What is Nintendo Labo VR Kit?
The Nintendo Labo VR Kit is the latest addition to Nintendo’s creative cardboard range, where users can build various cardboard controllers – shaped like a fishing rod, piano or steering wheel etc – for use with all sorts of fun mini games on the Nintendo Switch. Thanks to the introduction of virtual reality though, the VR Kit is perhaps the most exciting Labo entry yet.
Since we’re talking about Nintendo here, this virtual reality doesn’t offer groundbreaking immersion or require a monster computer rig – all you need is the Switch console, a pair of Joy-Cons and all the cardboard cutouts, elastic bands and software bundled in the £35 VR Kit starter set. This means the Labo VR Kit is restricted to simple, bite-size experiences rather than a full-fledged video game and is certainly more akin to Google Cardboard than Oculus Rift or HTC Vive.
That’s not an issue though, as Nintendo has made it clear Labo VR Kit is targeted specifically at children. And with incredibly immersive controllers, an affordable price and plenty of goofy mini games, Nintendo’s latest dabble with virtual reality could well be one of the standout toys of the year.
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Nintendo Labo VR Kit – Release Date
The Nintendo Labo VR Kit is already available, releasing on 12 April 2019. Both the starter kit and the more expensive complete set were released on this date.
Nintendo Labo VR Kit – Price
The Nintendo Labo VR Kit starter set retails at £34.99 ($39.99). This includes the Nintendo Switch software and all the bits and pieces needed to construct the VR Goggles and Blaster. Bear in mind, the Nintendo Switch console is required too.
There’s also a complete Labo VR Kit set available at £69.99 ($79.99), which includes everything the starter set does, as well as the components required to build four additional cardboard controllers: Camera, Bird, Wind Pedal and Elephant. These four creations give gamers access to an extra 16 experiences, taking the total up to 64.
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Nintendo Labo VR Kit Preview
Nintendo Labo was already a genius idea, offering up cardboard kits that children could construct and then use as a controller for all sorts of delightful games on the Switch. By adding virtual reality to the mix though, Nintendo has created one of the most unique and enjoyable playsets currently on offer for young children.
The biggest surprise of all though, is how cheap Nintendo has been able to make this virtual reality toy kit. That’s mostly down to some genius design quirks and the incredible technology stuffed inside the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers. There are no external sensors required. Even the VR Goggles, which do feature a lens, don’t require a fitted display as the Nintendo Switch’s screen can easily slot into the cardboard headset instead, just like how you’d fit your smartphone into a Google Cardboard headset.
It’s easy to set up too. Load up the bundled software, then slot the Switch into the VR Goggles and you’ll instantly be able to navigate through all the mini games by using one of the Joy-Cons like a Wii remote. The other Joy-Con remains attached to the headset in order to track the movement of your head – like I said, these controllers are darn clever.
With this setup, I played all sorts of games. I threw boomerangs at building blocks to rack up a high score, went on a road rage with a hammer-wielding toy car and even navigated an alien spaceship to pick up and drop an apple on a table. Each one provided a good few minutes of entertainment, but admittedly lacked depth or replayability. These specific games didn’t really take full advantage of virtual reality either. I could easily see them as bite-size Wii demos instead. That said, because the Nintendo Labo: VR Kit is designed to be playable while sitting down, Nintendo is limited to what they can do without a cardboard controller.
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As soon as I picked up the cardboard Blaster and loaded up one of its specially-made games, the experience improved dramatically. Tasked with gunning down adorable aliens, I was soon spinning around in my chair and hammering down on the Blaster’s cardboard trigger with the on-screen weapon responding immediately to my real-time movement courtesy of the Joy-Con tracking. This was a heck of a lot more immersive than the previous experiences, and a lot more fun too.
Bear in mind, this was very much an entry-level VR shooter – it’s not as slick as other VR shooters, but that’s to be expected. The limitations of the Switch’s display means the game suffers a lot from motion blur when you move your head quickly. This never made me feel nauseous, but it made it more difficult to spot the aliens.
I also found it odd that the Blaster attaches directly to the goggles rather than being a separate peripheral. This brings along its own issues, aside from making you look like a wally. Since the VR Goggles lack a strap, you need to hold the Blaster pressed up against your face while simultaneously swinging it around to aim at the on-screen targets. This means the VR Goggles frequently slip out of place, which gets frustrating quickly.
The one advantage the Labo Blaster has over other VR shooters, though, was actually having a gun-shaped controller in your hands. Firing and loading felt incredibly intuitive, and feeling the feedback of the rubber bands and cardboard levers provided a level of immersion that plastic peripherals just can’t match. And to think that it’s just a pair of Joy-Cons providing all the real-time tracking of the cardboard construction is absolutely astounding.
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That said, the triggers are made from cardboard, and lack that premium quality you’ll find with the PlayStation VR aim controller. The cardboard feels a little odd to squeeze at first, but it was surprisingly responsive. There were a handful of occasions when then controller didn’t register my input, but it’s all still very impressive considering the things made of cardboard.
I unfortunately didn’t get the opportunity to construct the Blaster (or any of the other controllers) myself during the Nintendo Labo VR Kit hands-on event, but I can imagine a big part of the fun is assembling these cardboard creations yourself and then seeing them come to life on the Nintendo Switch. I’ll comment on how enjoyable and easy this process in the final review.
So for the £35 starter kit, you may not be getting a premium experience, but it’s definitely a fantastic and affordable virtual reality entry point for children. That’s 48 mini games too, which should keep the tykes occupied for ages.
If that’s not enough, there’s also the option of a £70 Nintendo Labo VR Kit which boosts the mini game tally up to 64. You get four more cardboard creations to play around with. I used the Camera to snap underwater critters, and could even twist the lens for a zoomed-in shot. The Elephant controller, meanwhile, acted like a precise grabber which allowed me to build contraptions in a virtual space in order to guide a metal ball to its destination.
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One of my personal favourites was the Wind Pedal. Here you stamp down on a foot pedal to make an in-game frog leap over all sorts of obstacles. The clever thing here though, is the device unleashes a big gust of air into your face as you leap into the air which heightens the immersion tenfold. You certainly don’t get that with an Oculus Rift.
The last thing to mention about Nintendo Labo VR Kit, it that it allows you to design your own game levels and experiences, like the cardboard equivalent of Super Mario Maker. I didn’t get chance to play around with this, but I’ll be sure to check it out for the full review.
The Labo VR Kit looks to be a fantastic extension to Nintendo’s cardboard range. This is no Vive or Rift rival, with children being the main focus here, but this is still one of the most inventive and playful takes on virtual reality so far – and importantly, the starter kit is priced very reasonably.
The controllers are the standout features here though, with the Blaster and Wind Pedal in particular offering really unique and enjoyable experiences. I’m slightly concerned with the replayability of the shallow and bite-size mini games, yet I’m still confident Labo VR will be one of the standout toys of the year.