Virtual reality has been a hot topic in the world of technology for the last few years, though interest at this point has shown a bit of a drop. Still, it hasn’t completely left the public consciousness. After beating around the bush about it for a good while, Nintendo has finally jumped onto the VR bandwagon with a product not many were expecting: Nintendo Labo VR.
Bearing a striking similarity to the Google Cardboard headset from a few years back, the Labo VR kit has been designed to be “simple,” “friendly,” and “fun,” as Nintendo describes it. While some have flung criticism towards the company for choosing to continue its low-tech endeavors for something as complex as VR, I personally think this is probably the best move Nintendo could’ve made with finally adopting virtual reality.
At this point, VR falls into about two main categories: the extremely low-budget options and high-end offerings. The low-budget offerings have mostly been relegated to the mobile sector where companies have been making all sorts of cheap headsets that provide an extremely basic VR experience. Moving towards the high end, you have beefy PCs armed with either Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headsets that are able to provide a full-fledged VR gameplay experience. PlayStation VR can also be tagged onto this end of the spectrum since it is able to achieve far more than a simple mobile VR headset, though it’s not as advanced as the Rift or Vive. Where does Labo VR fit in? At first glance, you might think it would be the former, but I don’t think it suits either label—it kind of stands on its own.
You take the high road, and I’ll… build my own!
Actual gaming is mostly the domain of the higher-end VR headsets, and even then, that’s presented an interesting challenge. Not only do you need powerful hardware to properly run a VR headset, but the most gameplay experiences basically fall into the same spectrum—a first-person view where you interact with the world around you in a fashion similar to that of real life. Whether it’s something like Beat Saber or a racing simulator like DiRT Rally or Gran Turismo Sport, VR experiences tend to have a very limited scope. To add insult to injury, getting into “real” VR still requires a pretty hefty amount of cash. At the very least you can get a standard PS4 and PSVR headset for around $500, but even that’s still a big asking price. This is where Labo VR differs.
While it’s clearly very low-tech and low-budget coming in at a starting price of $40, Labo VR isn’t trying to mimic the other headsets. Rather, Labo VR embraces what makes the entire Labo product line special by having players build Toy-Con that are then brought to life by the included software. As the name “virtual reality” suggests, the whole purpose is to mimic real life in a virtual space. However, Labo VR will do that not just with the software, but also by means of the Toy-Con. This will add a whole different layer to the experience that the other headsets don’t have.
Another benefit of the VR Toy-Con is that they will widen the range of experiences that the software can offer. While you do have a variety of VR games, the scope is still far less than that of normal titles because not every experience can be properly handled in VR. With Labo VR, however, the Toy-Con are dedicated to specific experiences, so not only will the software be built specifically for each set, but developers will be able to create all-new experiences surrounding the various Toy-Con.
Keeping the focus
Considering that the Switch doesn’t have the horsepower to run a proper VR experience even on the level of the PSVR, I think this is a good compromise. It’s more creative than something like Google Cardboard, while still being inviting enough that the target demographic (kids and families) won’t be turned off from the concept.
Any time a Nintendo executive has been asked about VR in the past, the answer was always fundamentally the same: It “has to be fun.” On top of that, it has to be “enjoyable for a long period of time.” Again, the benefits of Labo VR show themselves here. Unlike traditional VR, it doesn’t seem like these Labo experiences will result in stuff like motion sickness, and they’re clearly not meant to be enjoyed by just a single person waltzing around a room. These have the potential to even be good party starters, just with the building aspect alone.
The one thing that worries me about Labo VR is that it’s a month away from release, and Nintendo hasn’t published any gameplay videos yet. Even then, it can’t be judged fully until it’s actually in the hands of users. With that in mind, while I haven’t purchased any Labo set before, this might actually be the one that finally gets me to try it out.