Nintendo began life in September 1889 making card games, and almost exactly 130 years later they’re back at it again. The Nintendo Labo kits which first debuted in April with a piano, a fishing rod and a backpack that turns you into a giant robot took cardboard creativity to new heights. But the Vehicle Kit, is the apex of innovation inside the Big N, turning a fun science project into a fully fledged gaming experience. Here’s what we thought of the flat-pack fun in Toy-Con 03.
The Toy-Con 03 Vehicle Kit comes with five separate color-coded projects which build three peripherals: a flight joystick, a submarine controller and a steering wheel and pedal, with a key housing to fit a Joy-Con into. The kit also includes the game cart to slot into your Switch and act as both the building instruction manual and a collection of mini-games and open-world exploration adventure.
Beginning the game you’ll be instructed to start with the key, then the pedal and finally the steering wheel, building in complexity as you go. This is the lengthiest of the build projects in the game, with the steering wheel on its own taking up to 150 minutes depending on how fast you go, or how long you spend laughing at the bad jokes peppered throughout the instructions.
It’s an incredibly family friendly experience, from giving the oddly shaped bits of cardboard you pop out cute nicknames to letting you control the speed of instructions. You can even rotate, zoom and have a good look around the visual representation of what you’re folding and slotting together so you know what it’s supposed to look like.
There is a lot of folding, and bending, and slotting and pinching, so little hands may get tired after a while but the game also encourages breaks and stretching at regular intervals. Watching the spent sheets stack up on your trash pile while an ever-growing mechanical beast materialises in front of you is very rewarding, and the slow dawning realisation of what small but essential bit you are currently piecing together rarely ever gets old. If it does, a short break for some water, or juice or tea or coffee is long enough to refresh the magic anew.
Marvelling at the technology itself is part of the fun for bigger kids building Labo’s Vehicle Kit. Reflective stickers tell infra-red receivers what’s going on when you pull levers and strings, while accelerometers in the Joy-Cons work with elastic bands and wheels to give a surprising amount of control when in-game.
The games themselves are joyful sandboxes, with an adventure mode allowing you to instantly switch between any of the three modes of transport you’ve built controls for, to accomplish quests and explore a small but well-crafted open world. Pulling levers switches between gadgets on the truck which you can use to throw bombs, or chop trees, or refuel at a gas station.
It’s hard to play around with what you’ve built without remembering exactly what is going on inside each cardboard controller, which makes them compelling educational toys. To that end, there’s a third section of the main menu, alongside building and playing, where you can learn even more about how the magic is made.
The core experience itself is perfect for building fans of any age, from Lego lovers to Ikea aficionados, but it’s these extra bells and whistles that make Labo special. Often, for older fans of Lego, the fun stops when the build is finished, relegated to a shelf where you can gaze at it and remember that fun afternoon you had. Carefree children will play with their newly constructed X-Wing, or repurpose bricks for another project without fear. Labo returns this part of the process to older kids, with plenty of playing using your constructions and encouragement to customise the controllers to make them your own.
Plenty of Nintendo charm also lurks in the fun, informative dialogue between you and your teachers inside the game, and creativity flows through every second you spend with them – whether that’s learning about gyroscopes or decorating your joystick with stickers. The Labo Vehicle Kit embodies all of that Nintendo spirit and could be some of the most fun and physical adventures they’ve ever produced. But who could expect anything else from a company with 130 years of experience in turning cardboard into games.
Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 03, the Vehicle Kit, releases September 14 for $69.99/£59.99.