Get ready to race into a new STEM-infused gaming adventure with the Nintendo Labo: Vehicle Kit.
Nintendo Labo fuses physical and digital play, letting players build Toy-Con controllers out of cardboard and then use them to complete on-screen games. Of course, the cardboard is powered by the Nintendo Switch, specifically the Joy-Con, which go inside each Toy-Con creation.
The predecessors of the Vehicle Kit include Nintendo‘s Variety Kit (full review here!) and the Robot Kit, both of which involved hours of Toy-Con building, but the gameplay for these first-timers was somewhat limited. Each gaming experience felt like a brief mini game, but the Vehicle Kit offers far more play value.
The Vehicle Kit challenges users to build two keys, a pedal, a spray can, and three steering controllers that represent a car, a submarine, and an airplane. The Car is by far the most complicated build, taking more than two hours to complete, while the other builds can be done in less than 90 minutes. The key and the pedal come first as they are the easiest of the bunch, taking under an hour for both builds. Much like the variety kit, gamers will utilize a few materials in addition to the cardboard, including strings and rubber bands, to bring their Toy-Con to life. Once assembled, one Joy-Con gets inserted into a key, while the other goes into the car, submarine, or plane. Insert the key, and we’re ready to ride.
You’ll stare at your Toy-Con creations with a sense of great pride. It took hours, and you did it! You built your own controller, and it looks amazing. But now, the real fun begins.
Going far beyond one simplistic gaming experience per build, players can choose from a variety of exploratory games, customization activities, and head-to-head battles.
In Adventure Mode, players can explore 10 different areas, each with eight missions to complete, from learning how to fuel up your ride to assisting nearby creatures with different tasks. Explore beaches, mountain ranges, a city, and more, while ensuring you stay fueled up along the way. Drive along in your monster truck while you shoot cannons at boulders to blast them into pieces, take down trees with your shooters, or be a good Samaritan and complete tasks like returning cows to their pen and helping strange sea creatures find their missing children. There are 80 challenges in all, and each one will encourage players to get familiar with their surroundings.
Each area in Adventure Mode is designed to be enjoyed using all the Toy-Con. Players can enjoy going from land to air with a quick key swap from the steering wheel Toy-Con to the flightstick Toy-Con, or deep dive underwater using the submarine. The swap from Toy-Con to Toy-Con is so easy and seamless and really allows players to engage all of their cardboard builds while they play.
Are the controls perfect and immediately responsive? No. But they do work well, and are still impressive. Players will likely drive a bit goofy at first while they get the hang of things. I’m terrible at parallel parking IRL, but trying to perfectly pull up to a gas station in Labo took more tries than I will ever care to admit. But once you hit your stride, it’s an all around good time.
Nintendo Labo: Vehicles also provides two-player gaming, making use of the second Toy-Con key. One player can take the wheel of a car, while the other can control a projectile shooter to take down trees and crack through boulders. While the Vehicles Kit includes everything you need for a second key, you will need to have a second set of Joy-Con to utilize the two-player experience. You know what they say: Two is better than one—but there can only be one driver, so player two should be prepared to take a back seat.
Battle Mode is—you guessed it—a head-to-head two-player battle. Players can enjoy a knockout-style challenge as they drive around an arena and try to punch out the opponent using your car’s extendable arms. In addition to the battle, players must also avoid falling into one of the voids and/or off the arena completely. It feels like a revved up version of Mario Kart Balloon Battle.
Sometimes, it’s the simple things that end up being your favorite. In Slot Cars, players race using only the pedal Toy-Con. Players will love going around and around these twisty little tracks, while trying not to fall off the edge of the world. Again, this game is a process of trial and error as you get used to the Toy-Con. As the tracks get more advanced, it’ll remind you a little of a stripped-down Rainbow Road. The downside? You’ll need multiple pedals to play against friends, and the kit only includes one.
Nintendo Labo: Vehicle Kit also lets players get in touch with their creativity. In Paint Studio, players can customize their on-screen vehicles using the spray can Toy-Con. Select your color on screen, shake up the can, and spray paint anything you can imagine. You can even use stencils for added details—though these don’t work quite as smoothly as we hoped.
Even more play modes are in store, including Rally and Circuit, and just like it’s predecessors, the Vehicle Kit also features a Discover mode that players can use to create unique Toy-Con of their own, and understand the ins and outs (read: the science behind) their creations. Players can try to build their own Toy-Con using household items, or modify their Toy-Con in creative ways. This is where the STEM learning and creativity really come into play, as players learn the basic concepts of engineering while they build.
Physical and Digital Play
The “toys to life” video game category is a tough one. We’ve seen so many products fail because the relationship between the physical toy and the digital game do not engage players in a meaningful way. But the latest Nintendo Labo kit does it perfectly. Not only do you need the Toy-Con to play the games, but each one enhances the gaming experience in a different way. Each Toy-Con offers unique controls and special abilities, since each one is designed to handle like its real-world counterpart. The more players build in the real world, the more they’ll be able to do on-screen, since you’ll need each and every Toy-Con to complete all the in-game missions. Could you play these games with regular controllers? You could—but the experience would honestly be pretty lame without them. In short: The Toy-Con are awesome and they make the game so much better.
With more in-game features than ever before, Nintendo Labo: Vehicle Kit is easily the best Labo kit yet, offering players multiple game modes full of fun. Prepare to put the pedal to the metal with this kit; Sunday drivers need not apply.