There’s a generation of kids who will first experiencewhile flapping cardboard wings and looking up a duck’s butt.
Others may feel a rush of wind on their face as they ride a frog that jumps on a bear’s circus balls.
The new Nintendo Labo VR kit is the latest batch of cardboard contraptions you build for the Switch game console. This time, the D-I-Y accessory bundle is designed to be used for a wide range of mini VR games, for ages 7 and up.
The Labo VR kit launches April 12, but Nintendo gave some press an early look at the experience. I spent about 45 minutes sampling the mini games and using the Switch VR goggles with a bird, elephant mask, camera, blaster gun and wind pedal.
Nothing is strapped to your face. All the games are designed for short bursts of play, some with timed rounds. Other games have you pass it to a friend to take turns.
And that’s a good thing — I needed breaks between games to prevent myself from feeling that VR eye-strain sickness.
What’s also good about the design is how the Switch will change between 3D and 2D automatically when you slide it from the goggles, so kids can jump in and play without messing too much with settings.
So, about those games. With one of the bird games, I’m squeezing down on two cardboard handles to flap wings on the duck-figured goggles, soaring around a land collecting food for overly dramatic baby birds.
In another game, I press my foot down on a pedal attached to a big cardboard fan flap, so every press of the pedal offers a refreshing swoosh of air in my face. I held the VR goggles with both hands, pretending to ride a frog that’s jumping in the air when I press my foot, as circus bears toss balls at me. The game itself isn’t very complex. But what other VR system blows air in your face as you play?
The elephant-head VR viewer doesn’t involve any elephant or safari games. Rather, the trunk holds Joy-Cons for a VR paint program, letting you sketch out 3D objects in space. I jumped into a quick game of guess the doodle, passing the elephant back and forth with my colleague as we quickly drew fish and a pair of scissors, using the trunk snout to draw.
The best of the bunch would have to be the blaster gun. There’s a satisfying click when I would pump back a slide to reload and press a trigger button with my thumb to fire away at goopy alien invaders. It felt like something I’d play at an arcade, as I was moved along automatically through the world, shooting whatever that passed me by until the level was over.
Perhaps the least interesting was the few minutes I spent with a camera, taking photos of strange things I found under the ocean. But there are more camera activities I didn’t get to sample, like a game that involves snapping pics around a house.
In fact, all of these accessories have multiple games, but I only got a small taste of what’s possible.
If you’re worried about kids losing interest quickly, Nintendo did extend the creativity beyond the cardboard. Players can learn to program their own VR games, or even customize the look of some mini games and puzzles in the VR Plaza. In the plaza, you’ll find 64 bite-size challenges that only need the goggles and Switch to work.
If you spend $80, you’ll get a kit with materials to build all six projects, or you can just start with the goggles and blaster for $40, and then add on smaller expansion bundles for $20 a pop. One of the Nintendo staff at the event said it took her four hours to build the blaster gun, so prepare for several hours of crafting entertainment, as is usual with Labo kits.
The challenges may be quick and parents may find a collection of cardboard stuff taking up space around the house when all the games are done. But that has always been the Labo trade-off for parents who want to offer kids a video game that blends physical playtime with some creative thinking.
That said, for a kid that’s got a creative spark you want to kindle, this is a step into a new dimension of thinking at a low price, and something beyond what other VR systems can offer.