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.

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