When I was first introduced to the Nintendo Labo VR Kit earlier this month, my first impression that was that this was a game-changer for VR gaming.
My son has a Samsung Gear VR w/Controller (2017) that he received for Christmas that he wanted to use to play games when hooked to his laptop. What he does with it instead is watch Netflix in virtual reality. VR headsets can be used with smartphones, of course, but the gaming choices can be limited.
And so, a $99 VR device is used as a passive viewing portal.
But all you need for a unique and portable VR experience now is the Nintendo Switch and the Nintendo Labo VR Kit. It’s priced at $79.99 for the full kit. A starter set with the VR Goggles and the Toy-Con Blaster is $39.99. Both kits go on sale Friday, April 12.
True portable VR gaming is now a reality.
Inclusive VR Gaming
The second aspect of the Labo VR kit that I want to emphasize: the inclusivity of the gaming experience.
The games are varied, ranging from simple to complex, from relaxing to first-person shooter, so that all ages can use it. Much like the original Wii became a game that adults who’d never gamed before used easily and happily, Nintendo VR Kits may well introduce VR to the older generation.
I was thinking of myself a little bit here. I game casually as I’m the weird generation that learned the classic arcade games like Centipede and Space Invaders but by the time every household had a console, I was under a heavy workload at college, then in the workforce. There was no time to absorb a new way to relax and have fun or, even, how to learn new console controllers. Even though we always had gaming for the kids, everything from Playstations to GameBoys to PSPs and the later handheld Nintendo consoles, the Wii brought gaming aimed at me for the first time, where it could become a family thing. Even my mom, a generation older than me (one of those baby boomers) had fun with Wii Bowling.
With VR, I can actually see my mom, a member of the greatest generation resistant to gaming, having a blast enjoying these Labo VR creations with her grandchildren. This is an accessible, hands-on experience that she could share without being intimidated. (And that applies to me, too.)
The other people that I believe will be well-served with the new VR Kit are children who are neurologically atypical.
My own children, who fall into this description, love gaming. But they also struggled growing up with impulse control issues. This led to meltdowns over gaming “failures” and frustration at certain aspects of games that were viewed as too hard. Sometimes the frustrations were so bad that we almost took all gaming away.
But it was also something they enjoyed eighty percent of the time.
I wish I’d had the VR kit then. It’s something I’d recommend for children who have similar issues or other challenges that make other types of gaming experiences difficult.
The Labo Toy Con VR Goggles
First impression: the “Make” portion has been, so far as we could tell while building, somewhat streamlined. It took us several nights and what seemed like forever to put together the Labo Motorcycle from the regular Labo kit.
But the initial VR Goggles build was easy, taking about 20 minutes, even though it looks like a complex build from the outside.
Second, once the Goggles are completed, the VR can be experienced immediately by virtue of the 64 mini-games in the VR Plaza. That’s helpful for those who just cannot wait to test out the VR, like my son. He dived right in, playing these four games: Jump and Destroy, Bomb Hockey, Climb to the Finish Line, and Car Driving.
He recommended Bomb Hockey as the best of the games he tried. In that one, you face off against an opponent in a game of hockey, using a bomb as the puck. This, he said, was the most regular “game-like” experience of the mini-games he tried.
He also had fun with Jump and Destroy, in which you guide your character in 3D space on top of blocks to breaks the ones above you. (I bet you can guess the kind of games he generally enjoys in 2D.) As for the others, they played well but they were not his favorites.
But with 64 different mini-games, there’s certainly one that will suit every player.
The Toy-Con Camera
In contrast to our marathon experience building the Motorcycle from the original Labo kit, making the Toy-Con Camera took a total of 58 minutes. It was also divided into four different steps, so those who are easily frustrated or have trouble paying attention for long periods of time can spend just 15 minutes at a time building it. This goes back to what I mentioned about this being a better experience for children who are easily frustrated.
Each short segment ends with a part of the Camera done, so it is satisfying, even if you stop.
GeekDad Z broke down the builds on the other items in the kit: the Toy-Con Bird, the Toy-Con Blaster, the Toy-Con Elephant, and the Toy-Con Wind Pedal. Those builds will take longer and are more complex but they also have the breaks built in so it doesn’t seem so daunting.
The Toy-Con Camera is also an example of what I talked about earlier: games that should prove fun to play but not frustrating to new or impulsive players.
You are set down in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by fish. Your goal is to take pictures of certain fish either by themselves or with a specific other fish. It’s simple but relaxing. My son wishes you didn’t have to go back to a menu after taking three pictures, however, but that was a mild complaint. His twin sister also pronounced the game relaxing and she said it’s the first time she was interested in 3D gaming. (She has glasses and an eye issue that makes her wary of 3D but the VR Goggles worked well for her.) There is also a home mode along with the ocean mode.
Similarly, the Toy Con Bird provides a pleasant experience of flying around and/or a gaming experience that reminded me of the Animal Crossing games. And for those who need shooter games, well, I personally recommend going after aliens with the Toy Con Blaster.
If you want to draw on air (and I mean that seriously), the Toy-Con Elephant is what you need to build first.
Final Thoughts on Nintendo Labo VR
In the short week that I had the kits, we only scratched the surface of what can be done with them. Here are a couple of final thoughts to keep in mind if you’re considering buying the VR Kit or even buying a Nintendo Switch so you can buy this kit:
First, Nintendo has announced VR support for Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. So far, it’s bonus content in the free updates to the games but it opens great possibilities down the line. Imagine sitting on a plane or train, VR Goggles on, the world around you disappears, and you’re playing one of these games. (Note: my son pointed out that the one thing the VR Goggles lack that his Samsung Gear headset does have is a strap so it can be hands-free.)
Second, it’s possible to change the mode of the mini-games to see the coding “under the hood” (so to speak) in the Toy-Con Garage. More than that, that coding can be changed so you can create your own games or modify the existing games. For those wanting to experiment with how to create a game, it’s a great feature.
Overall, I was impressed. The VR kit improved on the “Make” experience of the original Labo creations and opened up a completely different kind of gaming experience.