Nintendo’s VR solution isn’t waterproof but it’s certainly immersive
Last week was my girlfriends birthday and she’s an avid Zelda fan (she’s spent well over 280 hours on Breath of the Wild!) so when Nintendo not only announced that the Labo VR kit would be out the day before her birthday but also that they’d have the entirety of Zelda in VR I knew I had to get it for her.
I’ve got a passing interest in Virtual Reality, it has some interesting applications but I find Augmented Reality far more interesting so buying a VR headset isn’t normally on the cards.
The Labo VR Kit hit the right price point for me and unlike one of the many Google Cardboard-alikes it had something only higher level VR kits have — controllers (well it uses the switch controllers but you know what I mean).
Building the headset
The first thing you do when you get the VR Kit is not build the headset but build an example joycon holder so you learn how to follow the instructions.
I initially thought this step was pointless (as the holder has no application in the final project) but it makes sense when you understand that Labo is aimed at children who would be distraught if they’re first experience was ruining the first piece in the construction of their new toy.
The headset construction itself is pretty easy and quick. Once you’ve built it you then unlock a number of demos which show off the immersion brought by the HD rumble and the gyros in the Joycon combined with the VR display.
These demos were cool and my girlfriend enjoyed them but they weren’t anything to write home about, to really experience immersion with the Labo VR Kit you need to build the blaster.
Set phasers to fun (sigh)
The blaster is this big cardboard gun that you hold up to your face and put the Joycon into that adds a completely different level of immersion and really separates Nintendo’s VR offering from everything else.
One thing I’d say about the blaster kit is that I don’t think that a 7 year old would have the patience to build it. It’s very long winded and while Nintendo do their best to make it as fun as possible it took me over an hour to complete (mostly due to the speed of the instruction videos).
While building the blaster I had nostalgic feelings of waking up on Christmas, finding a Lego Technics kit under the tree and disappearing to my room for a few hours to return with a functioning crane or motorcycle.
Another feeling that I had was one of awe as the revelation of how all the bits of the blaster came together to build a really sturdy and impressive feat of cardboard engineering.
The blaster has a pump action like mechanism that puts ‘the clacker’ under the trigger which when released gets propelled into the front joycon holder with a great sounding thud by elastic bands.
This ‘clacker’ mechanism is what adds a massive level of immersion to playing the games that come with the blaster.
Compared to playing a shooting game on a VR headset where you hold a joypad or controllers, which at most will rumble when using the blaster, your whole body is engaged with what your eyes see.
It’s hard to describe but if you’re able to play with the blaster you’ll understand what I mean. When you pump the blaster, push the trigger and feel the impact of the ‘clacker’ you really do feel like the sci-fi blaster you see on screen is in your arms.
Personally going forward I can see myself buying the camera kit as I think that will be another great experience to try out but on a more technological level I hope that Nintendo embraces what they have.
Sharing is caring
Nintendo’s Labo VR kit isn’t just adding VR to the Switch, it has the possibilities to build a VR community within the Switch user base. I’m not talking about people who own the VR kit to play Zelda or Mario but Switch owners who use their Labo VR kit to build things and share with others.
When I look at what the Google Cardboard was trying to achieve when it was released which was to bring VR to the masses via their smartphone it was more about consuming content than creating it (although developers could).
What Nintendo has built is a cheap (for existing Switch owners anyways), hackable VR solution with built in tools for people to build their own creations that can then be shared via the Labo website.
I really look forward to see how the community develops as if the current projects are anything to go by there’s going to be some really amazing VR content published.