Nintendo Labo VR kit review: a playful, bite-sized virtual reality arcade

In recent years, it seems that every major technology and gaming company has experimented with virtual reality to a certain extent, including Sony, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, HTC, Valve and much more. Nintendo, meanwhile, has been notably absent. (And no, the ill-fated Virtual Boy of the mid-90s does not count).

Not only did the company stay away from virtual reality, but its most prominent figures seemed concerned about the medium. "When I see that people play virtual reality, I worry, as if, for example, if a father saw his son playing virtual reality, he probably worries," said game design legend Shigeru Miyamoto ] Time in 2017, just before the switch was launched.

That's why it was so surprising when Nintendo abruptly announced a VR headset last month. Of course, being Nintendo, it's not about any pair of virtual reality glasses. This is a company that likes to follow its own path, and its first adequate foray into virtual reality is no different. Instead of the bold black headphones that have become synonymous with virtual reality, thanks to Oculus and HTC, Nintendo launches a device made of cardboard that you must build yourself as part of the company's line of DIY accessories for the switch. .

Like the Google Cardboard VR headset, the Nintendo system is not the typical virtual reality experience. While most virtual reality to date is about immersing yourself in a virtual world, tricking your brain into thinking you're in space or underwater, the Labo VR of $ 79.99 offers comparable experiences of similar size . They are playful and foolish: one has you throwing fruit in the mouth of hungry hippos; in another, you are helping a frog to jump on juggling balls, but they also serve as an excellent introduction to the medium.

Think of it as an RV playroom in your living room (some assembly is required).

nintendo labo vr kit review a playful bite sized virtual reality arcade

If Al not being familiar with Labo, the concept is quite simple and clearly Nintendo. It is difficult to imagine a product like this coming from any other major video game company. Launched for the first time last year, Labo is a line of accessories that can transform the Switch into a range of different interactive objects. One turns the tablet into a piano, another allows you to dress and control a robot on the screen. The twist is that you have to build each accessory yourself. Labo's motto is "make, play, discover" and it is very suitable. You build something, you play with it, you learn how it really works and you potentially design your own accessories and games.

When it comes to the "manufacturing" part, the virtual reality kit is practically identical to the previous Lab games. . In the main kit, you get a variety of things to build: a camera, a giant blaster, a bird, an elephant, a wind pedal, and glasses, along with some smaller additions like a windlass and a snorkel. (You can also take a starting kit of $ 39.99 that only includes the glasses and the blaster, with additional kits sold separately). When you open the box, you come across a pile of unpretentious cardboard sheets and a bag full of elastic bands and stickers.

As with the original Labo kits, assembling the VR accessories is a surprisingly fun, albeit slow, process. There is a lot of folded and rolled cardboard, and some of the kits can be quite complex; The interior of the blaster, for example, has many complicated bits that must fit perfectly. However, I never found myself confused while building a Labo kit, and everything is due to the interactive instruction manual. Not only can you follow the step-by-step instructions on the Switch screen, but you can also rotate the image to make sure you are doing everything correctly. And each piece is labeled to be really easy to follow.

It is also a great community experience. You can put the instructions on your television, and a group can build together, which is perfect for parents and children. My six-year-old daughter can not build these kits by herself, but things are arranged in such a way that she can still help significantly. It is a testament to Nintendo's design skills that spending two hours rolling pieces of cardboard to make a toy gun can be a fun group activity. Once you're done, the pieces are pretty solid, considering their DIY origins.

However, construction is only one step. Part of the mission statement for Labo is to be fun and educational. The platform has even made its way into schools. Assembling a twisted elephant trunk gives you an idea of ​​how it is assembled, but the "discover" section of the software shows you how it really works. It is essentially a series of lessons, each of which is developed as a conversation between a group of silly characters, who detail the internal workings of each accessory Labo. At some point, you're probably wondering how a cardboard camera can zoom in and out on the screen, and here, you can really solve it. There are even sections on how to repair and decorate your creations.

As in the case of previous Labo kits, there are some smart uses of real-world materials at play here. The blaster trigger can be triggered because the Switch's IR camera sees a reflective sticker inside its barrel, while the tablet's brightness sensor allows it to automatically detect when you slide the screen into the VR glasses. As I said in my review of Labo's original game last year, these lessons turn technology from something magical and opaque into something tangible and real. In an era of phones and computers that you can not even open, this feels especially important. Things go a step further with the garage tool, where you can use rudimentary coding to design games and then build accessories to back them up. We even managed to create a guitar and play "Rainbow Connection".

All this has been true for every Labo kit to date, and it's still true for the VR version. Find a nice balance between being fun and informative. You're not going to become a master programmer at Labo, but you could instill a desire to delve into how and why things work.

What makes the Labo VR kit different is the "game" aspect. [19659015] Although things like the Labo piano and the fishing rod were great, unfortunately they did not have a lasting appeal. In most cases, they looked more like digital toys than games, the kind of things that are fun a few days before the novelty disappears. Nintendo remedied this with the vehicle kit that was launched in September, which presents a much more solid game that is linked to the core experience of Labo. That trend continues with Labo VR. Here is a brief summary of the experiences included:

Camera : The camera is perhaps the most natural of virtual reality accessories. Put the glasses on the cardboard gadget and then use it as if it were a normal camera. There is a lens that you turn to zoom in or out and an easily accessible shoulder button to take photos. There are two main games that accompany the camera. The first has it exploring a picturesque oceanic scene, the other is the home of a strange creature called Fuzzball. At first, there does not seem to be much to do, but each world is full of secrets, and the goal of the game is essentially to discover how to discover those secrets and then take a picture. And there are a lot of things to find. When you start playing, they greet you with a long and empty photo-roll waiting to be filled.

Elephant : This is where things get weird. To play these games, you hold an elephant mask on your face and use the trunk to manipulate objects in 3D spaces. For example, in the "marble" puzzle game, you have to extend and move the plates and metal ramps with your hand to guide a rolling ball towards the level exit. Although it works surprisingly well, naturally, it is not as robust or accurate as other modern VR controllers. The same goes for the drawing mode, which is like a simplified tilt brush, which allows you to draw and paint in 3D space. Because their hands are somewhat restricted by the trunk of the elephant, it can be difficult to create works of art on a large scale, but as proof of concept, it works well enough.

Bird : The main mode for the bird The accessory is a surprisingly open world where you can fly quite freely. Controlling the bird is simple: keep the glasses on your face and then squeeze two triggers on each side to flap your wings. That's. In addition to opening a map to see where it is, the only real way to interact with the world is to fly. The core of the game is to fly and find eggs. They will incubate when you approach and then they will ask you to gather a certain amount of something, usually food, before they grow up and start flying by your side. It can be a bit tedious, but the real feeling of movement is exciting.

Pedal : The pedal differs from all other accessories because it is separate from the glasses you hold on your face. Instead, it's like a drum pedal with a giant fan in it, and you put a Joy-Con controller inside to track it when you step on it. The main game has you controlling a frog. When the objects approach, you step on the pedal to jump on them. Do it well, and you will clear the obstacle. The secondary benefit is a gust of fresh wind on your face every time you jump. This not only adds a surprisingly enveloping element to the game, but also to people who get sick or get dizzy in virtual reality, the breeze is very welcome and refreshing.

Blaster : The blaster is the most traditional accessory of the game. . It is a thick, heavy cardboard gun that cocks with one hand and fire with the other. Using nothing more than a few elastic bands, the blaster gives a very satisfying punch when you squeeze the trigger. There are two main game modes. The first is an arcade shooter on rails, where you move through environments that shoot cute aliens and pink aliens. It's very simple, but as the developers of arcade games discovered in the 90s, even a basic shooter is much more fun with something like a real gun in your hand. I especially enjoyed the massive massive creatures, which give a good sense of scale. There is also a game for two players where you and another person take turns shooting watermelons and grapes at hippos in a pool. It's a silly fun, but it's also a bit strange as a multiplayer experience. Because all the action takes place on the screen of the switch that is pressed against your face, you can not really see your opponent take his turn.

Those are just the big ones. There is also a "VR Plaza" that offers more than 60 much smaller experiences that vary quite a bit in quality. Most feel like simple technological demos compared to the most complete main games.

Now, there are obvious technical limitations for Labo VR, things that will be immediately noticeable if you've spent a lot of time with other VR devices. Compared to a decent PS4 or PC game, the Switch is a low-power device, which means that all games seem quite simple and of low resolution. You will see a lot of jagged edges and some fuzzy objects while you play. Similarly, Joy-Con drivers are not as accurate and intuitive as other VR drivers, which is noticeable when you do something like painting a 3D image. There are also some drawbacks that are unique to Labo. Holding a tablet and a giant cardboard gadget in the face may wear down after a while, especially since there are no straps or supports to relieve tension. Especially I felt a slight pain in my arms after heated episodes of firing the blaster.

However, for the most part, these are not major problems because most Labo VR games have been designed around these potential problems. They are games that are meant to be played in very short bursts: instead of submerging yourself in a world, they ask you to visit for a while. All the levels of the shooters last only a few minutes, and even something like the freely moving bird mode encourages you to stop and take a break every five minutes or so.

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In this way, Labo VR is perhaps the ideal first step for VR, particularly for younger players. It is accessible, easy to configure and addresses many of the problems that can hinder virtual reality for people. Apart from flying like a bird, you do not really control your movement in any game, which can relieve nausea. If you feel sick, it's easy to jump out of the game: just remove the glasses from your face. There are no straps or cords to try. (As someone with a tendency to feel nauseous in virtual reality, I had no problem with the Labo kit).

As it is, Nintendo's first foray into virtual reality works well, which is more than I expected, given the strange accessories and the low power of the Switch. The big question, however, is what comes next. Labo VR is ideal for playing short arcade games in five minute bursts, but with full support for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the way, it's hard to see how to have a tablet in the face It could be comfortable and enjoyable for long sessions with action games involved and fascinating. (We'll have more information on VR support for Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey when published on April 25.)

It may have taken a while, but The Nintendo take on the modern VR is perhaps the perfect complement to the Switch itself. With its tablet / hybrid console, Nintendo took a completely different direction from its competitors, and the same could be said of Labo VR. It's not a virtual reality as you know it, and that's what makes it so interesting.

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