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Nintendo Labo VR hands-on: virtual reality goes DIY

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Nearly one year after the launch of Labo, Nintendo’s DIY cardboard accessory line for the Switch, the company is releasing its fourth kit: an introduction to VR for kids. While we tend to think of virtual reality as isolating, Nintendo’s Labo VR Kit reimagines the VR experience with “simple and shareable” minigames designed to get multiple people playing and interacting.

All of the games have to be played with the headset held up to your face, which has its pros and cons. On one hand, little arms could get tired holding the Switch screen after a while; but on the other, some of minigames are designed to be played in turns, and it’s quicker to pass around the screen than it is to deal with all the fuss taking a headset on and off. Passing the headset around is meant to encourage “both virtual and real-world interactions,” says Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser.

Six Toy-Con creations can be made, including a blaster, camera, elephant, bird, and a pedal, in addition to a pair of VR goggles. The VR goggles work in conjunction with the rest of the Toy-Con, slipping into each one (except for the pedal) to offer experiences like photographing underwater creatures, and my personal favorite, “being a bird.” Here are my impressions of each Toy-Con accessory and the accompanying games.

The VR Goggles

Nintendo Labo VR hands-on: virtual reality goes DIY Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

The goggles, made of plastic and glass lenses, are the only non-cardboard piece in the kit besides the IR stickers and rubber bands. Sticking the Switch’s 720p resolution screen right up to your face has about the expected result: it’s pretty blurry, but not to a level that it impedes your enjoyment of the games. Images are displayed in stereoscopic 3D, and menu items float in the screen like a 3DS display.

Though the games are designed for VR, you don’t actually have to use it. VR can be switched off, and games can be played in 2D using the included Screen Holder, another Labo element for you to assemble.

The Blaster

Nintendo Labo VR hands-on: virtual reality goes DIY Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
Nintendo Labo VR hands-on: virtual reality goes DIY
The alien invasion blaster game.
Nintendo

A Nintendo rep told me the blaster took him about 3 hours to build, longer than any of the other Toy-Con creations released so far. It’s got a lot of moving parts, and works with rubber bands that hook and release when you load and pull the trigger. There’s a game where you fend off an alien invasion, and another multiplayer minigame that was sort of like a less frantic Hungry Hungry Hippos; it lets players take turns using the Blaster to shoot food at hippos to lure them over to their side, and whoever has the most hippos wins.

The Elephant

Nintendo Labo VR hands-on: virtual reality goes DIY Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Imagine a room-scale 3D painting app like Google’s Tilt Brush, only your paintbrush is an elephant’s trunk. That’s Doodle, one of the games based around Labo’s VR elephant mask and trunk.

There aren’t actually any elephant-related games to play. But while that makes the elephant mask seem like a strange choice, the mask and trunk make for a unique control scheme. There are IR stickers on the mask, which track the two controllers placed in the trunk. It’s hard to think of any other animal that has the kind of features that would allow for this configuration. Maybe an aardvark?

There’s also a physics-based Marble Run game, where you set up puzzles and pass the headset to a friend for them to solve.

Camera

Nintendo Labo VR hands-on: virtual reality goes DIY Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
Nintendo Labo VR hands-on: virtual reality goes DIY

You can use the camera for an underwater fish photography game, or snap photos of the Tamagotchi-like character from the House game in the first Labo variety kit. I loudly lamented the missed opportunity of not making a Pokémon Snap game to anyone within earshot, so don’t say I didn’t do my job.

Nintendo Labo VR hands-on: virtual reality goes DIY Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

The Bird

Here, the controller becomes a bird’s face, you put your face up to the “wrong end of a bird” (as GamesRadar nicely put it), and flap your wings as you soar across an island. “Welcome to the world of birds”, the minigame intro reads. I found it almost impossible to flap the bird’s wings without repeatedly bonking the plastic headset against my face, but it’s also impossible not to laugh as this is happening.

Nintendo Labo VR hands-on: virtual reality goes DIY Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
Nintendo Labo VR hands-on: virtual reality goes DIY Nintendo

The Wind Pedal

Stepping on the pedal delivers an extra burst of speed when you’re playing timed challenges in Bird Dash mode — it also sends a gust of wind at your face, which certainly adds to the immersion factor. You can use it to play a simple game called Hop Dodge, in which you bounce on a trampoline and try to hit the highest height while avoiding obstacles. If this sounds pretty simple, that’s because it is.

This might just be from my boring adult perspective, but I can see most of the minigames in all four of the Labo kits losing their fun after a few plays. Maybe a kid would feel differently, though!

It’s a good thing then that Labo’s real strength comes from the actual building process and its Toy-Con Garage platform. The if-this-then-that programming platform lets users mix and match their Toy-Con creations and remix the ways they can be used. I thought coding the guitar chords to “Rainbow Connection” on Toy-Con Garage was stressful, but entering the Toy-Con Garage VR mode and looking at the backend of the games made my jaw drop.

Toy-Con Garage VR

  • Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
  • Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
  • Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
  • Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
  • Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

There are 64 additional VR minigames built within Toy-Con Garage. The games are meant to be a launching point for users to make their own VR games, like editable, customizable blueprints. For example, you can swap out the ball in a soccer game to an apple, which changes the physics of a kick along with it.

Looking at all of the different options available in the input, middle, and output nodes was overwhelming, but in a good way. Despite being shown a dozen or so games, I’d barely scratched the surface of what else the VR Kit has to offer.

You can purchase the entire VR Kit for $79.99, or if you’re not sure you want to commit to having another room in your house with more cardboard, you can pick up the $39.99 Nintendo Labo VR Starter Set + Blaster, and add the $19.99 expansion sets later if you want. The Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 04: VR Kit will be available online and in stores April 12th.