The first two Nintendo Labo kits offered two very different takes on what was – and still is – a groundbreaking concept. The Variety Kit allowed you to create a whole host of gadgets each backed by their own interactive experiences, while the Robot Kit had a sharper focus and arguably presented a more solid ‘game’ setup. Now, the third kit is here and neatly fuses these two approaches in what is arguably the most ‘complete’ Labo offering yet – but one that comes with its own unfortunate limitations.
As before, your Labo kit is shipped on flat-packed sheets of cardboard, and step-by-step instructions are given on how to build each element. Just as was the case with kits 1 and 2, these 3D instructions – which are fully interactive and can be paused, rewound and fast-forwarded at your leisure – are superbly written and incredibly easy to understand; goodness knows how much time and effort when into creating them, but they’re excellent. We also appreciate that the music which plays during these tutorials feels like it was taken from a lost Seinfeld episode.
The only downer with this particular kit is the sheer amount of time you have to expend building the three main modules (as well as the foot pedal); even the wittily-written instructions fail to raise a smile after several hours of drowning in cardboard, and the instructions suggest at several points that you ‘continue your work tomorrow’. Worse case scenario, you’re going to have to sink approximately eight hours making all of the components (based on Nintendo’s upper-tier estimates, at least), but we found we were closer to the lower end of the scale, which is still about five hours.
Granted, you’re building a pretty incredible feat of cardboard engineering, but that’s a scary amount of time to invest in simply creating things in order to play a video game, and the kicker with this kit is that, unlike the Variety one, you have to make all three elements in order to fully enjoy the game itself. If you’re old enough to have kids of your own then you might find this process a little more bearable; a wide-eyed youngster will almost certainly get a lot more out of this setup than a cynical adult; we found that when an extra, smaller pair of hands was involved, the build became a little more enjoyable – until your helper gets bored and leaves you to do the rest of the fiddly work, of course.
Regardless of how many hours it takes you to create all of this stuff, the game waiting for you at the end is easily the most accomplished of the Labo range so far. You’re given a whole island to mess about on, with people to talk to, mysteries to solve and a bunch of surprisingly detailed locations to explore. The brilliance of the three-module setup is that you can switch between car, submarine and plane by simply inserting the Toy-Con key into the appropriate module; the right-hand Joy-Con’s IR camera reads reflective pads inside each one and therefore knows which vehicle you want to drive. We saw this kind of magic inside the brilliant Toy-Con piano in the Variety Pack, and here it’s used to handle all kinds of features and functions.
The car is easily the most complex of the Toy-Con; You have a pull-cord for a speed boost and levers which control your windscreen wipers – on the ends of these are knobs which can be turned to deploy various gadgets (a tree-cutting blade being our favourite) and there’s even an optional screen holder for the Switch itself, which can be used in conjunction with the motion controls to give you a more immersive view of the road ahead. The tactile nature of the steering wheel and the wide range of inputs make it feel incredibly close to real driving, and simply tootling around the island is something you could lose hours doing. It’s worth noting that the wheel can also be used in Mario Kart 8 – another gesture by Nintendo to make Labo more than ‘just’ a stand-alone experience and more an interface option. The sub and plane Toy-Con are more simplistic in comparison to the car, but no less fun to use.
The game’s adventure mode is a seriously meaty experience that will keep players of all ages gripped and interested, but it’s not quite on the same level as a ‘proper’ open world video game when it comes to the range of objectives and things to do. Thankfully, Nintendo has included a local two-player element where one person steers while the other controls a gun using the plane Toy-Con, and then there are other game modes, such as Rally (racing through checkpoints), Circuit (standard racing, but you can punch your rivals off the track) and Slot Cars (you only use the foot pedal for this one). In a neat touch, any tracks you’ve created for the bike Toy-Con in the Variety Kit can be transferred to the Vehicle Kit.
Perhaps the most interesting of the ‘additional’ modes is Battle, which has you facing off against another player in pre-determined arenas or – via the Joy-Con’s IR camera – ones you’ve created out of various real-world objects. A wide range of power-up items come into play here and the deformable landscape means it’s an interesting take on the 3D fighter; the only issue is that you’ll need two Vehicle Kits to play it (although, using the new ‘Custom Controls’ feature, it is possible to adapt this game so it can be played using a single Joy-Con each – you then lose the fun of using the steering wheel, sadly). Likewise, the multiplayer aspect of modes like Slot Car is lost unless you happen to know three other people who own this particular kit – and then you’ve got to convince them to bring their fragile cardboard creations around to your house.
And we’re back to the topic of cardboard. As we alluded to in our other Labo reviews, the single biggest issue with this range for us personally is one of storage. With the Variety, Robot and now Vehicle Kits on offer, Labo is slowly but surely taking over the entire home; with three new (and quite bulky) modules to accommodate, it’s becoming a case of survival of the fittest – with no easy means of disassembling Labo kits and storing them away for future use, we’re already at the point in Nintendo Life Towers where we’re seriously contemplating sacrificing the lesser-used Toy-Con to the Great God of Recycling, which, when you’ve paid so much per kit, seems tantamount to sacrilege.
It’s not like this is a new problem as such; we still have various plastic attachments for the Wii Remote in a cupboard somewhere, as well as grim memories of the time the Rock Band setup took over an entire living room. While Labo provides an immersive link with the games we play – and one which genuinely enriches the whole experience – we’re not sure we have the room (or the patience) for any further kits, and given how bowled over we were when Labo was first announced, that loss of appetite is perhaps a little worrying for Nintendo’s bottom line, as well as the future of the series.
The third Labo kit is perhaps the best one yet; it offers a solid building experience and a genuinely entertaining way to control three distinct modes of transport, as well as a fleshed-out gameworld which is not only packed with things to do, but is augmented by a range of mini-game modes which will provide many hours of enjoyment – although the multi-player ones require you to have a second Vehicle Kit to hand, which might not be feasible for everyone. On the downside, the build time for the three main Toy-Con modules may test your resolve, and we’re not convinced that the core game offers enough gameplay to make the storage of these cardboard monsters a realistic prospect for space-short families. If you love constructing things and have a garage attached to your home, then these concerns are going to be less pressing, making this new Labo kit easier to recommend. If space is at a premium in your abode, it pains us to say that you might want to think twice about investing both the money and time into this otherwise noble venture.