Nintendo / Nintendo EPD
No, friends, the hardest challenge in gaming today is finding three spare hours to build a cardboard steering wheel when you have a 10-week-old baby in the house.
But find that time I did: yer man Scullion’s been spending the past week and a half utterly rinsing the newest Labo kit, and I was pleasantly surprised to find it’s the most ‘game-like’ package so far.
If you’re more into watching and listening than reading, I’ve got you covered.
Here’s a 10-minute review in which I describe the various builds and game modes, and what I think of them.
It’s also accompanied with 10 minutes of Adventure mode footage, so even if you’d rather stick with my written review I’d recommend giving it a watch later so you can get a better idea of how it looks and plays.
Here’s the video: the full written review (which is far more detailed) follows underneath.
Building the kit
Since Labo is as much about building as it is playing, you’re going to have to put everything together before you can properly get stuck into the main game.
After the same brief introductory build seen in the previous two Labo games – in which you put together a little cardboard Joy-Con holder – the game gives you five main projects (which are needed to play the Adventure mode) and three other optional ones.
The game estimates that the five major builds will take you anything between 5¼ to 8½ hours to complete in total: having blitzed my way through them all as quickly as possible, I clocked in around five and a half so I can at least vouch for the accuracy of the lower end of that scale.
It probably makes sense to talk about each build one at a time. So let’s do that.
One of the Labo Vehicle Kit’s projects is a key, which takes around 15 minutes to make. While this would’ve been the most logical choice for the first build, the game is keen to show that the things you make can be used to play games, so up first is the foot pedal instead.
This takes anything from 60-90 minutes to make and includes elastic bands, so it’s fairly complicated for a first whack. Once it’s done though it looks impressive enough and has a decent level of resistance when you step on it.
Once the pedal is built you get to use it for a short Slot Cars game, which is essentially a version of Scalextric in which the harder you press down on the pedal, the faster your car goes (and the more likely it’ll fly off the track).
The key is just another elaborate holder for your Joy-Con, but this one has a hole in the bottom for the IR camera, and a button on the top.
The idea is that you insert the key into each vehicle you build, and the IR camera reads reflective stickers placed inside the vehicle to both determine which vehicle it is, and control its movement.
It only takes 15-30 minutes to build and there’s no mini-game to try out once it’s done, but it’ a necessary step before you move onto the next project, which is the big one.
The car is easily the most complicated build in this set by some distance: clocking in at anything from 150-210 minutes to build, it almost takes as long to build the car as it does to build the other four main projects combined.
After building the wheel, you’ll then build a base for it, an engine (to hold all the inner workings and elastic bands), a reverse lever, a little pull-string and two larger levers at either side.
When you play the main Adventure mode, these levers serve a clever purpose: turning them lets you switch between the various tools your car is armed with, and pulling them down activates the selected tool.
This one’s got more elastic in it than a hipster’s braces, but the result is a bunch of satisfyingly twangy controls: the levers snap back with a pleasant clunk, and the pullstring – which is used to give your car a speed boost – has a nifty little trick where letting go and twanging it back makes your car jump.
Once the car’s built most of the other modes open up, with Circuit, Adventure, Rally and Battle appearing. We’ll get to those in a bit though.
This consists of a main central base, with two large wheels attached to the side.
Each of these wheels controls an engine on either side of your submarine, and because of the way you build its gears you get a brilliant ‘clacking’ noise when you turn it.
Controlling the sub, however, is an exercise in patience. Because you’re controlling each engine separately, it can take an absolute age to get used to it.
By the time I’d cleared the Adventure mode 100%, I still wasn’t really comfortable steering the submarine: it’s perhaps a little too clever for its own good, and personally I’d rather Nintendo had sacrificed the impressive design a little in favour of a less complex control method.
Given the more complex structure of the car and submarine, it’s nice to round things off with a far more straightforward project, one that only takes 30-60 minutes to put together.
Of all the major builds in the Vehicle Kit, though, this is probably the least sturdy. The central mechanic is a ‘spring’, which primarily consists of one large piece of cardboard folded over on top of itself numerous times in an elaborate manner (though one that’s easy to follow thanks to the game’s brilliant instructions).
The result is a stick that feels a bit spongy when you move it.
It’s nothing too drastic, mind you, but if I was asked to predict which of these ‘Toy-Con’ is most likely to wear out first I’d be pointing at the plane’s flight stick all day long.
I mean, that would be a bit unnecessary because a brief point would be enough. I’d point at it for as long as is necessary to make my decision, is what I’m saying.
That’s the five main builds covered: the pedal, key, car, submarine and plane are all needed to play through the main Adventure mode.
There are three other builds in the box, though, should you still be itching to fold the shit out of some cardboard.
• a spare key, so a second player can join in for some co-op goodness in Adventure mode. By putting the spare key into another vehicle, player two will appear on your back and will be able to fire a gun at various objects in the game.
• a screen holder, so you can attach the Switch to the car for handheld goodness. Naturally, thi becomes less useful when you switch to the submarine or plane, but if you just fancy a drive around it’s nifty enough (especially if you use the optional first-person viewpoint).
• a spray can, so you can paint new designs onto your vehicles in the game’s Paint Studio.
Each is a relatively short build that won’t challenge you too much, which is appropriate given they’re more or less bonus projects separate from the main game. Speaking of which…
Playing the game
Once you’ve built your small army of cardboard contraptions, there’s the small matter of actually using them.
I’ll get to the main meat – the Adventure mode – in a second, but first let’s touch on everything else on offer here.
As well as Adventure, the Play section of the game also includes:
• Slot Cars – the aforementioned top-down slot car racing game, where the harder you press down on the pedal the faster you car goes. You can play single-player against CPU opponents, or multiplayer if you have other pedal-wielding friends.
• Circuit – a slightly pared-down version of the motorbike mode from the original Labo Variety Kit, Circuit once again lets you race on a selection of tracks (though only seven of the nine tracks from the Variety Kit are available). If you made your own tracks in the Variety Kit, you can import them here.
• Paint Studio – use the paint can to spray a new colour onto your car, submarine or plane. You can flip through individual parts (wings, engines etc) to make sure you don’t paint bits you don’t want to, and can create masks by holding objects up in front of the IR camera as you spray. Clever.
• Rally – a series of ten checkpoint-based rally races using the areas from the main Adventure mode. These range from short races that use individual vehicles in small areas, to enormous ones that use all three vehicles and cover the entire open world. The gates aren’t checkpointed very well, though, leading to a lot of frustrating trial and error as you restart numerous times until you figure out where each gate is.
• Battle – Pit your car against another in an ARMS-style fight. The levers on the side of your car activate two extendable arms which punch your opponent’s car until one of you is reduced to spare parts. This is naturally designed with multiplayer in mind, but given that you probably don’t have two large cardboard steering wheels handy there’s an optional single-player mode too.
Finally we come to the main element of the Labo Vehicle Kit, the Adventure mode.
This brings together the key, foot pedal, car, submarine and plane you’ve built and combines them in an open-world environment you’re free to fully explore.
It’s a decent size too, split into ten different themed regions: meadow, desert, city, mountain and the like.
Each of these ten regions has eight different missions you have to complete. These missions aren’t signposted in any way: it’s up to the player to explore the region and discover them on their own.
Often these are straightforward tasks that are more or less summed up in their description: pop all the balloons in an area, find its petrol station and fill up your tank, cut down five trees and so on.
Other missions are slightly more cryptic, and require you to figure out what they mean, either by exploring the landscape and looking for clues or (more often than not) bumping into a character or talking inanimate object who then spells it out for you.
Complete all eight missions in a region and two things will happen: firstly, you’ll be rewarded with a present you can attach to your car (though many of these are throwaway, offering arbitrary quirks like pulling the camera back further, reversing your controls and modifying your car’s jump move ever so slightly).
Secondly, five stars will appear in that region: find and collect them all and you’ll clear that region once and for all. And what happens when you beat all 80 missions and collect all 50 stars? Ah, that would be telling (but don’t get too excited).
Although it isn’t the longest campaign you’ll ever play – I managed to plough through it in around five hours, expect children to take a fair bit longer – there’s enough to see and do here to keep you entertained enough to make it to the end.
Part of this is down to its brilliantly quirky sense of humour, as the dialogue is brilliantly localised for the UK (as is typical with most Nintendo releases) and is generally silly throughout: the aliens pretending to be normal humans are a highlight.
Some elements are a little less appealing. The need to frequently return to one of the world’s petrol stations to refill your tank can be a little repetitive, though I understand why it’s necessary to avoid taking the easy way out: the plane is by far the best way to explore, but it soaks up fuel like an infomercial sponge to prevent you using it and it alone.
The submarine’s missions, meanwhile, are by far the least enjoyable, mainly due to its aforementioned control method. The simple act of picking up a star underwater can be an exercise in frustration, as you can see in my video review at the top of this article.
This aside, the Labo Vehicle Kit is by and large an enjoyable time. I don’t think Adventure mode is quite at the stage that you could consider it a fully-fledged, meaty game: maybe with double the mission count and more appealing unlockables there could be something special here.
That’s not to say it isn’t still entertaining, though, and the fact that controllers you build yourself end up handling so well (spongy flight stick aside) is a testament to the quality of the cardboard contraptions the game has you building: not to mention the brilliantly clear and detailed instructions that make doing so a breeze.
Of the three Labo kits released to date, then, the Vehicle Kit easily offers the closest thing to a full ‘game’. Its Adventure mode’s free-roaming world may not be Breath Of The Wild – though you can travel from one end to the other without loading times, now you come to mention it – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still some charm there.
Whether it’s something you’re going to be playing three months down the line is debatable: certainly in terms of the base projects, at least. As with the previous editions, Labo’s ‘Discover’ section tries to encourage its players to take what they’ve learned and experiment to make their own controllers and toys (the experimental Garage mode returns here again).
As a result, how long the game will ultimately last will depend on how much you (or your child) are willing to think outside the cardboard box and tinker with your own creations.
If you’re only willing to stick to the pre-designed projects the game has prepared for you, you probably won’t get more than 10 hours of gameplay out of it. Those 10 hours will be a good laugh, though.
Labo Toy-Con 03: Vehicle Kit is out on Switch on 14 September for £59.99 / $69.99. You can buy it from Amazon UK.
In order that I could write this review, I received a free copy of the game from Nintendo. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.
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