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Review Nintendo Labo VR Kit Is Totally Good Enough

first_img If you don’t count Nintendo’s own Virtual Boy (and you shouldn’t) then the Oculus Rift arguably kicked off this modern era of virtual reality gaming we’re currently in. It also gave us Palmer Luckey but nobody’s perfect. And at GDC the Facebook subsidiary announced its latest headset, the Oculus Rift S. It’s an impressive piece of tech, a relatively affordable $399 high-res PC VR headset with room-scale tracking through “Oculus Insight.” But it all just seems too much for virtual reality, an experience I’m still not convinced is worth much more than a couple of minutes of amusement park fun.So for just $80 and a couple of cardboard kits I already know are fun to build, Nintendo Labo VR Kit is much closer to what I think is actually appropriate for consumer VR. This is especially the case after building all the toys, playing the games, and finding out it didn’t make me sick, aside from a slight delayed headache.People were concerned that the relatively low-res 720p Nintendo Switch screen would lead to motion sickness as a VR headset. And it’s true I could count the pixels I was seeing like a screen door or old-school standard definition tube television. Plus seeing your Switch that close made me way more self-conscious about how dirty mine was with smudges and dust.Still, maybe it’s because game performance seems so well optimized, or the fact that I naturally move the strapless headset with my hand to maintain comfort with squeezing my head with heavy pressure, but my Nintendo Labo VR experience wasn’t nearly as sickening as, say, my Bethesda VR experience a year ago. You don’t even need special frame for it to work with glasses. And if you’re even more sensitive than me each Labo VR game can be played in 2D with the Switch tablet slotted in the cardboard like a viewscreen.With that big comfort question out of the way, how’s Nintendo Labo VR Kit as a game experience? Is it the smart pivot needed to save the somewhat beleaguered (at least according to childless adult dude game pundits) Nintendo Labo? Here’s what I thought of each toy after spending a whole week building and using them, and listening to the chill almost vaporwave new menu music.Toy-Con VR BlasterThere’s a reason why this is the toy bundled with the VR starter kit. It’s still so impressive the quality of the toys Nintendo manages to help you build from regular cardboard. The Toy-Con Blaster is just a great fake gun. Whatever rubber band mechanisms it has going on feel fantastic to cock back and fire. It feels better than some real plastic light guns, even if cocking with too much force feels risky. The fact that you are playing with a toy makes it easy to forget you basically need to hold this big thing up to your face the whole time you’re playing. The artifice of the device also complements the inherent artifice of VR. The game itself is a pretty basic cartoon shooting gallery with a time-stopping gimmick. And trying to pick out specific targets can be tough when things get blurry. But the gun itself won over Nerf connoisseurs like us. With so much going on this is also the most fun (if time-consuming) toy to physically construct.Toy-Con VR ElephantIf you thought this would just be a game about putting out fires with water in your trunk or whatever the Toy-Con Elephant is way more ambitious. It turns out the “trunk” is actually a clever metaphor for keeping the two Joy-Con aligned and facing the tracking tape on your face to act as a fully functional motion controller for manipulating objects in 3D space. It works as well as a Vive or Oculus Rift controller, picking up virtual objects in front of you or drawing in a 3D paint app. Writing out “NO POLICE” was a breeze. I’m afraid about how well this will hold up over time though. Even without playing it that much my Toy-Con piano already warped so much the keys don’t function correctly. The Elephant relies on a lot of constant bending that may wear out the arts and crafts materials.Toy-Con VR BirdAs fun as it is to stick your face in a bird’s butt and flap its wings, the actual game for Toy-Con Bird was maybe the most disappointing. You’re supposed to feel like you’re flying, turning your body to turn the bird and flapping to gain speed. But it’s too slow and I didn’t feel like the bird fully responded to my movements, creating a weird disconnect. And again blurry visuals take away from the sense of place. At least initially. Over time though this actually might have been my favorite game. Open-world island flight is an incredibly chill and great fit for VR. You’re just gathering food for your chicks, man. And this Toy-Con plays the best with others like the Wind Pedal described below and a pinwheel that responds to you blowing on it.Toy-Con VR Wind PedalThe Toy-Con Wind Pedal is the biggest stroke of weird cheap gimmick genius only Nintendo would’ve thought to add to VR. Pushing on the pedal causes your in-game character to jump and avoid objects. But pushing the pedal also moves a big cardboard flap in front of your face, hitting you with a gust a wind that’s supposed to make you feel like you’re whooshing through the air, too. It’s like something from those 3D short film rides at amusement parks that spray you with water or vibrate your chairs and it’s delightful. It also works with Toy-Con Bird which helps both products feel more airy and immersive.Toy-Con VR CameraThe Toy-Con camera convinced me Nintendo should totally make a new Endless Ocean or Pokemon Snap (or Fatal Frame) in Labo. You’re just underwater looking around and taking pictures of fish for fun and points. Or you can spy on the little monster from the Toy-Con house. Either way, constantly zooming in and out, readjusting the focus, in this case successfully distracts you from the blurry visuals. Manually moving the cardboard lens, complete with fake clicking noises, also adds tactile reality to the shaky virtual reality. A friend can wear a (flimsy) snorkel mask with IR tape the infrared Joy-Con can then see and put in the game.Toy-Con VR GaragePrevious Labo kits had the nifty Toy-Con Garage mode letting kids design new uses for the cardboard while learning basic programming concepts in the process. But the new Garage mode in the VR kit is a much more robust game creation suite, almost on the level of Nintendo’s own Super Mario Maker or the upcoming Dreams on PlayStation 4, albeit without any online sharing features which is disappointing. People need to play my game where spelling out “NO POLICE” in blocks causes a celebratory explosion. But still there’s so much more that can be done creating and arranging objects in 3D VR spaces, programming them with various behaviors, and setting unique win conditions.Alongside the games I just mentioned, there are also 64 included VR minigames made with this level editor, which at the very least give the VR kit more substance compared to past Labo kits. But along with playing little VR platformers and pinball tables and fighting games and a legit scary first-person riff on Five Nights at Freddy’s, you can look under the hood to see how they’re constructed and make whole new games yourself with their assets. Even without the VR component, which again is totally optional, this kit is a great tool for creative expression.The base games with the Toy-Con VR, while still slight, are already more interesting than the previous Labo kits thanks to the novelty of VR working well with Nintendo’s overall inventive spirit. But it’s the Toy-Con Garage VR that really makes this the definitive Labo kit, and a VR kit Nintendo fans should buy for reasons other than Mario and Zelda. The detailed but accessible documentation for not just how the toys work but how the level editor functions proves Labo’s worth as game development education software.Playing Nintendo Labo VR Kit feels like seeing the next layer in a series of nesting proofs of concept. The Wii U tech demo Project Giant Robot served as inspiration for Labo’s Robot Kit. The Wii U itself is pretty much a beta version of the Switch. Labo answered many questions about seemingly random Switch hardware features like HD Rumble, a touch screen, and an IR camera. And Labo VR shows the value of cheap cardboard alternatives of more intimidating cutting-edge tech.Heck, we’re probably not even finished yet. If the rumored upgraded Switch revision includes a higher-res screen, then turning the tablet into goggles becomes that much more appealing. But even now, while you should limit your time with it, Nintendo Labo VR Kit is probably the most actual fun I’ve had with virtual reality in the real world.For more on VR games check out our recent hands-on with Iron Man VR and No Man’s Sky VR. Good Vibes, Weird Hardware at the Game Devs of Color Expo‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ Is Still Majestic in VR Stay on targetlast_img read more