You’d think that there were only so many times in a human lifetime that you could marvel at Nintendo’s ingenuity, and yet here we are in 2018 and they’ve made cardboard kit crafting an indelibly believable part of the current gaming landscape. While the original Labo Variety Pack was a great proof of concept and the Robot Kit impressed with its singular vision, the Labo Vehicle Kit finally brings cardboard crafting and gaming together in a way that completely works.
So Labo is made of cardboard, and there’s a lot of it. Each of the building kits contains sheet after sheet of durable cardboard, each of which is perforated and cut into an of array of components that somehow come together to form a working Toy-Con, as Nintendo call them. The Vehicle Pack is no different, and brings together three separate controller builds – car, plane and submarine – that tie into what is easily the best Labo gaming experience so far.
The first thing that you’ll be building is something which stretches across the entire experience, an accelerator pedal. The idea of stomping repeatedly on anything made out of cardboard likely sounds like the worst thing in the world, particularly as an adult, yet Nintendo have somehow found a way to make it strong and durable, despite its flimsy origins. While the mechanism amounts to a panel that returns to where it should thanks to a strong frame and a sturdy rubber band, the winning factor is the inclusion of the left Joy-Con in order to make it all work.
The controller registers the angle of the foot pedal, and allows your vehicle to accelerate, while the Joy-Con’s HD Rumble helps to really convey an actual sensation of driving. If anything, it’s the best accelerator I’ve ever used with a home computer and it’s made of cardboard. This is why Nintendo are amazing!
The entire Labo experience starts with its chatty interactive building instructions which lead you step by step through everything that you need to do. They’re incredibly detailed, and you have absolute control over them if you’re using your Nintendo Switch in handheld mode. Having the Switch sat on the table next to you turns it into the best set of interactive instructions you’ll ever experience, though its effervescent chirpiness may eventually wear you down.
Once you’ve finished making the pedal, there’s the surprise of the Slot Cars game which is played solely with it, and sees you controlling the speed of an off-roader in an attempt to keep it on the road as it races around a variety of tracks. While there’s a time attack mode and the option of racing the computer, you’re potentially going to have the most fun with the multiplayer mode, though every racer will need their own pedal, which seems just a touch unlikely. Then again, if there’s enough of these under Christmas trees this December, I could be proven wrong.
While Slot Cars is a nice little diversion, the meat of the experience is in Adventure Mode. The Vehicle Pack lets you loose in an open world, and the Toy-Con you build will let you explore it in a number of different ways. As you careen around you’ll unlock sections of the map, with each area home to a number of tasks and missions to complete. You’ll need to step into each of the three vehicles in order to complete them all.
The central Toy-Con in the pack is the steering wheel, and it’s a serious piece of kit. If you’ve ever played with a steering wheel for your console or PC, it’s more or less exactly the same size once you’ve finished building, though this one features a number of unique controls that you won’t find elsewhere. Along with a reversing gear stick you’ve got two indicator sticks sticking out either side, though they look a bit like engine exhausts too. Pulling down on either of them will normally extend the respective fuelling arm which fills your tank up when you’re in a gas station, but if you turn the top of the sticks you can cycle through the available options, from windscreen wipers to the slightly-less-realistic bomb launchers.
In a moment of normality, the steering wheel lets you take control of a chunky off-roader, and it’s wonderful just bouncing around in the colourful world that Nintendo have created. It’s fast enough that you won’t be bored, but slow enough that younger members of your household shouldn’t be intimidated. Our 7-year-old loved the whole experience, and merrily trundled off on his own to explore the different areas as I watched on with envy and waited for my turn.
You won’t be able to complete all of the different tasks hidden across the map without using the other Toy-Con’s, and the easiest – and shortest – of these to build is the Plane. It’s a nice and simple flight stick, but thanks to the right Joy-Con seated in the cardboard key housing it allows you full control of the in-game plane. The build doesn’t feel quite as strong as you’d hope, with its cardboard spring an obvious weak-point, but I’m sure it’ll last long enough for you to rinse all of the fun out of the open-world, and perhaps a little more. As before, Nintendo do have instructions on how to repair your Toy-Con should they take too much of a beating.
The third and final build sits somewhere between the flight stick and the steering wheel in terms of difficulty and in time, taking one to two hours of solid building. The Toy-Con Submarine is a unique controller, with left and right control dials on either side of the unit. In order to steer yourself underwater you’ll need to get accustomed to the slightly odd and disjointed way the craft controls, with each dial controlling the direction of a single propeller. With a little practice though you’ll soon be drifting around under the sea, or in a lake, searching out the objectives hidden down there.
The main component of the Adventure mode is switching between the different vehicles in order to find everything, and thanks to the cardboard key that has the right Joy-Con squirrelled away inside it, you can jump back and forth with very little problem. The only annoyance is having to go back to the car in order to refuel, when there could have been ways to juice up each vehicle.
Building all of the Toy-Con and then unlocking all the mysteries of the open world will take hours upon hours, particularly if you’re building and playing with your son/daughter/niece/nephew/child you borrowed from your friends to justify buying Labo. What’s more remarkable is that there’s still more. There’s a battle mode that will let you go head to head with another Vehicle Kit owner and a paint studio for customising your car, but most importantly Labo’s Make, Play mantra also includes Discover, and for every Toy-Con there’s an explanation of how on earth the little marvels work. Try not to get too distracted by the wonderful click of the submarine dials and you might learn something – perfect for budding engineers, or adults who have to know everything.
The Labo Vehicle Kit is simply wonderful, and really brings Nintendo’s cardboard-filled vision to life. The inclusion of a meaty game to sink your teeth into makes all the difference, and it feels as though the weighting of the different aspects is designed to keep you constantly interested and entertained. While it was easy before to write off Labo as a cardboard demo set, or a craft project with a lacklustre robot game tied to it, the Vehicle Kit is a perfect demonstration of what Nintendo achieve time after again.