When the focus comes on the games, the best Labo kit will reveal itself.
Nintendo's biggest surprises come in ways you didn't know you wanted. Case in point, I felt done with Labo after the Vehicle Kit. Don't get me wrong; the experience was really fun, but the road to get there took a while. The drastic big builds didn't let me hop into the action like the Variety Kit, which had its own fair share of issues. The experiences were bite-sized and experimental, but not worth of revisiting after a while. Right on cue comes Nintendo Labo: Toy-Con 04 - VR Kit. The experience is meant as gap bridger between Labo's fantastic building aspect and the affordable virtual reality space. The result is far better than I imagined, and it might be the best Labo Kit by a country mile.
Let's start with the building side of the VR Kit. Instead of crazy multiple hour builds, like those found in the Vehicle and Robot kits, the newest member of Labo family brings it back to relatively manageable times. In my experience, it is a step up from the Variety Kit, but not by much. The longest virtual reality build was about three hours, and this was only one project: the Toy-Con Blaster. On the flipside, the VR Goggles as well as the Toy-Con Camera can be made together within an hour. Players can pick what they want to do, complete a larger project within 90 minutes and have something to play. The importance of this can't be overstated as you reward is quicker in range.
That's not to say that the building side is boring. Not at all in fact. Next to being snappier, these are incredibly fun builds, each feeling inherently different than anything I’ve built before. It mostly comes down to the fact the Joy-Con and Nintendo Switch are used more in conjunction, creating new possibilities and stepping away from the standard Toy-Con formula. A good example is how light reflection stickers are barely used in the set at all. There is a lot more focus on grommets, washers, bands, and so forth. Even as someone who completed every build within Labo family, I found these surprisingly engaging to do.
Some elements of the build aren't easy, however. The Blaster project requires tons of folding, easily taking up a third of your time building it. In addition, flaps needs to be placed at certain angles or others need to be double-folded to make them fit within a build. The game does an excellent job explaining you every single detail, which isn't unusual for Nintendo Labo's software. The quirky written text will help to understand what is needed to get the job done. Particularly during the Toy-Con Elephant, where parts can feel loose at first, the game ensured me that I was on the right track.
Hopping Into Another Reality
With the builds out of the way, let’s get to the art of playing in Virtual Reality itself. Every time I brought up the VR Kit to friends, they were wondering how well it look with the Switch's 720p screen. While it looks a teensy bit grainy, I was actually impressed with how well the experiences themselves held up. Once I got over the initial reluctance, I just sat around in my swivel chair and had a good time seeing the game at hand. That being said, considering you have to hold all the parts, it may cause some strain maybe sooner than it should. This is nothing that one minute breaks between long levels can't fix though.
Speaking about levels, here’s the breakdown of what is there to be played. The Play Menu is actually quite big, offering 10 sections to dive into. The first two are the Camera games: Ocean Camera and House Camera. In Ocean Camera, you are in a 360-degree underwater environment where you shoot pictures of fish. No matter where you look, something will be happening. With your trusty Toy-Con Camera in tow, you can look up and down to dive to different heights and see new things. Another way to see new things is to zoom in and focus in on subjects. It is honestly a lot of fun, and quite relaxing to play late at night.
Sadly, I felt less strong about House Camera. While offering up the same basic rules as the underwater version, it isn't all that exciting. This takes place in the same locations as the Toy-Con House, but now with glowing points that you need to interact with. The room is limited and most of the events that occur happen seemingly out of nowhere. Mind you, it isn't bad or anything, just lackluster when compared to the rest of the main games. I found myself clicking the shutter button a lot faster.
The two games that you play with the Toy-Con Elephant confused me the most at first. Not because the games are bad, but more so because the control scheme is something that is hard to wrap your trunk around. While your left hand rests on the handle, your right hand moves the trunk of the cardboast beast. It is done to create a sense of depth, which is honestly more impressive than it sounds. You really have to get used to how the trunk operates, but I found the ideas behind incredibly clever.
First off, the elephant has Marble Run. It is your job to move platforms into place and make sure a ball drops into a golden hoop. The trick is to move into the fore- and background to bring objects closer to you. The difficulty ramps up fast after the initial puzzles, but the game is quite an intriguing challenge. The other game with the Toy-Con Elephant is Doodle. In here, you will enter one of many rooms and create your own 3D drawings from scratch. You can drag your creations and put them in spots you desire, there are tools to play around with and you can even plaster them with stickers. The idea, in itself, is a rather simple one. That being said, the ease of use and intrigue of the result makes it rather charming.
Toy-Con Bird & Wind Pedal
The Toy-Con Bird offered, by far, my favorite experiences in the whole kit. In Bird mode, you travel across a vast island and see chick eggs all spread across. By approaching one, you are tasked to find a certain type of food. Flap the bird’s wings to gain speed, then move your head left and right to change direction and take in the landscapes. There is something beautiful about exploring all the sections of the island and turning every chick into a proper bird that follows you around. By the end, I felt we made tons of friends along the way. It seriously rocked my socks off.
You can combine the Toy-Con Bird with the Toy-Con Wind Pedal for additional speed, which you will need in Bird Dash. By unlocking parts of the map in the regular Bird mode, you unlock time-based ring challenges in Bird Dash. It takes the basic mechanics of Bird, but gives them a lot more power and fast-paced action. You see, the next ring needs to be made in time for the best score, so a sharp eye is off the utmost importance. The experience you get in these speed-based challenges isn't unlike a rollercoaster, particularly in VR. There was an incredibly big grin on my face as I flew everything the best I could. In defeat, the smile couldn't be simply slapped away.
By the by, the Toy-Con Wind Pedal has its own game too. Hop Dodge sees you helping a frog over gigantic circus balls coming your way. These can come from any angle, which you have to look at with the traditional VR Goggles. The idea is knowing when it is the best time to jump and avoid doom for our little green friend. Out of all the games, the concept is likely the easiest to understand and might not last as long as other games in the package, as it is a score attack game. However, I can't help myself and play a run or two in a while. It is fairly easy to set up after all.
The final two ''main'' games can be played with the Toy-Con Blaster, which once again is the biggest build within the package. Luckily, the games within absolutely deliver to make all that effort with it. The standard Blaster mode sees you playing through six levels, which are each split into three sections. The goal is to shoot down every alien that you can find. Outside of the boss rooms, each section offers 30 aliens to destroy. Some are put in some sneaky places, so you will need to look around the full 360 degrees. Depending on your accuracy and how many you managed to hit, you will get points that get added to your total.
The bosses are spectacular. One of them is a snake, where you have to shoot all its individual parts to score a win. To score a perfect, it is a good idea to use the Stop Time functionality. You have to move the Joy-Con on the side of you down and you can shoot bullets within a specific time frame. After lifting the controller back up, everything is fired at once for some massive damage. To top it all off, there are special green aliens to find within every section, which serves as an extra additional collectable to further nail a level.
While six levels may seem short, Blaster is very much based around your high scores. That being said, however, there are expert levels that you can find in Quick Play once you finish all standard levels. These will throw rougher enemy patterns into the mix, forcing you to look around a ton. Quick Play also allows you to go back to particular sections that you want to play on their own, and experience them at your own leisure. Even now, I find myself going back to certain sections and find new strategies to handle them, which is quite nice.
The last Toy-Con Blaster game is Kablasta. In this multiplayer game, you suck up fruit with the gun and shoot it in the mouths of hungry hippos. Only certain hippos have their mouth open at one time, so you need to pick your battles. If you are successful, the hippo will join your squad, which adds a point to the overall total. After each throw, you pass the Blaster back and forth until there are no beasties left. For my friends, we found that it was better to use the Toy-Con Screenholder, allowing us to quickly switch without the using VR mode. Maybe not the most impressive way to play it, but we had more fun this way.
VR Plaza & Discover
In addition to the nine main games, the Play section also offers the VR Plaza. Players can experience 64 minigames that are built using the new Toy-Con Garage VR. I wouldn't say that any of them are particularly impressive, but they are nice proofs of concept. The game offers you to tweak them too as instantly going into the edit mode, which is a great way to learn the ropes. The selection is quite fun with some using the actual Toy-Con, while others can be with the VR Goggles or simply without VR. In fact, there are some two-player games in there don't use virtual reality even in the slightest. The VR Plaza games are here to showcase density of the new Toy-Con Garage tools, which I really appreciate. That being said, I do think that the in-game tools also do a grand job explaining the new Garage.
The Discover section hasn't changed overly much. In addition to lessons of the new Toy-Con and regular Toy-Con Garage, the new Toy-Con Garage VR will likely turn the most heads. While I'm still learning all the ins and outs of new editing modes and node options, I'm just really impressed with its potential. In fact, I can easily see myself making a game or two with it. Considering you place elements within a 3D environment, it is far more intriguing than the standard Garage. Everything there was a lot more rudimentary and you needed physical objects for them to make sense. The ideas are now shifted to a more digital form, which fits the overall flow of the VR Kit. The tools aren't everlasting, but they do enough to make unique ideas possible.
Finally, there is another fun little trinket in the Discover section: VR Videos. The VR Kit offers up 33 videos that can be enjoyed with the standard VR Goggles. They technically play into helping you learn in your ways into VR, but there are some fun surprises in there. You have musicians playing the Nintendo Labo theme, somebody playing a Virtual Boy and a whole lot more. If I needed a quick way to explain to someone what Nintendo Labo VR was all about, I would start there and then ease them into a game or two.
Nintendo Labo: Toy-Con 04 - VR Kit is the first kit I really enjoyed without any major asterisks. The software has really championed the idea of understandable VR, and build proper experiences around it. Where I found the games in previously Labo kits lacking in some ways, I just found it really fun to see everything the package holds dear. While the building is fully present, they shifted the focus somewhat more to the game modes. There is a nice mixture of the two that can't be overstated. While it might not be the sharpest way to experience what VR can bring, it brought a lot of smiles and some incredibly clever ideas to boot.