Almost 25 years after the ill-fated Virtual Boy, Nintendo has finally jumped back into the VR game with a new Labo Kit for the Switch console. The fourth of these DIY cardboard construction kits is built around a pair of VR goggles that slide into different contraptions to play a range of games.
Like the rest of the Labo lineup, the new kit has players pressing out pre-cut cardboard pieces and then folding, slotting and assembling them into accessories that Nintendo calls "Toy-Con." They can then be used to play games by sliding in the Switch controllers, which bring with them their motion controls, infrared sensors and vibrating motors, not to mention the usual spread of buttons and sticks. Previous sets include wearable robot suits, playable pianos, and drivable vehicles like cars, planes and submarines.
The difference here is that the VR Kit includes a more solid pair of VR Goggles, with a plastic frame and glass eyepieces. With the Nintendo Switch console slotted in behind it, those eyepieces split the screen in two to give a 3D effect. With only a 720p resolution, you shouldn't go in expecting something on par with the Vive, but Nintendo is clear in pitching it as an "introduction" to VR.
And of course, the really clever thing is the creative use of controllers. Decked out with motion control, infrared sensors and vibrating motors, not to mention the usual spread of buttons and sticks, these controllers could go a long way towards selling the experience.
Along with the base that surrounds the VR Goggles, there are five different Toy-Con to build in the VR Kit. The Blaster is shaped like a bazooka, which players apparently use to fight off aliens. The Camera has players snapping photos in an ocean world, pressing the button on one controller as a shutter, while the other sits on the front and can be rotated for what we assume is zoom.
The other Toy-Con include an Elephant, a Bird and something called a Wind Pedal. While Nintendo hasn't given details on those, we can hazard a few guesses from the pictures. The Bird looks like it might have flapping wings and probably has players flying around. The Elephant has two controllers in its trunk and it seems to be about drawing. And all we can ascertain about the Wind Pedal is that you operate it with your foot.
But the sudden announcement of VR functionality for the Switch might just be more interesting than the new Labo Kit itself. Rumors have been swirling since the Switch launched two years ago that Nintendo might use the versatile console to dip its toes into the VR waters, and hackers even claimed to have uncovered a VR mode hard-coded into the firmware.
While Labo is the perfect vehicle to showcase VR, the bundled games will no doubt wear thin fairly quickly. But that might not matter too much – last year an update to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe made it playable with the Labo Motorbike kit, so there's an exciting possibility that existing Switch games could get VR modes in the future.
The Nintendo Labo VR Kit is due to be released on April 12, in a few different bundles. The Starter Kit includes the software, the VR Goggles, and the components to build the Blaster Toy-Con, for US$39.99. There are two expansion sets, which add the Elephant/Camera or Bird/Wind Pedal, for $19.99 each. Or there's the complete bundle that contains everything for $79.99.
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