It's made out of cardboard, but Nintendo's buildable VR headset is the perfect accompaniment to your Nintendo Switch
- Filled with creativity
- Great fun for children (and big kids)
- Expansive games offering
- Cardboard reliability concerns
When the Nintendo Switch reached its first birthday last year, it was transformed from a regular games console into an imagination-fuelled plaything with the power of Nintendo’s buildable Labo kits. Constructed from cardboard and using fancy IR tech and other such ingenious niceties, these various Labo toys give children (and big kids) the perfect tools to create new and exciting things for the platform.
A year on and you’ll find a wide range of Labo experiences to pick and choose from in your local games shop, including a kit that turns your Switch into a race car and one that grants you the power to destroy virtual cities as a sci-fi robot with a fetish for destruction.
Labo’s silly contraptions might already be cluttering up your living room by this point, but there’s a brand-new DIY toy that stands apart from the rest of the lineup. Nintendo is finally re-entering the world of virtual reality with the aptly-named Labo VR – a well-priced window into a 3D world using your Switch and just a little bit of sticky-backed plastic.
Nintendo Labo VR Kit review: What you need to know
Labo VR is Nintendo’s latest cardboard creation kit, which introduces all sorts of virtual reality experiences to the much-loved games console for the first time. You’ll build the VR goggles and added extras yourself – you won’t find any pre-made bits and bobs – and you can customise the way it looks with stickers and pens, too.
The Labo VR experience comes in six unique varieties, each one leveraging the Switch’s unique design in typically absurd ways. Each buildable creation is used to access a bunch of specific minigames, ranging from an on-rails tank shooter to an imaginative physics-based puzzler in a 3D space using an elephant’s trunk (yes, really). You can also make your own VR games with the surprisingly complex game creator software.
Nintendo Labo VR Kit review: Price and competition
Other than needing a Nintendo Switch, the cost of entry for Nintendo’s new virtual reality platform is quite low. The Labo VR starter set, which includes the software, VR goggles and blaster attachment, can be scooped up for only £50, with expansion addons such as the elephant and bird kits costing a further £20 each. You can also buy the complete package, which includes all of the buildable kits that Labo VR has to offer, for only £75.
You won’t find anything similar for the Nintendo Switch and there’s not much in the way of alternatives on rival game platforms, either. Although, with an equally low barrier for entry, the smartphone-powered Samsung Gear and Google Daydream View headsets are perhaps the Labo VR’s closest competition.
Nintendo Labo VR Kit review: Building and setup
Like Nintendo’s other Switch construction kits, what makes Labo VR so good is that it uses relatively simple construction materials in unique and interesting ways, each time creating a one-of-a-kind experience. The sort of contraptions you create after just a couple of hours of simply folding cardboard and adding elastic bands are mind-blowing, filled with intriguing building techniques and fun features.
Thankfully, while some of the finished products might look rather complicated and intricate, Nintendo’s clear-to-follow instructions are terrific, providing many helpful tools to prevent you from getting stuck. Each step is detailed, allowing you to fast forward and go back a few steps, with a 3D reconstruction of your current stage that can be viewable from multiple angles and zoomed with the Switch’s right analog stick. The instructions are also filled with humour and colourful characters; a nice touch when you need to keep younger builders with short attention spans entertained.
Speaking of little hands, it’s worth mentioning that you can also restrict the use of the VR mode for children under six years old (Nintendo recommends that VR is only used by players aged seven and above). Enable this and it prevents the Switch’s screen from splitting into two separate lenses. This 2D mode still allows you to play the various minigames on offer, using the Switch’s gyroscopic functionality, but without the VR-inducing headaches you might get from pushing the console’s screen against your face.
The VR goggles – which consist of two circular lenses in a plastic housing, surrounded by cardboard – are very simple to build (taking roughly 30 minutes to complete) and slot nicely into the various expansion kits on offer. I was initially hesitant when strapping my beloved Switch into something that I’d be spinning around with, but the console fits nice and snug in the cardboard housing and can even be locked in place with some of the attachments for added peace of mind.
Each Labo VR kit has different average building times, with the blaster being the longest at up to two-and-a-half hours. Obviously, that’s a heck of a lot of time to spend just building, and the instructions often recommend taking a little break between the key stages of construction.
Nintendo Labo VR Kit review: Software and gameplay
This is actually the second time Nintendo has made a foray into the world of immersive 3D. Way back in 1995, Nintendo launched the Virtual Boy, a bright red tabletop headset that failed to make a splash. Labo VR shares one key similarity with this now-defunct console: it cannot be worn as a traditional headset. Instead, like Google Cardboard, you simply hold the VR goggles to your face, which can get a bit tiring during long gaming sessions.
As for when you (finally) finish assembling whichever Labo VR contraption you’re building, a handful of specific minigames are unlocked, along with a handbook in the “discover” tab that provides simple explanations of how each of the unique features works. Like the rest of the Labo kits, multiple reflective stickers are picked up by the IR sensors located on the bottom of the Switch’s Joy-Con controller that, when moved closer or removed from view, perform certain in-game actions. It’s an ingenious system that generally works very well.
So, how about those VR games then? I was given the complete Labo VR kit to review and I’ve thoroughly tested the entire range. There’s a heck of a lot of VR experiences to pick and choose from – depending on which pack you choose, you might find yourself soaring above an island as a bird, competing for the best underwater pictures or feeding some hungry, hungry hippos. Each game stands out from the last, and it’s genuinely very enjoyable discovering what’s on offer, finding out how these unique Labo kits that you’ve constructed take full advantage of these experiences.
You don’t even need the extras to use Labo VR, either. So long as you still have the VR goggles, you can access Labo’s “VR Plaza” which allows you to play a wide variety of unique minigames without the expansion kits, including a Thunderdome-like vehicular battle arena and a ragdoll platformer. These are all quite entertaining, although they only serve as brief distractions from the main games and I would hope Nintendo would add more of these in future updates. Likewise, both Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will receive VR support at the end of April.
And the good news is that performance is solid. Movement was fluid at what seemed like a stable 30fps and I didn’t encounter any crashing issues. The resolution is limited to 720p, mind you, which can look a bit blurry if you’re used to the high-end Oculus or HTC Vive headsets. Still, at a fraction of the price you can’t grumble too much.
Nintendo Labo VR Kit review: Verdict
Letting your inner child run free is a mantra that’s been at the heart of everything Nintendo has done since the very beginning. With experiences that leave you grinning from ear to ear, Nintendo’s family-friendly games whisk you away from the stresses of adult life and the Labo VR is quite obviously a continuation of this legacy.
Most importantly, the sort of otherworldly adventures that Labo VR provides are unmatched. Not only do you construct these intricate creations from scratch, but you also get to use them as fun playthings in-game – no other VR system currently comes close to this sort of experience. Yet again, I’m astonished by what Nintendo has managed to achieve with just a few pieces of cardboard and an elastic band or two, and I can’t wait to find out what bizarre contraptions its boffins think up next.