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Nintendo Labo VR Review: learn coding your own games in VR (updated April 23, 2019)

This is a quick hands-on review of Nintendo Labo VR Kit for Nintendo Switch, which enables you to use your Nintendo Switch for VR games, and even to create your own games.

When Nintendo Switch was first announced, there were rumors that it would have VR capabilities.  However, in October 2016, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime quickly quashed those rumors by saying that Nintendo was still waiting for VR to be at the point of being “mass market adoptable.”

Well, apparently, in Nintendo’s judgment, that time has come.  On March 6, Nintendo announced a Labo VR Kit to enable the Nintendo Switch to be used as a VR headset.

Labo VR for Nnintendo Switch
Labo VR for Nnintendo Switch

For those unfamiliar with Nintendo Labo, it’s a series of user-assembled cardboard toys with minigames for the Switch.  For example, in the basic kit, you can build a cardboard piano with an insert for the Switch, and if you press its keys, it would play sounds.  (My kids enjoyed it, although TBH they don’t play it much now, and instead they are playing Pokemon or Super Smash Bros. Ultimate…)

What can Labo VR do?

Likewise, Labo VR Kit is a cardboard VR headset (not the first such VR headset) that uses the Nintendo Switch instead of a phone.  In its most basic form, the VR Goggles can be used to view VR videos of stars and planets.  At this point, Nintendo hasn’t said whether you’ll be able to view standard 360 photos and 360 videos (note that the Switch has an SDXC Micro SD slot).0

The VR headset can also be inserted in toys with minigames.  Nintendo hasn’t shown the details for the VR minigames but here is the list:

Nintendo Labo VR toys
Nintendo Labo VR toys

Nintendo Labo VR Blaster

Blaster: this is a toy gun with what a type of  space shooting game.  You’ll “pump” the gun like a shotgun and squeeze the trigger to fire.

Nintendo Labo VR Camera

Camera: this is a toy camera with an underwater photography game.  As you look around the ocean in VR, you can rotate the “zoom” and press the shutter to take photos of fishes and other sea creatures.

Nintendo Labo VR Elephant

Elephant: this is a toy elephant head with a movable trunk.  You’ll control an elephant and use its “trunk” to paint in VR.

Bird: a toy bird with movable head. This will incorporate a game where you fly around in VR.

Wind Pedal: this is for a frog jumping game.  The cardboard flap blows wind to your face, to add to the immersiveness.

Here is a hands-on report by IGN

How well does it work?

I was honestly surprised that Nintendo decided to create this kit.  There are already many low cost VR headsets, and everyone already has a smartphone that will be lighter and will have a higher resolution screen (and much higher pixel density) than the Switch’s 1280 x 720 display.  I was also not sure whether Nintendo Switch’s gyroscope is good enough for VR.

To my surprise, the Labo VR does work pretty well.  Head tracking is reasonably accurate, and I didn’t notice lag.  I was worried about resolution and detail and I was surprised that the resolution was decent and usable.  It was enough to be able to show 4K videos (the app includes sample VR180 videos which appear to be in 4K resolution).  This is because we only see a portion of the 4K video at any given time, and this portion can be represented even in a 720p screen.  I also did not notice any distortion, nor did I see chromatic aberration.  And even though the lenses were Fresnel lenses, there were no god rays (unlike the Rift).

The most pleasant surprise was the huge field of view, which seemed to be comparable to the Oculus Rift or even the HTC Vive.  The field of view was definitely larger than on the Oculus Go or Samsung Gear VR 2017.  The Labo VR does have a major weakness, which is the very high persistence of the display, resulting in motion blur whenever you move your head.

Overall, the VR performance was acceptable, similar to Google Cardboard but with a wider field of view.

Is it fun?

As I mentioned above, Labo VR consists of a VR headset and five toys that each have their own minigames.  Assembling each device takes more time than I expected — for example, the VR headset takes 30 mins to 1 hour to assemble, partly because the instructions go at a very slow pace.  However, my kids seemed to have fun assembling the devices, much as they enjoy building LEGO toys.

I found that the games were simple but many of them have been more interesting than I expected.  For example, one game was a VR version of the classic Pong, but they used robots / humanoids who could kick a ball that would explode on hitting a wall.  I found myself playing it for several minutes despite its simplicity.

My kids haven’t assembled all the toys yet but so far they like the minigames from the headset and the VR Camera.

Another benefit of the Labo VR is that it enables you to create your own VR games.  It lets you get started by allowing you to use any of the included games as a template and then modify them.  This makes the Labo VR a very useful educational tool and is a tremendous value add from my perspective as a parent.

Price and availability

Nintendo Labo VR Starter Kit with Blaster
Nintendo Labo VR Starter Kit with Blaster

Labo VR will be released on April 12, 2019.  There will be two versions: a deluxe kit with all the toys ($80) and a starter kit with the blaster game ($40) and two expansion packs of two toys each ($20 per expansion kit). I’ve ordered the Labo VR Kit and will update this with a review.

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