When Nintendo first released Labo — a line of DIY cardboard accessories for the Switch — it did a lot of things right. The kits balanced a fine line between being fun toys and useful learning tools. You could build your own cardboard piano, get a lesson on how it actually functions, and then make music with kitten sounds. Despite coming from Nintendo, however, the first batch of Labo kits werent exactly great games; they were simple toys without much lasting appeal. If you werent into learning rudimentary coding or endlessly fishing a virtual sea, there wasnt much to keep you coming back. Even with two young kids in the house, my Labo kits sat in a closet all summer, rarely used. With the new vehicle kit, which launches on Friday, the company may have finally solved that problem. The new collection retains all of the best aspects of the original Labo kits, but it combines them with an excellent game thats bursting with Nintendo charm. As with the original Labo kits, the first thing you have to do is build the actual accessories, which can take a lot of time. The Switch tablet serves as an interactive instruction manual, letting you flip back and forth between instructions and rotate the camera to clarify any confusion. Its all very seamless and intuitive, and somehow, it makes spending hours folding little bits of cardboard an enjoyable experience. For the curious, there are also short, interactive vignettes so you can see exactly how the various creations work, and there are also helpful instructions on how to repair the kits if something breaks. One of the core conceits of Labo is that it encourages a curiosity for how things function, and this remains true with the new collection. The vehicle kit consists of four main pieces: a steering wheel for driving a car, a joystick for piloting a plane, a strange blue box you use to pilot a submarine, and a foot pedal for controlling the speed of each vehicle. They vary quite a bit in terms of complexity, but the steering wheel is by far the most involved. It takes upwards of two hours to build (probably a bit longer if you let a five-year-old help out like I did). The big difference is that the vehicle kits offer a much more robust video game experience compared to the original Labo sets. When you boot up the play section of the game, youre presented with a few different options, including a handful of very simple races to speed through. But the best part of the new kit is a huge island space that invites exploration. The colorful island is home to a range of biomes — a swamp filled with massive dinosaur bones, a futuristic city, and a peaceful Stonehenge-like structure in a vast green field — and its incredibly open. Theres no linear list of instructions to follow or enemies and dangers to deal with. Instead, you simply drive or fly pretty much wherever you want and discover things at your own pace. The only limit is your fuel; you periodically have to stop at a gas station and fill up, otherwise the game resets. This open-ended structure is combined with a very friendly tone. Vehicle movement feels loose and arcade-like — more Cruisin USA than Gran Turismo — and its improved substantially by the tactile nature of Labo. Theres something innately satisfying about turning a wheel or flipping a switch and seeing the same thing happen on-screen. Both the car and plane are incredibly intuitive to pilot; my five-year-old daughter was able to spend hours navigating the island completely by herself. The submarine takes a bit more practice. You move around by twisting large wheels on a cardboard box, which rotate fans on the submersible, pushing it any given direction. The fact that the game doesnt punish you in any way makes the learning curve a lot more tolerable. The island is filled with interesting secrets, but you have to explore and uncover them on your own. Youre presented with a small list of objectives that are intentionally vague, providing hints like bird-catching or yetis last treasure. They usually amount to finding an object or character and bringing them somewhere else on the map, but the process of uncovering and solving them is a lot of fun. This is especially true for younger players who can often get frustrated by the restrictive nature of most video games. Here, you can just mess around and play and decide what tasks you do or dont want to do. Youd be amazed how long driving up and down the same mountain can entertain a kid. The most magical part of the vehicle kit is also the simplest. One of the first things you build in the game is a key, a basic cardboard sleeve for the right Joy-Con controller. In order to use any of the vehicles, you need to slot the key inside of them. Before the key is in place, your vehicle is a simple metal frame. But when you stick the key in the ignition, the transformation is instantaneous: that basic chassis immediately sprouts wheels or wings, depending on what kit youre using. In order to traverse the entirety of the island, you constantly need to shift between all three modes of transportation, and the speed at which you can change from a plane to a submarine to an off-road truck is very satisfying. If you havent yet taken the plunge for Nintendos strange cardboard accessories, now is the time. The vehicle kit has everything thats good about Labo — the tactile fun of building things, the playful learning tools, the creative garage for designing your own kits — and it marries it to the bright and charming kind of video game experience youd expect from Nintendo. The island exemplifies everything that Labo is about: being open, playful, and curious. Nintendo has said that it doesnt believe the Labo line has reached its full potential yet, and this new kit is evidence that its taking steps in that direction. The Nintendo Labo vehicle kit launches for the Nintendo Switch on September 14th.
Adventure mode justifies the price. Nintendo Labo has been out for a while now. We've been charmed by the company's inventive designs and the way they fuse cardboard with the Switch's powerful Joy-Con controllers. The product line hasn't been a runaway success, though. In its last quarterly earnings, Nintendo revealed that 1.39 million Labo sets were sold between their debut in April and the end of June 2018. That's by no means a disaster, and not a huge surprise given Labo is more education focused than Nintendo's usual wares. The kits are also a tad more expensive than a typical Switch game like ARMS. Tomorrow, Nintendo is releasing a third Labo set called the Vehicle Kit. I doubt it will sell 10 million copies, or rival the popularity of PlayStation 4 exclusives like Spider-Man and God of War. I do believe, though, that it's the best Labo kit yet, with satisfying builds and a robust suite of gameplay modes. Together, they stand a decent chance of tempting skeptical parents who worry their little ones will grow tired of the concept after a few days. Before you can pilot a virtual monster truck, you have to build some physical props. As with previous Labo kits, these are constructed from large, rectangular sheets with clearly defined pop-out pieces. The new set comes with a Switch game card that contains detailed instructions for each one. Individual steps are conveyed with short videos that you can rewind and rotate at any time. The solution is a huge improvement over the paper pamphlets that ship with LEGO sets and Ikea flat-pack furniture. I also appreciated the child-friendly jokes that Nintendo peppered into each step. Everything slots and folds together in an elegant way. Even now, five months after Labo's debut, I'm impressed that none of the kits require a pair of scissors or pot of glue. It keeps your Nintendo Switch safe and ensures that your little one can open the box and get stuck in right away. Occasionally, you'll have to dig into an included bag that contains an assortment of string, plastic washers and elastic bands. These parts are a fraction of the final kit though, and rarely feel like a design cop-out. The Vehicle Kit offers five major Toy-Cons: a wheel, an acceleration pedal, a flight joystick and a spray can. There's also enough cardboard to build a Joy-Con holder, a wheel-mounted Switch stand, and two small Joy-Con "keys" that are required to operate all of the Toy-Cons except for the pedal. They all take a long time to complete. Like, seriously long. Nintendo estimates that the wheel alone will take you three hours to finish. Thankfully, each build is broken down into stages, with helpful reminders to take a breather after each one. I constructed everything over a weekend and was mentally drained at the end. If you're making the kits with children, I highly recommend spreading them out over a fortnight or two. Thankfully, you're rewarded with a game after building every Toy-Con. The pedal, for instance, can be used on its own to play a slot car-inspired racer. Once you've inserted the left Joy-Con, you can sit down and press the pedal to send a tiny racer whizzing around the track. It's not much, but you can play against up to three other people holding single Joy-Cons. The best game on the card, by far, is called Adventure. It's an open-world affair with 80 distinct challenges spread across 10 regional zones. You play with the pedal, which has the left Joy-Con inside, and either the wheel, joystick or submarine cranks, that require the right Joy-Con key. Inserting this small, oblong piece of cardboard will summon the corresponding vehicle in game. You're then free to roam around the world, which is fairly large, and tackle the missions in any order. Most require a specific mode of transportation, however, so you'll need to regularly swap between the four-wheeler, plane and submarine. The objectives are simply an excuse to pilot each vehicle and test your mastery of the corresponding Toy-Cons. None of the missions are particularly challenging. Labo is designed, after all, to be accessible for anyone aged six and above. You might need to knock a large golf ball into an equally enormous hole, find a hidden flag in the middle of a Stonehenge-inspired rock formation, or round up some brightly colored cows whohave wandered away from their paddock. The objectives are simply an excuse to pilot each vehicle and test your mastery of the corresponding Toy-Cons. The red wheel, for example, has two levers at the back (where your turn signals would usually be) that activate tools on the right and left-hand side of the vehicle. You can also rotate the cubes at the end of each shaft to change items. These include bombs, which you can throw farther by holding down the correct lever, radio antennas and windscreen wipers. The most important tool, though, is the nozzle that's required to refuel your truck at gas stations. If you overshoot a turn or point of interest, you can select reverse gear with a handle on the left-hand side of the wheel. There's also a handle attached to a piece of string that you can pull for a speed boost. Early in adventure mode, I had a blast navigating up a tall, rocky mountainside. I gripped the wheel with my left hand, rocking it from side to side as the path snaked upward. My right hand was poised on the boost handle, ready to give it a quick tug whenever the incline became too great for my plucky truck. The sub is trickier to pilot. The vehicle has two propellers that you control with the wheels on the blue Toy-Con. Point the engines up and your craft will slowly descend to the ocean floor, and vice versa. To turn, you have to keep one set of propellers flat and the other facing up or down. It can be surprisingly difficult to make a beeline for mission-critical objects when you're deep underwater. Thankfully, you can press a rectangular button on the sub's Toy-Con to deploy an anchor that acts like a grappling hook. Finally, there's the plane, which leverages the green joystick Toy-Con. It controls as you would expect and has a trigger button on the back for firing rockets. None of the Toy-Cons are going to rival a serious gaming wheel or flight stick, but they're simple to use and responsive enough for most of the challenges. Occasionally the car would move in a way I didn't expect, but as none of the tasks have a hard time limit, it rarely bothered me. If you struggle for long enough you might run out of fuel, but that's about it. Tackling missions will slowly unlock rally tracks. These have a set time limit and reward you with extra seconds every time you pass through a gate. Some of the courses are genuinely tricky, which made me grip the wheel more tightly than usual. All of the Toy-Cons are sturdily built, however I did begin to notice some flex and creaking. It was never concerning but it made me wonder how long each prop would last, especially if they were being used by a hyperactive six-year-old. (Unfortunately, I don't have a small child to test this durability question.) If you fancy a break from Adventure mode, there's also a straightforward circuit racer and a competitive battle mode that uses the levers on the wheel to launch mechanical punches. They're enjoyable distractions, but after a few hours I began to tire of both. Instead, I found myself drawn to the Paint Studio, which lets you customize the various vehicles in Adventure mode. The aerosol Toy-Con, combined with the Joy-Con key, allows you to select different colors and spray just like a regular graffiti artist. I had a blast coloring my car, plane and submarine so that they looked like something out of Nintendo's Splatoon shooter. If you want to learn something, you should delve into the Discover section of the game card. Here, Nintendo offers a number of educational lessons about each Toy-Con and the parts inside both the left and right Joy-Con. They're presented through lively text conversations with a trio of fictional characters, led by Professor Jerry Riggs. While they're well written, the lack of voice acting means they quickly become stale. I read a dozen or so lessons before giving up and heading back to the game's Adventure mode. Rounding out the package is the advanced Toy-Con Garage mode. Here, you can create new inventions, like a rubber-band guitar, using a node-based programming language. The feature can be daunting for newcomers, myself included, but opens up potentially limitless projects based around the Switch and cardboard Toy-Cons. Nintendo's latest Labo kit offers some excellent Toy-Cons and a large number of games to play them with. Most of these are fun, but shallow experiences that you'll probably tire of after a few sessions. Adventure mode isn't as expansive as something like The Crew 2, which offers racing by land, sea and air on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, but its missions are entertaining and gave my limbs a good excuse to grapple with the steering wheel, joystick and submarine controls. As a whole, I think the kit represents good value for money. In the future, I hope Nintendo expands on Adventure mode and bundles digital experiences that match the depth and complexity of blockbuster Switch games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. These would extend the value of Labo and give players a reason to keep booting up their cardboard controllers. The Toy-Con Garage is fantastic for creative types, but Nintendo needs to appeal more to people who value entertainment as much, if not more than educational content.