Despite being made of cardboard, Nintendo’s Labo VR Kit is a surprisingly excellent virtual reality upgrade for the Switch, bolstered by an excellent roster of games and VR experiences. Nintendo has just extended its Labo VR Kit support to its A-list titles The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, and unfortunately in both games the VR feels like a tacked-on experience that only serves to amplify Labo VR Kit’s shortcomings.
For starters, Nintendo wasn’t joking when it released this promotional image of Mario demonstrating how you would play games like Super Mario Odyssey with the Labo VR Kit goggles. Without any kind of head strap, you’re forced to leave the Joy-Cons attached to either side of the Switch and play while holding the whole thing up to your face. Yes, it gets tiring after a while, and I found my larger hands and fingers were unable to stretch out; they were constantly brushing up against the sides of the cardboard goggles.
Thankfully, Nintendo doesn’t seem to require the Joy-Cons to be attached to the Switch to play Zelda or Mario in VR. So to improve the experience—or to at least make it slightly more comfortable to play—you’ll definitely want to seek out a head strap upgrade for the cardboard goggles, such as the $14 solution that Sweat Proof Gaming sells, and then use the Joy-Cons as a detached controller.
But a head strap won’t do anything to improve the graphics hit both of these games take in VR mode. The Switch’s screen is already limited to a barely HD resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, and while Breath of the Wild manages to look beautiful on it when playing the console in portable mode, through the Labo VR Kit goggles that resolution is more than halved to create the stereo images required to make the 3D depth effect work. There’s no other way to say it, Breath of the Wild looks ugly and dated in VR, and while Nintendo has removed some of the on-screen clutter to improve the experience, it also makes Link’s health meter in the upper left corner of the screen almost impossible to see.
I assumed that finally being able to explore Hyrule in 3D would be my consolation prize for the graphical downgrade, but the third-person view that Breath of the Wild uses ends up being dizzying, and a little nauseating, in VR. You can still move the camera around as you follow Link, which is important for gameplay, but it ends up amplifying the disconnect between what your eyes are seeing, and the motions of your head and body that your brain is experiencing. The Labo VR Kit games and experiences take a first-person approach, but it’s not an option in Breath of the Wild, and it meant it only took a couple of minutes for me to get sick to my stomach. Sorry, Hyrule, you’re on your own.
Super Mario Odyssey takes a different, and somewhat improved, approach to VR, compared to Breath of the Wild. Instead of following Mario wherever he goes, the Labo VR Kit goggles only work with special added levels that lock a player’s view to the middle of an isolated island. You control Mario almost like you would an RC car, sending him racing off into the distance until he’s a tiny speck, or bringing him uncomfortably close to your face. Occasionally, not being able to move the camera makes it difficult to complete the challenges in this special VR level, even if it’s been specifically designed to accommodate the VR perspective.
As with Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey takes a graphical hit given the Switch’s screen is being cut in half to produce stereo images, but it doesn’t look as ugly in VR. I’ll give Nintendo credit for making the entirety of Breath of the Wild playable in VR. Going in, I knew the different approaches each game was taking, and I assumed I’d be disappointed in Super Mario Odyssey’s limited support for VR. But after playing both games, I believe that Super Mario Odyssey is your better bet. However, I wouldn’t call either franchise’s first foray into virtual reality a success. Now excuse me while I find some saltines.