Remember Nintendo Labo? It was that bizarre yet intriguingly creative product for children and the young at heart to combine their Switch with cardboard and play a few games.
The idea seemed like it was going to be a huge hit at the time, but it instead fell by the wayside a few months after launch with just over one million kits sold by the end of 2018. Span forward a few months, and Nintendo has suddenly decided to take a step into the VR market (again if we include the frightfully awful Virtual-Boy) with Toy-Con 04 – VR Kit, due out on 12th April 2019.
Upon first glance, it looks almost exactly like the much cheaper Google Cardboard; except there’s a giant 6” tablet sticking out the front. Upon a second glance, however, you’ll notice the rather bizarre cardboard contraptions sticking out of the front like some sort of electronic mutant creature – made of cardboard.
This Labo VR kit is part of the starter set (£30 presumably, $40 in the States) and is called ‘The Blaster’.
It’s certainly unique at least, but it’s also left a lot of fans skeptical as to how it’s all supposed to work and compete with rival VR headsets such as Google Cardboard, Daydream, Samsung Gear, PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
(The Google Cardboard only costs at least £5 from Amazon, and is likely to support your current phone to provide a variety of mobile VR experiences on the cheap)
To begin with, presumable Labo VR will work similarly to mobile VR, namely the cardboard, Daydream and Gear headsets. They simply require you insert your phone into a dedicated slot which becomes the screen. The problem with this, however, is the Switch has a 720p display with a refresh rate of 60Hz. Presuming all the experiences with the VR Kit run at the native resolution it would still be too low for a palpable experience. Most VR headsets have a screen that’s at least 1080p whilst the highest usually stick around 1440p which is 4 times the resolution of the Switch, along with a higher refresh rate of 90Hz.
It’s advisable both the resolution and framerate are high for VR to prevent nausea, since it literally is a screen stuck to your face with goggles to see it. A low pixel density will result in a “screen-door effect”, where you’ll be able to see the space between the pixels. Not to mention it would be an unquestionably ugly sight – which would make for a horrible first experience. There isn’t even a cheap strap, so you’d have to hold onto it for dear life as you shoot a load of blurry low-res targets.
It’s also quite clear Labo is aimed at children and exists purely for playing games; the sort where your face is a missile launcher, a camera, a bird and even an elephant. It’s unknown just how many games the full VR kit will have, but we’re willing to bet it still won’t be enough. The other Labo kits suffered from a lack of games to play on them for the price, with the only solution being to make them yourself. Most VR headsets need a large amount of content to justify the price (£70-80 presumably), and without future support or more games the VR kit shall quickly fall out of fashion. This is not to mention there is likely no support for multimedia apps like Netflix VR, YouTube VR and so on which are some of the better apps on the other headsets.
Despite these likely problems that will put off consumers over alternatives (or jumping into VR at all), we’re willing to bet Nintendo will at least debut something quite special – even if it can’t hold our attention for too long. Like the Switch (or the unfortunate Virtual-Boy) itself, Labo VR shall stand out like a cardboard elephant amidst a sea of competitors.