Nintendo Labo VR hands-on preview – virtual cardboard reality

The add-ons all attach to the front of the goggles but the Starter Set also comes with 64 mini-games.
The first one we played involved controlling a 4×4 truck as it jumped over ramps and knocked over giant building blocks. It’s not really a game as such but the VR effect is much better than you’d expect, a sentiment we could hear being echoed by the dozen or so other journos at the preview event. There’s not much of a 3D effect, and the view gets quite blurry when you move your head quickly, but in terms of resolution and immersion it’s much better than we would’ve ever imagined from the Switch.

None of the other mini-games we tried were very much more complex, but there was a version of Breakout, a UFO catcher game, and a variety of shooting ranges involving everything from arrows to boomerangs. The Starter Set also comes with a little extra attachment in the form of a pinwheel-like device that you blow into. You can’t see that with the goggles on though, so as you huff and puff in the real world in the game it looks like you’re blow up balloons and moving sails.

Although their various gimmicks are fun for a few minutes we were ready to dismiss the mini-games as trivial tech demos until it was pointed out that all of them can be edited and reprogrammed via the Garage feature that is common to all Labo kits. Previous ones have already featured a simple programming system – not a language exactly but a series of flow charts and logical constructs – but the one in Labo VR is much more involved and seems to allow you to create relatively complex games.

That means you can create a proper race track and rules for the truck or a fully-featured first person shooter, which not only adds greatly to the creative potential of Labo (which is, after all, aimed primarily at kids) but also its educational value.

If you want more complex, ready-made games that’s what the larger add-ons are for. As with previous Toy-Cons, they can take a long time to build and after doing so you have to insert the Joy-Cons into them to take advantage of their various abilities. With the blaster you stick the right one in the barrel for aiming and the left one is used to activate a bullet time effect. The game itself is an on-rails shooter with multiple levels, with the one we played featuring aliens invading a city.

This involved much more complex backgrounds than any of the mini-games but the impression of being there is still very impressive as you aim the blaster with surprising accuracy, looking straight up to shoot flying enemies and spinning around 360°. It’s essentially a VR lightgun game, complete with explosive barrels, a rudimentary physics engine, and boss battles. As simple as it was we had a lot of fun with it and loved the shotgun-like pump action effect (which works via a rubber band) when you go to charge the shot.

There’s also a separate competitive multiplayer game which is basically Hungry Hippos crossed with a shooting gallery. A bunch of hippos are lounging in a pool and you have to tempt them into your side by shooting fruit into their mouths. You take your shots in turn with a friend and can choose to steal their hippos or try for a group shot by aiming at a palm tree full of pineapples. It’s simple stuff, and we couldn’t really see ourselves wanting to play it more than once or twice, but it’s another effective demonstration of the blaster’s accuracy.

We weren’t allowed to use the other add-ons but they were at the preview event for us to touch and hold, along with a video of how they work that you can see at the top of this article.

The weird-looking elephant mask is especially clever as it’s got a bunch of light sensors on the front so that you can use a 3D paint package that we were promised was exceptionally accurate. It also works with a puzzle game that has you rolling marbles about on platforms you can rotate with the trunk.

The bird (whose eye is formed by the analogue stick from one of the Joy-Cons) seemed to be a fairly expansive flight simulator, with a variety of birds including a pterodactyl. Apparently, you can also extend the wings with additional bits of cardboard.

The bird comes with the wind panel, which does exactly what it says on the tin: you press down on it like a car accelerator and then the flap at the top makes a gust of air. This can be used in conjunction with the bird game but there’s also a platformer where you’re controlling a frog – so that every time you jump you get a blast of air at your feet. Which makes Labo VR the first home video game to feature 4D physical effects, just like a theme park… except made out of cardboard.

Unfortunately, the camera isn’t used for Pokémon Snap 2, but instead some sort of underwater photography game. The second game is a return to the virtual pet house from the original Variety Kit, that lets you interact with the little critter close-up.

If you’ve got kids, and especially if you think they’ll get some mileage out of playing around with the Garage features, then we’d have to say all the sets seem remarkably good value for money.

Whether the goggles will be used with existing games Nintendo weren’t saying, but as their first experiment in VR (or second if you count the Virtual Boy) this was pretty much exactly what you’d expect from them. Which is to say it was completely different to anything anyone else is doing and full of unique ideas and unlikely twists on familiar concepts.

What, if anything, it means for the future of Labo or Nintendo VR we couldn’t say but we had a lot of fun playing around with it and can’t wait to get a go on the other add-ons.

Formats: Nintendo Switch
Price: £69.99 (all-in-one set), £34.99 (Starter Set), £16.99 each (Expansion Set 1 and 2)
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo EPD
Release Date: 12th April 2019
Age Rating: 7

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