Despite the fact that Labo hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm, Nintendo keeps pushing what their weird cardboard toys are capable of further and further. I didn’t end up writing about it, but I was really impressed by the third one, the Vehicle Kit. While it was pretty simple, it had a fully realized open world game with three vehicles that you could quickly swap to. I thought this was probably as far as the concept could go. But, then the VR Kit came out.
The VR Kit is available in two packages, one that comes with the VR Goggles and Blaster, and one that comes with both of those plus four other Toycons. I got the cheaper, smaller one because it’s what I could find in stores. I saw the full package on Amazon, but I didn’t want to wait for delivery. So, I’ve built the Goggles and the Blaster, and I’ve ordered the two expansion packs from Nintendo’s website that will get me the remaining Toycons.
If you’ve built in Labo kits, you know exactly what you’re getting into. The interface for the instructions is exactly the same as it’s always been, which is fine by me. The software walks you through each piece step by step, and you’re able to rewind or change the camera angle if you need a better look at exactly what they’re asking you to do. I loved it back when I first bought the Variety Kit, and I continue to love it here.
The builds themselves are fun too. The Goggles were pretty simple. It’s small and doesn’t really have any moving parts. A big chunk of it, however, is a big plastic piece with lenses. That’s fine, I certainly don’t have a better solution for how to make a VR headset, but it does kind of detract with Labo’s charming “This is all cardboard, strings, and stickers” theme that’s been present in all other kits.
The Blaster is much more complicated and was a ton of fun to put together. It’s shaped like a bazooka and is very comfortable to hold. Joycons fit in two parts, one in the barrel and one near where your head is. There’s a moving part under the barrel that slides back similar to a pump-action shotgun. This moves the Joycon in the barrel back, allowing it to pick up cues, such as to load the gun in one of the games. The Joycon near your head can be swiveled up and down to activate a slow-mo effect in the main Blaster game.
Okay, so the toys are cool, but how is actually playing the game. I’ll admit, I was a little unsure about how this would go. At the end of the day, all you’re really doing is holding a Nintendo Switch up to your face. In VR, frame rate and resolution are very important, and the Switch isn’t very powerful and only has a 720p screen. So yeah, I wasn’t totally convinced before I bought it.
I’m happy to report, however, that it feels really good. Everything moves really smoothly, never once did I notice it hitch up. The resolution is still a bit of an issue though. Everything is a little blurry, but I found that my eyes did get used to that. Ultimately, I don’t think they could have done it any better with the tech they have. No, this will not compete with high-end headsets like the Vive, but for literally just hold the console up to your face, it works shockingly well.
One small issue is the lack of a strap to hold the Goggles to your head. I’ve heard people make the claim that this is because the motion tracking is all in the Joycons, but that’s simply not true. You can fully look around using the Goggles without the Joycons attached and it follows your movements perfectly. So, I don’t know why they decided to go this route, and it makes me really wonder how soon we can expect a third party to put out a cheap plastic headset, especially with VR support coming to Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild later this month.
The main game you get if you purchase the cheaper bundle is a rail shooter. There’s aliens all over the city and you have to shoot them. It’s entirely score based, the aliens never attack back. Even the bosses, which sometimes shoot in your direction, don’t actually do any harm to you. This is honestly kind of weird, because instead of stopping an invasion, you feel like you’re mowing down harmless creatures who are just minding their own business. Regardless, it’s fun and I’ve found myself replaying levels to try to get better scores.
The sense of scale is surprisingly great in this game. Sometimes, the path you’re on takes you to a high heights, and it can actually be a little unnerving looking down on a city far below you. Bosses, while harmless, are also impressively big. One is a giant enemy crab who towers over you, and at one point jumps directly on top of you. Despite not needing to worry about your health, it’s actually pretty intense.
The other game included is multiplayer only, and I didn’t have a chance to really give it a go. I did play a round of it as both players just to see what it is. Basically, there’s a bunch of hippos in a pool, and you take turns shooting fruit into their mouths. When they eat the fruit, they swim to your side of the pool, giving you points. Whoever has the most points at the end wins. It seems pretty simple, but it could be fun.
Like all Labo kits, the VR Kit includes the Labo garage, where you can program your own Labo creations. This time around, it also includes a new VR garage where you can make your own VR minigames. Also included is many games that were pre-made using those tools to really give you an idea of what it’s capable of. I didn’t mess with it too much, honestly, it’s pretty intimidating, but I’m sure some people will make some crazy stuff with it. It’s just too bad there’s no online support for game sharing.
Although it absolutely doesn’t compete with high-end headsets, Nintendo’s first (second? Does Virtual Boy count?) go at VR is a ton of fun. If you like building stuff, you’ll find something to like here. If you want a cheap way to check out what VR is all about, this is a fun way to do just that. I ended up loving my time with Labo VR and can’t wait for the other kits to arrive in the mail.