Nintendo’s take on VR is unlike any other. The Japanese game maker’s deceptively simple plan to turn the Switch into a virtual reality powerhouse involves a few sheets of cardboard and a little bit of elbow grease. Some experts think the simplicity of the new VR makes it the best headset for children to start learning virtual reality which is expected to change the world, along with AR, MR and XR, in the coming years.
The new Labo VR kits now allow users to fold cardboard pieces into an array of different accessories that transform the console into anything from a headset to a fishing rod. The DIY bundles turn a year old this month, and have recently received a suite of notable updates.
Nintendo announced its fourth Labo Kit in March which includes six new “Toy-Con” designs. These include a blaster, a bird, a camera, an elephant, a foot pedal, as well as a complementary pair of VR goggles that work with the all of the new accessories. The origami-like attachments come with a new batch of “simple and shareable” mini-games geared toward a younger audience, but some of Nintendo’s recent hit titles are beginning to gain VR support as well.
Nintendo Labo VR: Price
Nintendo released two new bundles, known as the “Toy-Con 04 VR Kit” on April 12.
The first bundle will include all six aforementioned Toy-Con designs, a screen holder, a safety cap, and all of their accompanying games for $79.99. A smaller version of this kit that only includes the blaster Toy-Con will be available for $39.99 for users that want to test the waters before buying the entire new bundle.
Additionally, the company will offer two expansion sets for $19.99 each. One expansion pack includes the elephant and camera Toy-Cons, while the other will come with the pedal and bird Toy-Cons. These bundles are geared toward users that initially pick up the $39.99 starter kit and enjoy it enough to shell out for the rest of the designs.
How It Works
Instead of figuring out how to inject gamers deeper into often-alienating and lonely digital spaces, Nintendo re-thought the concept of virtual reality with Labo. This suite of colorful mini-games and imaginative cardboard constructions encourages real-world creativity, exploration, expression, and social play instead of a slack-jawed injection of digital smack. It’s VR, but it’s not virtually fun. It’s actually fun.
Like the best toys, Labo expands with the interests of your child. If they just want to chill out with a fun little VR game, Labo offers dozens. If they’re into art, they can mod their projects into cardboard masterpieces. If your kid likes working with their hands, they’ll love the actual building of the toy-cons, and Labo provides a ton of tools and instruction so young programmers can code their own games and toys.
Creating Things With Labo
The idea behind Labo is that you and your kid build cardboard “toy-cons,” motion-controlled creations, for use in specialized little games. The VR kit adds a new dimension to the Labo library, with a collection of six new projects and many, many VR mini-games to go with them.
With a little effort and some folds and creases, you and your kid will transform a few sheets of cardboard and some rubber bands into a majestic bird with flapping wings, a camera with a working focus ring, a bazooka-looking space-blaster, and more cool toys.
Currently, the available Labo VR projects include: the VR goggles, the camera, the elephant, the blaster, the wind pedal, and the pinwheel. They range in complexity from the relatively simple and quick construction of the cardboard VR goggle housing to more complicated builds like the blaster. That one took a couple of hours.
The on-screen instructions are clear and easy to understand. The Switch lets you look at a project from any angle and repeat steps as often as you need to get it right. The building process is simple enough for most kids to understand, and it’s fairly fun to put them together.
The finished toy-cons are solid, durable and work exactly as advertised, and they often contain surprising details: the ring on the camera lens clacks like a real one would when you pull focus. The bird controller can be paired with the wind pedal and the pinwheel, letting you control your virtual bird in different ways
Playing Games Via Labo
Once you’ve built a toy-con, it’s time to put it to the test. The games for each project combine motion-sensing and virtual reality into bite-sized, easy-to-learn games designed to be experienced quickly and shared.
You can use your cardboard camera to explore and photograph a gentle, undersea world, diving to the virtual ocean floor to capture the strange light-emitting creatures that live at the lower depths, or you can swim upwards and break the surface to photograph seagulls circling a lighthouse. Another player can even strap on a cardboard snorkel and swim through your world.
The bird controller offers the chance to fly through an avian world by flapping your cardboard wings. You hatch your eggs and feed your little chicks until they join you and fly by your side.
There is no elephant game to go along with the elephant controller. Instead, the “trunk” is a sectional arm with a joy-con controller at its end, allowing you to manipulate objects in 3D space. The Pictionary-style co-op drawing game lets you take turns drawing a 3D object in space and guessing what the other player drew. It’s a little game, but Nintendo included a surprisingly complex set of drawing and coloring tools to render 3D models, hinting at the deeper possibilities of VR.
Maybe the silliest and most surprising of all the Labo VR toy-cons and games is the wind-pedal and its accompanying frog-based gaming experience. You put the bulky cardboard contraption on the floor, and make your froggy jump by pressing down on the pedal. Cool enough, but the fan attached to the pedal directs a puff of air into your face with each hop. It sounds silly, but feeling the wind in your face in the virtual world will definitely make you laugh.
The main event of the toy-cons for most kids will likely be the blaster. The most complicated build, the blaster has you folding cardboard into a bazooka-like gun. You pull back the barrel to cock, it, and it makes a satisfying “wonk” sound when it fires. The games that come with it, an on-rails alien shooter and a two-player strategy game that involves feeding little hippos, demonstrate why there’s no strap to hold the Labo onto your face. You play them for a little bit, and pass the device to your friend. No strap needed. No calibrating and adjusting the VR. Just a fun little novelty to share with a pal.
Learning About How Stuff Works Via Labo
All these projects and games would have been more than worth the price, but Labo VR also contains a deeper level that’s way more educational than teaching your kids how to follow cardboard-folding instructions.
In a world where technology can seem like magic, Labo invites users behind the tech scenes by carefully explaining and demonstrating the ingenious mechanisms that power the toy-cons and the Nintendo Switch itself. For example, the pinwheel controller works by using the IR camera embedded at the end of the joy-con to read reflective stickers on the pinwheel’s blade: The faster they spin, the faster the on-screen action happens.
Once they understand the basics of how the Switch’s IR camera, accelerometer, rumble, and other features work together with cardboard and stickers, your kids are free to make their own working projects. They can start from scratch with their own creations, or mod one of the existing mini games in any way they can dream up.
If you have a budding coder on your hands, Labo is a non-threatening and fun way to learn coding and express creativity.