Dan and Max have some thoughts on the future of the kid-focused VR set.
Nintendo’s recent announcement that the next Labo set will be a virtual reality kit was undoubtedly a bit of a surprise to all. We here at IGN aren’t sure how the final product will come together, though there’s been some internal debate as to just how much success Nintendo will see with it’s “My First VR” playset. Our Reviews Editor Dan Stapleton and our host (and unofficial toys editor) Max Scoville had contrasting opinions on the whole thing…here’s how they felt about Nintendo diving into the VR market.
Dan’s Take: The Numbers Don’t Lie
My immediate reaction to the Labo VR is strong skepticism. For one thing, one of the sets literally asks you to put your face directly into a bird’s butt – and I’m terrified of what we might see. But beyond that, with all of the other options available, it makes very little sense to introduce kids to the world of VR with the worst possible version of it. If a kid’s first VR experience is ugly, rudimentary, and may even make them feel sick, it could very well put them off of VR for a long time.
The Switch’s 1280×720, 60Hz screen is a poor fit for VR. That’s lower resolution than the original Oculus Developer Kit’s 1280×800, and substantially lower than the 2160×1200 of the standard Oculus Rift – both of which run at 90Hz to reduce nausea concerns. Even using the comparable Google Cardboard with a six-year-old Samsung Galaxy S3, which also has a 720p screen, the Switch’s larger screen means the pixel density is significantly lower, leading to an uglier “screen door effect” where you can clearly see the space between the pixels. So what you’ll get from the Switch display will likely look worse than the bottom-of-the-barrel VR experience from six years ago.
If your goal is to introduce a young person to the world of virtual reality, the Labo doesn’t make a lot of sense”
Also concerning is the quality of software Nintendo has led us to expect from its Labo kits. Have you heard anyone mention Labo recently? Neither have I. The general consensus is that most of the fun is in assembling the kits, and once you’ve built them the games and activities don’t hold interest for very long at all – and Nintendo hasn’t supported its cardboard peripherals with other games or even new content for the existing ones. We can anticipate Nintendo treating its VR kits as similarly disposable novelties despite asking $80 for the full set of six.
If your goal is to introduce a young person to the world of virtual reality, the Labo doesn’t make a lot of sense when you consider the alternatives. The Oculus Go is cheaper than the Switch at $200, and for that, you get a standalone headset with a 2560×1440 display, and if you own a $200 PlayStation 4, the $250 PlayStation VR is a respectable option. And what they lack in bird butts, they more than make up for with large software libraries that can reinvigorate interest after the initial novelty of the first simple experience wears off.
My advice, as someone who’s tried a number of VR headsets, is that first impressions are a big deal and you get what you pay for. It might be for kids, but kids deserve good VR experiences, too.
Max’s Take: It’s for Kids, and That’s OK
While there’s no question that Nintendo is a heavy hitter in the video game industry, it’s important to keep in mind that the company has always been, first and foremost, a toy company.
Obviously, Nintendo Labo VR World isn’t going to be a cutting edge immersive experience to rival the Rift, Vive, or PSVR. It’s barely a dedicated peripheral. It’s a cardboard children’s toy. None of the Labo VR gadgets really qualify as a “headset, since they don’t actually attach to one’s head. They’re toys you look into. In that sense, Labo “VR” has more in common with a homemade kaleidoscope than it does with true virtual reality gear. One chief complaint about Labo is that it’s more fun to build the cardboard peripherals than it is to play the game, which is a very salient point to make if you’ve entirely missed the point: that’s the selling point. It’s a construction toy with a video game component.
I’ve heard few people say that Labo is trash, which is patently false: it’s recyclable.”
What’s bound to be interesting is how Labo makes use of the Joy-Con, which are arguably the most high-tech portion of the Switch. What sort of artsy-fartsy magic is happening under the hood, involving rubber bands and reflective stickers, taking advantage of the IR sensor and accelerometer? Better yet, what’s the HD rumble going to do when I shove my face into that cardboard goose’s behind?
I’ve heard a few people say that Labo is trash, which is patently false: it’s recyclable. These are a bunch of biodegradable peripherals. They could absolutely be more durable, but they could also be a bunch of obsolete plastic accessories in a landfill somewhere, like so many Wiimote accessories. Sure, I’m partially playing the tree-hugging devil’s advocate here, but it’s also an extremely smart low-stakes business movie on Nintendo’s part: they’re not spending millions prototyping another plastic doodad that might sit on store shelves, they’re selling a quirky hybrid between LEGO Mindstorms, Ikea furniture, and a pop-up book.
Several years ago, Mattel gave their classic “Viewmaster” brand a VR reimagining, and released what was essentially a plastic clamshell Google Cardboard headset. Out of curiosity, I grabbed one for 20 bucks, but found that it had one major flaw: it didn’t do VR until I put my $600 smartphone inside it. And then, when I did… I accidentally accessed adult content on the internet. Gasp!
All jokes aside, having the squeaky-clean, family-friendly Nintendo branding on a line of VR gizmos is a good vote of confidence for parents, and that’s further reinforced by the fact that this is a piece of technology parents assemble with their kids build out of nice, harmless, 20th-century cardboard.
At a time when there are already concerns about kids spending too much time staring at screens, Labo’s goofy homemade animal mask aesthetic is undoubtedly a lot more appealing to non-techie parents than the dystopian cyberpunk vibe of a “proper” VR headset. Oh, and any concerns that this will ruin a child’s eyesight? Much like the Nintendo 3DS, parents can turn off the “VR” functionality for children under the age of six.
Nintendo Labo, VR or otherwise, is primarily a children’s toy, and the idea that a children’s toy offering a rudimentary version of “the real thing” will somehow ruin the full experience is just silly. Maybe someday, Nintendo will throw a non-cardboard hat into the virtual reality ring, but in the meantime, let kids shove their faces in the bird’s ass, okay?
Where do you stand? Let us know in the comments or by hitting us up @IGN on Twitter, and in the meantime see what we thought of the original Labo Variety Kit, or our thoughts on Labo VR’s big brothers Oculus, Vive and PSVR.