Thursday, May 16, 2019

Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 03: Vehicle Kit (NSW) Review

If you're like anyone in my family besides me, you probably didn't follow Nintendo Labo too much. Thus, you might have thought (or still do think) that Nintendo Labo has you paying 70 bucks for cardboard. That is fortunately not the case, and not even Nintendo could get away with that. No, Nintendo Labo is software and cardboard for 70 bucks, and my review of the third Toy-Con kit, the Vehicle Kit, explains why Labo surprised me so much.

Time to put the pedal to the metal--I mean--cardboard.

I don't know if it was originally a failure of me to communicate or Nintendo's own miscommunication, because when Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 03: Vehicle Kit was a tough sell for my family. Actually, Nintendo Labo ANYTHING was a tough sell. This was until I told everyone that it wasn't just cardboard in a box for $70 MSRP. There's an actual game inside as well, which is half of what makes the Vehicle Kit so exciting. Now, that the confusion was eliminated, the Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 03: Vehicle Kit was now a member of the Stortzum family's Switch collection. After spending some extensive time building, discovering, and playing, I can say that I'm certainly glad that I finally got my family to dive into the Nintendo Labo ecosystem.

Part of the Nintendo Labo experience is building the cardboard creations you use to control the various activities within the game. Thankfully, this part is heavily intuitive and most importantly, engaging and fun. The interactive instructions allow you to go through them at your own pace, able to rewind and fast forward at your leisure. You can spin the camera around in any direction you like and zoom in so you can get a better look at how each section of cardboard fits together.

You start with multiple clearly marked and labeled sheets of cardboard. Each sheet has a label at its top right corner, denoting what Toy-Con--the objects you create with Nintendo Labo--the sheet's pieces and parts are used for. With the beginning of each set of instructions, the game notes what sheets are used and what perforated pieces need to be pushed out from the sheet. This way you aren't mixing up or losing pieces easily or pulling out parts that aren't necessary.

The step-by-step instructions are incredibly helpful in adequately explaining and showing all of the steps required to piece your parts of cardboard together into working Toy-Cons to play with. Since some of these Toy-Con projects can take upwards of two hours, you can thankfully quit out at any time during the instructions, and when you return to them, the game will remember where you left off--even if you were to start another lesson or enter another part of the Vehicle Kit's games.

The fully interactive instructions, like most of the Vehicle Kit package itself,
are filled to the brim with personality and charm.
The most important Toy-Con with the Vehicle Kit itself is the Toy-Con Key, which you place your Joy-Con into and thus place into your vehicle of choice to get it running. If the Key is the most important, then the runner-up in the category of importance is the Toy-Con Pedal, for which you use to apply the gas to each of the three Toy-Con vehicles in the game.

Of course, it's the activities and games in the Play section of Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 03 that makes all of the enjoyable work of putting the actual Toy-Con together worthwhile. While it's a ball of fun to create these cardboard concoctions, it's even more fun to put them to the test and put them through their proverbial paces.

The Toy-Con Car has the most activities available to it, and it's really the star of the show. While you get plenty of mileage of the Submarine and Plane, these are limited to only the Adventure and Rally modes, which I'll talk about both in due time. Whereas the Car is used in almost every activity in some shape or form, save for the Slot-Car Derby, which while you control a car around a slot car course as you try to avoid flying off of curves by driving too fast, you're just using the Toy-Con Pedal to control it.

Get your motor running because you're born to be wild!
Other Toy-Con Car-related activities include the Circuit, which puts you directly in the driver's seat in a first-person view as you speed around the same tracks used in the Derby mode. Like the Derby, you can play with other human players or with the AI. Of course, they'll need their own Toy-Con as well. You can even import your own circuit tracks from the original Toy-Con 01: Variety Kit to race on in the both Derby and Circuit modes, making for an infinite number of tracks--though you'll probably grow bored of the mode first.

The most interesting and longest-lasting of modes within the Nintendo Labo Vehicle Kit is Adventure mode. This sandbox-style mode has you exploring an environment consisting of numerous themed zones and asks you to complete various objectives, ten per zone. These objectives range from fulfilling the desires of an NPC character--such as transporting them from one destination to another, finding the flag in a given zone, discovering a secret area within a zone, building a snowman, rolling a giant golf ball into its hole by pushing your vehicle into it, and so forth. The variety here is splendid, and I found myself eager to keep playing and completing the objectives available to me in each zone, one by one.

In Adventure mode, you can find and help out all sorts of strange characters!
My favorite objectives were the more involved ones, which required me to switch between vehicles on the fly. One had me driving through the base of a building before coming across a channel of water that required me to enter into my Submarine to dive down the into depths. Eventually, I would return back to dry ground, having me change back to Car form, then arrive in front of a vertical passage, requiring the Plane.

Now, there are no objectives that require you to be quick to switch between the Car, Submarine, or Plane, which is great, as that would be a real pain in the rear. This is because you switch between vehicles by pulling out the Toy-Con Key containing the Switch Joy-Con inside and then physically placing it in another Toy-Con, specifically of the vehicle you wish to hop into. So, unless you have quick access to each Toy-Con and can pull out the Key and slam it into your desired Toy-Con vehicle of choice, it's probably a good thing no mission results in timing-based switching.

Target and fire at balloons and other objects as you soar through the skies in the Toy-Con Plane.
After you complete all ten objectives in a zone, you unlock two things: one is a present that modifies the behavior of your Toy-Con Car, while the other is a collection of five stars that are hidden around the completed zone. There are some really cool and worthwhile rewards for completing each zone and finding every star in Adventure mode, making for some nice motivation to play through it entirely. That said, the need to stop and refuel at the various gas stations sprinkled across the game world--one in each zone (and these reveal a map of the area and the list objectives to complete upon your first visit to a zone's gas station)--can be a bit annoying, especially when you're in the middle of taking on an objective only to realize you're almost out of fuel. Still, one of the 100% rewards in the game remedies this, but by the time you've unlocked it, you've already done the hard part of completing every objective while worrying about your fuel level in the process.

The final activity within the Play section of the Vehicle Kit is Rally mode. As you name suggests, it's a rally race, but instead of a closed course, you traverse around the Adventure mode map, driving through gates in order. This is all the while time ticks down. Each gate you successfully pass through gives you extra time to work with, and part of the fun of Rally mode is tracking down where the next gate is to pass through. Thankfully, arrows point the way on the map, but many times I saw myself having to memorize the path needed of me, as the arrows just pointed in the general direction of the gates instead of their exact locations. At the same token, it's a bit like orienteering with Rally mode, and it's a pleasure to play for the most part. There are ten courses to tackle, and some require multiple Toy-Con vehicles to switch between mid-course to complete. After finishing the initial ten, a hard mode unlocks with stricter limits imposed on you.

When you're not making and playing with the Toy-Cons in the Nintendo Labo Vehicle Kit, you might be curious as to how the Toy-Con actually work and all of the ins and outs of the pieces involved. This is where the Discover section of the Vehicle Kit comes in, offering whimsical and entertaining explanations of what makes the Nintendo Labo Toy-Con tick, as well as explaining the various modes within the game--in addition to some lesser known secrets of these modes. I was amazed and astonished at how clever the inner workings of the Toy-Cons were, and how the Switch Joy-Cons used the IR cameras are used to make everything run smoothly.

Actually using each Toy-Con in the Vehicle Kit is an absolutely pleasure and feels like tactile and responsive. Whether I was turning the cardboard wheel to drive around my Car, flipping the levers to wipe away mud and water from my windshield, pulling the jump-cord to perform a boost-filled wheelie, turning the gears on the side of my Submarine Toy-Con's controls and hearing that satisfying click sound with each turn, or moving the surprisingly flexible, limber, and sturdy Toy-Con Plane flight stick to fly through the skies, everything controlled and felt great. It's amazing how fun these Toy-Con simply are to play with. Even the silly, little, cardboard Toy-Con Spray Can that you can use to customize the look of your vehicle that has you put a wooden gear inside the cardboard "can" to simulate the sound made when you shake it up just like a real spray can is so authentically done. Nintendo Labo really shines in this regard as well, despite everything being made of cardboard. (...Get it? Because cardboard doesn't shine?)

Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 03: Vehicle Kit is a brilliant kit and as of the time of this review, my favorite yet. For those of you who are a touch impatient and just want to dive right into the numerous activities the Vehicle Kit has to offer, you might find having to build everything to be pretty agonizing.. Still, the joy of starting with a sheet or two of cardboard and ending up with a working, functional, playable Toy-Con contraption is immense and tremendously rewarding. I saw myself having feelings of wonder that I hadn't really felt since I was a much younger gamer. If you're hesitant to buy this game because you feel you're paying for cardboard, just realize that you're getting a full fledged game as well. Though, some activities are simply greater than others, but at the same time, there's a limit to how much mileage these activities have to keep you entertained. If you are aware of that fact, then by all means, get in the driver's seat and get ready to ride--Nintendo Labo Vehicle Kit-style!

[SPC Says: B+]

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