The Long Game
A progress report on the games we just can’t quit
Progress reports on the games we just can’t quit, featuring the slightly dampened impact of Labo
Developer/publisher Nintendo (EPD) Format Switch Release 2018
For sheer curiosity value if nothing else, Labo’s unveiling in January made a sizeable splash. Less than nine months later and its latest pack, the Vehicle Kit, has barely made so much as a ripple. Nintendo may well insist its cardboard contraptions are meeting internal expectations, but you would imagine Labo’s sales figures have privately disappointed the company’s top brass.
It’s a pity, as this third kit is probably the best yet, and almost certainly the most likely to get extended use. The builds are every bit as enjoyable as they are time-consuming to make. There’s something quietly magical in how initially flimsy pieces steadily grow sturdier as they fold up and slot into one another; how simple elastic bands add necessary tension and allow moving parts to snap back into position; and how strips of card and the rumble of the inserted Joy-Cons can provide vital audio feedback.
The noisy clicks as you rotate the wheels of the new submarine controller are a tactile case in point; likewise the steadily quickening rhythm you hear as you refuel your car in the game’s sandbox adventure mode. While the Variety Kit offered fairly simplistic minigames to showcase each Toy-Con, and the Robot Kit’s limitations became quickly apparent, this is a more substantial offering, as you explore an open world by land, water and air. It’s not a huge place by any means, but each of its ten biomes hosts eight disparate challenges, and finishing them all unlocks a bonus task and extra vehicle attachments.
Switching between the three is hardly seamless, partly because you need to remove and reinsert the starter key in which the right Joy-Con is housed, but also because the Toy-Cons themselves are rather bulky. And though the aeroplane joystick feels wonderful, the in-game vehicle is a real fuel-guzzler, forcing you to land far sooner than you’d like. That’s less of a problem in the Rally mode, but as with the steering wheel and accelerator pedal you suspect it will get more use in some future game. Might we suggest Star Fox?
It’s clear Nintendo is already getting better at this: the screen attachment for the steering wheel is both more robust and easily accessed than its motorbike counterpart in the Variety Kit. And alongside a YouTube channel full of creative suggestions, it’s now actively pushing new build ideas through news channel features. But Labo may have a problem: the software needs to be good enough to make the assembly process worthwhile, but not so much that players are too busy having fun to explore the wider possibilities of the tech. How it solves that issue – thirdparties may be one answer – will likely determine Labo’s future.