If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it. There’s a world of pure imagination out there, and it all starts with a virtual spin in Labo VR. Between watching physics unfold at your feet to games that defy gravity, Nintendo’s latest venture into VR is thankfully much better than its first. While Labo VR makes great leaps to focus on quality content this time around, it’s largely a mixed bag of minigames; some that soar to incredible heights, while others are best left in the gutter.
When the Virtual Boy released in 1995, the world wasn’t ready to step into VR. You could argue that more people were enamoured by the Windows 95-98 Maze screensaver. To this day, it’s still one of the best reviewed retrograde screensavers, alongside the classic 3D pipes. In those days, Nintendo was (and still is in many cases) ahead of the curve when it comes to inventing new, ingenious ways to use technology. While we haven’t yet reached the stages of the virtual reality seen in Ready Player One, each gaming giant is opening up new doors into virtual reality. Rumours that Nintendo were working on a Labo VR product hadn’t surfaced until February this year, perhaps being seen as a testing ground for their next foray into a fully working VR headset. Swift as ever, Nintendo followed up last month with an official announcement. And, for the most part, Labo VR is genuinely enjoyable.
Retailing at £69.99 / $79.99, we went hands-on with the VR Kit which includes the VR Goggles, Blaster, Bird, Camera, Elephant, Wind Pedal, Snorkel and Pinwheel Toy-Cons. If you don’t want to go the whole hog, you can opt for the VR Starter Kit which includes the VR Goggles and Blaster for £29.99 / $39.99. There’s also an option to add the expansion packs to the latter, choose from either the Bird and Wind Pedal, or the Camera and Elephant, both of which retail at £16.99 / $19.99.
For Labo enthusiasts, building each Toy-Con still remains at the heart of the journey. It takes approximately 8-10 hours to build the entire set, including help from your chief cardboard popper. The Blaster takes the longest to build, and is arguably the most fiddly, closely followed by the Bird. While this may be the fourth Labo Kit we’ve got our hands on, the imagination, logic and thought behind the Toy-Con still mesmerises. Perhaps it’s the way everything links together, folding into each other to create stability, and proving that the magic is not only on the screen, it’s nestled in our very hands. Labo VR evokes memories of a 7-year-old kid experiencing the sights and sounds of Epcot’s Virtual Reality world for the first time; of a 4D-ride at MGM Studios or Magic Kingdom; and a technology enthusiast discovering that AI software can now reconstruct images of buildings that no longer exist.
With previous Labo Kits (Toy-Con Variety, Robot and Vehicle), the distinct lack of content has been a dominant flaw. In Labo VR, Nintendo changes the tide, creating an abundance of content that offers hours of play with 64 minigames in the VR Plaza alone. It’s a shame that roughly a third of the content comprises of the questionable art of ‘throwing stuff around and watching things happen’. As much as I enjoyed viewing the VR video of a Labo assistant feeding deer (cue the aww’s), I don’t want to watch them eating sushi. If I wanted to watch someone eat sushi, or better yet, eat sushi, I’d visit Yo-Sushi. The same goes for the oddball gravity minigames or the ‘grab and dance mechanic’ in the VR Plaza; stuff falls or floats. If there’s no end goal to the minigame, can it even be classed as one? Perhaps we should label these as VR experiences instead.
Looking beyond the VR Plaza, each Toy-Con comes with two modes, save for the Wind Pedal which can be used in up to three separate games. It’s worth noting that the VR Kit doesn’t come with a head strap; something to mull over while you build up the necessary arm strength to hold the Switch screen against your head, as well as the Toy-Con and up to two Joy-Cons. It’s tough enough for a fully grown adult to hold and play with for longer than 15 minutes, so it’s bound to be a struggle for youngsters. And while the goggles are comfortable enough across your face, even while wearing glasses, I was riddled with a few telltale forehead marks after an extensive play session.
Putting physical strength to one side, each Toy-Con is fairly easy to hold and wield. The Switch is firmly slotted into the front of the VR Goggles and fastened safely into place with a safety cap, then the goggles easily nestle into the back of the Toy-Con.
As one of the largest Toy-Cons on offer in VR, the Blaster really packs a punch. Not only does it lock and load like a gun, it also feels like it has a mini knockback due to how it’s built. This functionality works like a dream in Blaster mode, where locking on to alien targets as you move automatically on a conveyor belt is key to racking up mega points. There’s even a unique ability to freeze time to shoot multiple enemies at once; perfect for boss fights that require you to turn in every direction. Once you defeat each of the six levels, you’ll unlock quick play mode and expert mode (featuring limited ammo and no special abilities). It’s fun and furiously addictive. Ironically, the opposite is seen in the co-op, turn-based game, Kablasta, where strategy combined with a bit of luck and fruit-loving hippos are the focus. Nevertheless, Kablasta is an interesting twist on what Labo VR can do; it’s just a shame that the core VR feature becomes redundant.
Elsewhere, the Camera Toy-Con offers up a beautiful ocean scene and Fluffball’s house. Snap pictures of ocean wildlife or Fluffball ‘doing things’ to clear missions. Players will only be able to take up to three photographs at any one time, forcing them back to the mission screen, which is (in our books) a major drawback to the Toy-Con’s overall playability. While the ocean scenery is pleasant and a really enjoyable minigame in itself, Fluffball’s House feels repetitive and lazy in comparison. He’s better suited to the House in Toy-Con Variety Kit 1 than the camera mode.
For those who have a penchant for physics, you’ll adore the Elephant Toy-Con. In its main mode, Marble Run, players must logically work out how to get the marble from one end of the route – which floats in mid-air – to the other. By using a mixture of objects, such as metal platforms, spiral slides, trampolines, gears and even gravity, you can pull and push objects into place to alter the marble’s current trajectory. While it’s difficult to control with the Elephant’s trunk, Marble Run adds a hugely satisfying and ingenious layer to Labo VR. Best of all, you can even create your own physics puzzles in Marble Run too. And although Marble Run is a standout minigame, Doodle mode is difficult to control due to the trunk’s wayward nature in comparison. Give me pen and paper any day.
Out of all the Toy-Con on offer, two of the most interesting are the Bird and Wind Pedal. While the latter focuses on blowing gusts of wind into your face, the Bird is fascinating to use. Pull on the Toy-Con’s levers to activate the wings and you’ll propel your bird into motion, soaring up to incredible heights in the minigame world map. With up to six maps to unlock, 25 birds to befriend and race-to-the-finish time trials, players can easily spend hours in this mode. You can even use the Wind Pedal and Pinwheel Toy-Cons in conjunction with the Bird to activate different techniques during gameplay. It’s a neat way to discover VR – however pixelated it may look – in its full glory.
The Wind Pedal also boasts its own mode too; Hop Dodge. Here, VR enthusiasts assume the role of a frog and must dodge the flying balls from the mechanical bears over several difficulty levels. Despite how easy the minigame is, it’s probably one of the most enjoyable modes in Labo VR. Neverending mode is weirdly satisfying too, although the mechanical bears’ uncanny resemblance to a Five Nights at Freddy’s character is a bit too much for me.
With all Toy-Cons considered, Labo VR is a mixed bag of playability. Its replay value relies on competing with others, and there’s no rewards or special unlockables if you beat the high score. The focus on quantity over quality is a little unorthodox too, given how scarce the content for Labo has historically been. But, when all things are said and done, Labo VR is a good bit of fun for the kids, especially with its ability to be used in conjunction with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey on April 26th. And don’t worry, we’ll be writing a mini review of how they shape up in VR very soon. But for now, that’s all folks.
Final Verdict: Recommended
A review copy of Nintendo Labo VR was provided to My Nintendo News by Nintendo UK.