Nintendo Labo VR review: "Adds a dimension to virtual reality that I've not yet experienced"

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Never underestimate the power of Nintendo. The last time I got my face anywhere near Nintendo Labo VR - the new cardboard-focused, Switch-powered virtual reality system from Nintendo - I was a little skeptical to say the least. From the time I had with Labo pre-launch, I was unconvinced that Labo VR could do anything to differentiate from other virtual reality offerings, like Google Cardboard or PS VR. But, oh how wrong I was. I made the mistake of underestimating just how good Nintendo is at putting its trademark fun stamp on anything it does. 

Fast Facts: Nintendo Labo VR

Release date: April 12, 2019
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch exclusive
Publisher: Nintendo

Putting aside the zen-like tranquility that comes from actually building the six or so Labo VR kits that come with the complete pack (which plays out like putting together a complicated cardboard Lego kit), it's the Labo VR experience that really sets it apart from the crowd. The games themselves are simple enough, but it's the fact Labo VR suddenly makes virtual reality four-dimensional that really sells the entire experience. Turns out all you needed to sell VR to your family was a really good wind machine and a cardboard shotgun.

Adding another dimension to VR

If you buy the Nintendo Labo: VR Kit, you'll get the full suite of Labo VR experiences for £69.99 / $79.99, or you can go with the Starter Kit for £34.99 / $39.99, which will get you the VR Goggles and the shotgun-like Blaster. After trying the full kit though, I would advise anyone even vaguely interested in Labo VR to fork out for the full kit. It really is worth it, and opens up a raft of fantastic games to play with each of the kits.

The Blaster is basically a shotgun that you can cock and shoot with realistic actions. It comes with a fantastic on-the-rails shooter game, where you're blasting your way through both Splatoon-like inky blob aliens and startlingly huge robotic ones, but also a pass-the-headset multiplayer hippo game where you take turns shooting fruit into their mouths to draw them into your scoring circle. Adorable, and also surprisingly tricky. Both are utterly brilliant games and I keep coming back to them with friends, who are also quite enamoured with it. 

The Camera is all about taking pictures, as you'd expect, with the lens rotating to zoom in and out with an audible clicking action that's really satisfying when you're in-game. There are two accompanying photography games: one that lets you snoop on the strange creature from the original Nintendo Labo House kit in his home, and another that has you diving into the depths of the fishing game - also from the original Labo kits - taking snapshots of fish, sharks, treasures and more. There are even checklists for photos that you need to take in each game to work your way through, and secrets to discover. 

The Elephant isn't actually about elephants at all, but rather about drawing. The trunk acts as your paintbrush (or other brush type as per your choosing) to create 3D drawings. I'm no artist, but I made something that at least resembled a dog, before moving onto the second Elephant-based game. This second one is a rather intuitive marble run game, where you have to grab and position ramps to get a ball through various hoops. It's not always the easiest thing to manoeuvre seeing as you're trying to move something that's attached to your VR headset by a series of elastic bands and cardboard tubes, but it's still an enjoyable experience. 

The Bird, which has become something of a celebrity in the GamesRadar office, is utterly brilliant too. You literally play as a little bird and flap your way across a map delivering bugs, frogs and other tasties to your baby birds, or in another mode you can flap your way through various rings placed across a race track. You can even pair it with the Wind Pedal (more on that in a minute) to feel the wind flowing through your feathers too, and it's incredible just how immersive these Labo VR experiences are when you're having to complete certain actions of the game in real-life too. 

Finally, the Wind Pedal. It's this giant blue monstrosity of a thing (that I'm genuinely concerned about storing in my small flat), but it adds a dimension to virtual reality that I've not yet experienced: the fourth dimension. The Wind Pedal's game is simple enough. It's called Hop Dodge and sees you playing as a small frog challenged with jumping over stacks of juggling balls, or heading off footballs that are fired from the heads of overly happy bears. But you move by pressing the wind pedal, which sends quite the forceful waft of air into your real-life face, meaning you literally feel like you're soaring through the air as your little frog leaps. It's seriously impressive in a way that I didn't think was possible with a cardboard VR kit. But, like with every Labo VR set I've built and played around with, I've been consistently showed otherwise. 

The concerns of cardboard

The beauty is that the VR Goggles themselves not only function as a VR game system in their own right but also then slot into the various other creations (which basically act as peripherals), meaning that you don't need a head strap to keep your Labo VR attached to your eyes. It's designed to ensure that the age rating for Labo VR is as low as possible (seven years and up to be precise), so that it's as family friendly as it can be. I thought that would mean Labo VR would get very tiring to use for long periods of time, but the majority of the games are designed for short-burst play sessions, so that's never an issue. 

However, from the end of April 2019, you will be able to play Super Mario Odyssey and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in virtual reality. It's looking like it's more of a VR mode for Super Mario Odyssey at this stage, but all you need to do is toggle a setting in the menu to play the entirety of Breath of the Wild in VR. That's going to require some serious arm power if you want to do that for more than 10 or so minutes at a time without fashioning some kind of DIY head strap for the Labo VR Goggles. I'll be testing both out when they're patched at the end of the month, but for now I have concerns about just how comfortable an experience it'll be long-term.

But regardless, it's incredible just how immersive and easy it is to understand Nintendo Labo VR. All the games have Nintendo's trademark quirkiness, are all family friendly - yes, even the shotgun one - and there's a whole suite of games to dive into too. Basically there’s plenty of content for you, friends, and family to get involved in and mess about with. It's simply a joyous experience. Plus, if you have any interest in making games yourself, or learning how they're made, the Labo VR kit has an enhanced version of the Labo Garage software that lets you make your own games and virtual reality experiences. It's pretty complicated, as you'd expect, and I've only scratched the surface of how easy it is to really understand, but you're not really buying Labo VR for that software, are you?

Verdict

The beauty is that the VR Goggles themselves not only function as a VR game system in their own right but also then slot into the various other creations (which basically act as peripherals), meaning that you don't need a headstrap to keep your Labo VR attached to your eyes. It's designed to ensure that the age rating for Labo VR is as low as possible (seven years and up to be precise), so that it's as family friendly as it can be. I thought that would mean Labo VR would get very tiring to use for long periods of time, but the majority of the games are designed for short-burst play sessions, so that's never an issue. 

However, from the end of April 2019, you will be able to play Super Mario Odyssey and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in virtual reality. It's looking like it's more of a VR mode for Super Mario Odyssey at this stage, but all you need to do is toggle a setting in the menu to play the entirety of Breath of the Wild in VR. That's going to require some serious arm power if you want to do that for more than 10 or so minutes at a time without fashioning some kind of DIY head strap for the Labo VR Goggles. I'll be testing both out when they're patched at the end of the month, but for now I have concerns about just how comfortable an experience it'll be long-term. 

But regardless, it's incredible just how immersive and easy it is to understand Nintendo Labo VR. All the games have Nintendo's trademark quirkiness, are all family friendly - yes, even the shotgun one - and there's a whole suite of games to dive into too. Basically there’s plenty of content for you, friends, and family to get involved in and mess about with. It's simply a joyous experience. Plus, if you have any interest in making games yourself, or learning how they're made, the Labo VR kit has an enhanced version of the Labo Garage software that lets you make your own games and virtual reality experiences. It's pretty complicated, as you'd expect, and I've only scratched the surface of how easy it is to really understand, but you're not really buying Labo VR for that software, are you?

Want more Switch goodness? Why not check out our pick of the best Nintendo Switch games or watch our guide on how to make a guitar with the original Nintendo Labo below: