Maintaining a healthy level of skepticism is always a wise policy in life, especially when faced with a seemingly endless number of companies trying to tempt you to spend your hard earned money. It is a practice we regularly employ in both our personal and professional lives here at Nintendo Life, and it is fair to say that, as a large number of others, we were a little puzzled at the news that Nintendo embraced Virtual Reality via Labo.
The hardware is not strong enough. The screen is too low resolution. Labo is not the right vehicle for this. It's going to look like a joke to PSVR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. You need to hold the headset when you use it.
These were all points that will be discussed on this site and worldwide; Labo VR certainly fits in with Nintendo's way of doing things, but it probably won't provide a solid and enjoyable experience when considering how much effort has been made to create other high-tech headsets? What will it do better than the bad plastic smartphones VR headsets that you see in Copenhagen all over the world?
This month we got the chance to find out when we were lucky enough to go hand in hand with the VR kit at Nintendo UK's headquarters. It turns out that many of the concerns we had with the concept turned out to be largely unfounded, but it is just as surprising some of the other cool things Nintendo is trying to do with this new Lab kit – some of which not connected to VR at all.
Before we get to it ourselves, let's discuss the basics. Yes, this is another Labo offer and it means a couple of hours of collection before you get to the good stuff. For those of you who lived through the Labo Vehicle Kit – who took days to fully construct and practically required an extension to store when not in use – this could be a deterrent, but with the exception of Toy-Con Blaster kits are more compact and some of them even come with handy fold away & # 39; modes for more convenient storage.
The core of the Labo VR experience is VR Goggles Toy-Con, in which Switch Console is inserted. This seems like a detachable caddy that can be bolted into the other Toy Con; This modular approach makes it easier to switch between each experience. VR Goggles can also be used independently of other lesser experiences that we will soon touch.
The meat of the experience must be based on the five Toy-Con modules that are present in the full-fat Labo VR kit. Of these, Blaster is perhaps the most engaging (which is probably why Nintendo also sells a cheaper kit that includes Blaster, VR Goggles and Game Card only); it has a realistic pumping action (complete with a recoil effect), and the games included are deep and comfortable; one is a rails where you have the task of taking a horde of blob-like aliens (not to mention terrible end-of-level bosses) using standard, homing and bullet time shots while the other games are a local multiplayer setup where each player tries to tempt as many hippos as possible by firing a variety of fruit into their slot.
In typical Nintendo mode, there is more depth for these games than it might appear at first; For example, in the hippopotamus you can hit a tree in the middle of the arena and get fruit to drip into the pool, which potentially captures several hippos with a single shot. It is even possible to steal hippos from your rival, leading to some tense battles where the scorer returns in a single shot. While the gameplay is different, it reminds us a little about Fronk-hurling & # 39; Islands & # 39; fashion in Game & Wario where similar changes of fortune were possible when you just got the right shot.
What makes this experience more appealing is that it is super easy to transfer the headset to the other player; Because it is not attached to your face, there is no awkward or time-consuming adaptation process – it is as easy as transferring someone to a normal game controller. This is an important point worth focusing on; It can be considered a weakness – you are fully aware of immersion here – but at the front you never feel "chained" to the hardware, as is sometimes the case when playing with other VR headsets, especially those dependent on wires. It is curiously liberating.
There is another reason why Nintendo has taken this approach – according to the company, the Labo VR has a "strap-free" experience enabling the important age of 7 and up & # 39; rating on the box. Other headsets have been lumbered with higher ratings, which of course create an entry barrier for much of the audience, which Nintendo is of course eager to avoid (a lesson that may have been learned after 3DS). The company has even included a non-VR mode in this package, where even younger players can simply put Switch in Toy-Con and watch the screen like VR Goggles.
What really surprised us is that one of our biggest reservations – the switch's 720p resolution – turned out to be a bit exaggerated. Of course, the images look a bit pixelated (and there is a little ghost because of the LCD panel's latency), but compared to how blocked some PSVR games appear when playing on a standard, non-Pro PS4 system, It's not anywhere near as big a gap as you might think. Of course, the geometry seen in your average PSVR game is more complex than anything that Labo VR can muster, but Nintendo's comic-like approach mitigates this to some extent. While there is, of course, no position tracking, Switch's Inertial Measurement Unit is more than up to the task of accurately replicating your head movements – both subtle and extreme – within the game. We did not experience motion sickness or feelings of secession. It is also worth mentioning that the & # 39; one size fits all & # 39; approach does not seem to suffer from focus issues; We could see everything clearly within the headset. The somewhat open-ended character of the VR Goggles design also avoids the lenses that fade up with sweat, which is good.
Elsewhere, there are thoughtful design choices that show that Nintendo has taken its time with VR. Turn on VR mode by default with a command on the screen, but you can enable a setting that uses the console's ambient light sensor to detect when inserted into VR Goggles Toy-Con, and turn it on automatically. condition. Accessing the menu in each game is a case of double-clicking on the upper right corner of the Toy-Con you are using, where the vibrations are retrieved by the Switch's motion sensor. If you need to stop the action at all times, simply remove the goggles and tap the pause command at the bottom of the screen – which is still available, because this is where your nose would normally stay. Despite the frame's appearance of a cardboard VR cardboard, it is clear that Nintendo has thought of virtually everything.
Our hands-on time was primarily focused on Blaster Toy-Con, but we did see some of the other modules in action. Camera Toy-Con puts you in an underwater environment so you can satisfy all the unfulfilled Jacques Cousteau fantasies you've had since you were a kid. The Bird Toy-Con takes place on an island that is not completely different from that seen in Pilotwings Resort which instructs you to complete missions and generally explore your surroundings. The Toy-Con pedal is built around a mini-game where you assume the role of a seed in a circus, and you have to jump forward on floating platforms to achieve the best "height" score (the pedal creates a host of wind on your face, giving the impression that you are shooting through the air). Finally, Elephant Toy-Con has an amazingly deep art package that allows you to create 3D images as well as solve spatial puzzles with marble and other brain banners. There is a impressive amount of content offered here.
Nintendo even thought out of the box for some VR ideas; a pair of carton goggles included in the package may seem like an afterthought, but – thanks to a set of reflective disks and the power of the Joy-Con IR sensor – they allow another player to "step into" your world. The IR sensor sees the movement of the reflective discs on the glasses and makes your friend a completely different character within the game. It is yet another reason for Nintendo, including the infrared technology in Joy-Con; how wrong we should doubt its potential back in 2017.
But the most exciting element of the package is perhaps VR Garage. Not to be confused with Toy-Con Garage seen in previous Labo sets – which required you to create your own cardboard configurations and somehow add interactivity – this is a surprisingly rich programming package that allows you to create gaming experiences in one wide variety of genres – many of which are designed to play in VR. You can make an FPS, a driving game or even a clone of Super Smash Bros. – In fact, the latter was demonstrated during our hands-on, and although it is clearly a limited reproduction, all the essential elements were present. Oh, and remember the Othello game, shown under the Wii U's first trailer, where two players competed on a single GamePad? There is a soccer-based take on it in the Labo VR Garage.
Labo VR comes with many prefabricated games in VR Garage, all of which can be edited by the user. By doing so, you get a taste of how the node-based programming tool works. You can either turn these preloaded games into brand new creations or you can make your own examples from scratch. As mentioned, many of these experiences are completely independent by VR Goggles, and that's what makes this element of the package so exciting; It is so deep and feature-rich that Nintendo could really have spun this out as a stand-alone programming tool. The fact that it shares a common UI bond with Toy-Con Garage in the past means that Labo addicts will also feel at home. The only negative is that Nintendo does not intend to allow players to share their creations with others; That is to say, mean a higher age rating and could potentially cause younger Switch owners to be subject to questionable content.
It is fair to say that we got into the Labo VR hand session with feelings of fear we left more confident than ever that Nintendo really is on something here. Many thoughts have obviously come in to ensure that this is a fun and varied experience, and the addition of the VR Garage mode provides an almost unlimited amount of entertainment, both with and without VR Goggles. Considering that you can get it – as well as Blaster – for just £ 35, it is an incredibly tempting entry point for any family that has been playing with the idea of investing in VR. Will it poison the well that some have feared? We certainly do not believe there is a danger to it; In fact, it may prove to be the perfect gateway drug to build a new generation of VR-ready players, and who knows – Nintendo can even use its experience from this package to create a larger VR offer in the future.