Nintendo’s Labo line remains rather polarizing. A portion of gamers delights in the products’ promise of the opportunity to make, play, and discover. Others, however, simply see Labo as so much cardboard. I—and, I imagine, many of you in the GeekDad community—fall firmly into the former camp, and the newly released Vehicle Kit is another amazing chance for your family to flex its creative muscles.
But, to be fair, that really is a lot of cardboard.
Getting Started With the Nintendo Labo: Vehicle Kit
Building on the innovative how-to element of the original Variety Kit (Toy-Con 01) and the larger-than-life transformative fun of the Labo Robot Kit (Toy-Con 02), the Vehicle Kit (dubbed, unsurprisingly, Toy-Con 03) combines pick-up-and-play racing and exploration with a trifecta of buildable vehicle controls.
For first-timers (or those who simply need a little refresher), your initial build project is the humble Joy-Con Holder. Admittedly, this adds nothing substantive to the gameplay, but it is a helpful primer that highlights how perfectly polished the Switch interface is for delivering interactive construction tutorials. You can easily grasp the basics—stretching the play buttons to go forward and back, zooming in on finer details, rotating your view, etc.—before you ever bust out the more important components.
Toy-Con Pedal to the Metal
From there it’s on to the Toy-Con Pedal. This multi-piece, multi-step build comes together quickly and is likely the most intuitive project in the Vehicle Kit. Its base, side supports, top crossbar, and “hinged” pedal combine to make a highly responsive, amazingly satisfying core control. With the Left Joy-Con inserted into the pedal itself and a rubber band serving to add some much-needed resistance, it’s a perfectly balanced gas pedal that not only powers your other Vehicle Kit creations but also serves as the dedicated interface for a special slot car racing game.
Next, you’ll move to the Toy-Con Key, a multifunctional take on the previously built Holder, which preps you to take on the Toy-Con Car, the biggest and most time-consuming build. When all is said and done, you’ll have created a functional steering wheel, a non-skid base, twin turn signal-style stalks, a left-mounted reverse level, a special ripcord used for turbo boosts, and even a screen stand. Getting there, however, takes no small measure of time and careful dedication. Labo cardboard is oddly forgiving, and several pieces that I thought I had (in my haste) creased incorrectly ultimately worked just fine. Still, if I had it to do over again, I’d’ve slowed down.
Here in My Car
Not only does it monopolize the building process, but you’ll also likely spend most of your playtime with the Toy-Con Car in your lap. Combined with the aforementioned Toy-Con Pedal and powered by the Toy-Con Key (consider it a Right Joy-Con adapter that lets you move from vehicle to vehicle on the fly without having to re-sync), it’s a perfectly serviceable racing wheel. You’re certainly not going to mistake it for the higher dollar metal and plastic peripherals, but it gets the job done… as soon as you’ve acclimated to the strange feel of freshly folded cardboard against your palms.
As I said, the Toy-Con Car module gets the lion’s share of the content on the enclosed software cartridge. The Circuit, Rally, and Battle modes are tailor-made for the Toy-Con Car. Even the game’s primary Adventure mode, a globe-spanning road trip resplendent with lighthearted challenges and environmental puzzles, leans heavily on the Car module. In order to open up a new map area and save your progress, you must first locate a fueling station, and only the turning signal stalks—multipurpose controls that can also fling bombs and can even sport spinning buzz saws—allow you to access the necessary left or right fueling lines.
This means that most of your adventure will likely be spent in Car mode, with your vehicle’s alternate configurations coming into play mostly to explore deep waters or snowcapped mountains and to achieve the odd goal. Unfortunately, the Toy-Con Car’s configuration also sports my only major gripe against the title’s cardboard constructions; my steering wheel simply refuses to stay affixed to its base. Held in place by little more than a single (cardboard) sliding lock, it rarely survives a play session intact, especially given how often the kids and I like to switch vehicle modes. Given that this was a part of the build that we put the most care into, it’s extra annoying to have to keep re-slotting our car controls everytime we pick ’em up.
All that said, the Toy-Con Car does offer the most robust driving options, and popping crazy wheelies as you speed through pyramids or across the suspended streets of a Hot Wheels-style city module always feels fun and satisfying.
Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down
The second big build, the Toy-Con Submarine, feels less so. The build process itself is enjoyable, and seeing how all its oddly shaped components come together is genuinely fascinating, but once you’re in the driver’s seat it’s hard not to notice that gameplay crawls almost to a halt. It’s not that the Submarine controls themselves are an issue—you twist dials on either side of a central column to adjust the individual propulsion jets, regulating depth, speed, and turning—it’s that your onscreen vehicle is comparatively sluggish. Shooting out its grappling claw is a fun diversion, but it just can’t hold a candle to the Toy-Con Car.
The Vehicle Kit‘s final major build is the Toy-Con Plane. Compared to the other components, it’s a relative cakewalk (I knocked it out alone in just over a half-hour), but there’s a certain elegance to its simplicity. Like the Car and Sub, you place the Joy-Con Key directly into the Plane to activate it, and then you zoom to the heavens on little more than a folded cardboard spring—it’s kind of awesome.
Less engaging than the Toy-Con land vehicle but a sight better than its underwater companion, the Plane sports the requisite missile launchers and, after some practice, allows for ample aerial acrobatics. Smashing through clouds, popping balloons, and shooting down candy-colored UFOs might even be as instantly rewarding as using the Car to piece back together broken terrain, with the added bonus of giving you a clear overhead view of your ever-widening surroundings.
Of course, that’s not all to the Nintendo Labo: Vehicle Kit. You can build a second Key and a cardboard approximation of a Spray Can for use in Paint Studio mode. And there are even bonus components for its expanded Toy-Con Garage.
Learning With the Nintendo Labo: Vehicle Kit
This time you and your kids will find yourselves invited to join the Toy-Con Development Lab, a “semi-secret organization” featuring a cast of cartoon pals who illuminate the finer points of Joy-Con tech via funny dialog. My 10-year-old remarked that this really helped her understand how the Nintendo Switch operates, no doubt because the standard drag-and-drop Garage interface is paired with more robust project ideas, challenges, and an impressively granular look at how system functions and control settings affect gameplay.
As I said in the opening, Nintendo Labo doesn’t necessarily appeal to every subset of gamer, but for the gaming family, the line continues to be the perfect marriage of STEM project kit and amusing, enjoyable gameplay. While not all the components seemed as resilient or finely tuned as those in the original Variety Kit, this Vehicle Kit is a much more ambitious, challenging, and, ultimately, rewarding product that continues to broaden what Labo is and what it can be.
Retailing for $69.99, it could be viewed as a little on the pricey side. But what you get for your money is multiple hours of various family build projects and even more engaging, enchanting gaming once your vehicles are roadworthy. Oh, and lots and lots of cardboard.
Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America
Note: If you and yours have yet to experience Nintendo Labo in your home, check out Nintendo’s interactive Labo Workshops. Workshop events will visit the following areas:
- Phoenix, Arizona
- Knoxville, Tennessee
- Orange County, California
- Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Baltimore, Maryland
- Charlotte, North Carolina
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Savannah, Georgia
- Denver, Colorado
- Seattle, Washington
More information can be found at the Nintendo Labo Workshop site.