Pedal.
Each cardboard construct is tied to one or more games and experiences, and they’re all built to accommodate the core headset, which slots in at the end of each one. There’s no headstrap for the headset, so the overall vibe is you hold this large and bizarrely shaped cardboard apparatus right up to your face.
The Blaster — which I’ve taken to calling the “face gun” — has a cutesy on-rails shooting gallery game where you take aim on alien invaders as you follow a fixed path through a city. The Blaster’s pump-action forend responds with satisfying resistance when you pull it before each shot, and the whole thing is sturdy enough that frantic pump-and-shoot repetitions won’t tear it apart right away.
The Camera game I sampled sent me beneath the ocean waves for a photo expedition. You turn all around and snap pics of any undersea life or other points of interest you manage to spot. Spinning the cardboard lens assembly allows you to zoom in and out, just like a real camera.
Nintendo chose wisely in using Labo to plot the company’s path into a virtual reality future.
The Wind Pedal works in tandem with the Bird — some kind of racing game that I didn’t get to try. But there’s also a separate Wind Pedal game where you’re a stationary frog that needs to hop and land on top of floating beach balls or head an airborne soccer ball. It’s completely bizarre, but the big burst of air you get with each stomp on the Wind Pedal lends a nice 4D layer to the experience.
The Elephant is a bit more unusual. I tried an app that felt like a much-simplified version of VR art apps like Tilt Brush or Oculus Medium. So where the Blaster and the Camera have you shooting and taking photos, respectively, the Elephant is about animal cosplay. Your in-app cursor is controlled by a Toy-Con slotted into the end of the cardboard elephant’s snout.
It’s a bizarre setup. The elephant’s trunk keeps you anchored to the headset in a way that limits your range of movement. It’s in keeping with Nintendo’s unique flavor of weirdness, but VR art apps are magical because they give you a big, open space to call your canvas.
The headset itself is something you simply hold up to your face when you’re using it, whether or not it’s attached to any of the other peripherals. It doesn’t form a perfect seal around your eyes, so light can seep in and create a glare on one or both lenses if you’re sitting in a bad spot. But as cardboard VR experiences go, Labo VR Kit more than holds its own.
Even if you’re generally left feeling queasy by VR, this Labo set can work for you. All of the included experiences can be played in 2D, right off the screen. A special cardboard adapter lets you slot the Switch tablet into any of the peripherals, so you’re still playing with the cardboard creations but the actual gameplay unfolds on a standard Switch screen.
Toy-Con Garage also gets an upgrade in the Labo VR Kit, allowing players to create and customize experiences of their own. The user-friendly developer tools are very similar to the Garage mode in earlier Labo kits, but the VR side of things effectively makes this kit one of the cheapest and easiest entry points into developing ideas for the relatively young technology.
To complement the new, VR-friendly Garage, Nintendo included 64 minigames on the Labo VR Kit cartridge, all built using those same development tools. I tried a very simple platforming game, and while it wasn’t anywhere near the level of complexity of the kit’s main experiences, it painted a compelling picture of what’s possible.
Nintendo’s Labo efforts haven’t really been geared specifically toward the Mario-and-Zelda-loving core of the company’s fanbase, and the Labo VR Kit doesn’t look like it’ll break that trend. But as a family-friendly entry point into VR gaming and development, it gives the first impression of an immediately engaging toy and yet another upped ante for Nintendo’s ever-more-impressive Labo line.