Nintendo Labo’s Vehicle Kit is the latest variant available for the Switch’s paper crafting/video game hybrid, a separate retail product that features completely new builds, games, and activities. You could, if you wanted to, describe it as the series’ latest piece of DLC–if DLC stood for Da Latest Cardboard, that is.
If you thought that last dad joke was bad, it’s at least appropriate, given Labo remains an outstanding shared activity between parents or caregivers and the little squirts in their lives. At times intricate and yet appealingly simple, Labo sits in that gaming gap between juniors just starting to evolve beyond simple experiences on a tablet and jaded pre-teens who laugh at you for not knowing what the Fornite floss is. Its mix of real-world cardboard crafting and on-screen activities remains a winning one to experience with a child, although as with the first two Labo kits (the Variety Kit and the Robot Kit), there’s really not much here for grown-ups to latch onto.
That’s because, despite Vehicle Kit’s stronger focus on more traditional gameplay-like modes, what’s included still leans more onto the simplistic side and is more geared towards appealing to younger kids (both in scope and gameplay challenges). As the name implies, vehicles are the focus for this Labo experience, and you’ll be building your own cardboard controllers for three different vehicles: a steering wheel for the in-game car, a flightstick for a plane, and a… third one featuring rotating dials to control a submersible. You’ll also have to build an accelerator pedal, which is used across all three vehicles to control your speed.
Nothing has changed when it comes to the quality of the components you’re working with in this latest Labo kit compared to the previous two, which is to say that putting together these cardboard complexities is as satisfying as ever. There’s something immensely gratifying about handling the crisp sheets of paper, punching them through their perforated edges, and assembling them using the clear, concise on-screen instructions. As a grown-up, it’s meditative to spend the hours needed to build the most complex creations in Vehicle Kits, but it can be slightly less so if you’re building it with a junior partner (and how capable, amenable to instruction, or grumpy due to a lack of naptime that junior partner is). That said, while putting together the various Joy-Cons (the term Nintendo uses for the various cardboard creations) can be a fun solo project, it really shines as a shared activity with a child. Most of the builds are just complex enough that some adult supervision will be required, so there’s real joy to be had in making Vehicle Kit a joint project with someone younger.
While the Vehicle Kit creations may literally just be stiff pieces of paper, they’re still remarkably durable. In our hours of testing, all of the various Joy-Cons managed to survive the overexcited attentions of a nine-year-old and a four-year-old without breaking. And it really is impressive to see a thing you just put together from various pieces of cardboard work as a fully-functioning steering wheel or as an accelerator that detects even slight amounts of pressure. But while the tech and build behind these Joy-Cons are neat, they’re still DIY creations, so there’s not as much control finesse or nuance here that you would otherwise expect from dedicated, manufactured steering wheels or flightsicks.
This lack of fine control suits Vehicle Kit just fine, however, as the games and activities included don’t really ever require you to pull off things like hairpin manoeuvres at high speeds around rain-slicked roads. To its credit, Vehicle Kit is a leap forward compared to other Labo variations, as there’s actually a decent amount of gameplay to be found here (as opposed to tech demos as was the case with the Variety Kit). There are racetracks to compete on, rally modes to enter, and more. Vehicle Kit’s main game is dubbed Adventure Mode, and is a fairly expansive, open world area that can traversed by car, plane or submersible. Dotted throughout this world is a substantial amount of tasks: you may be asked to fly your plane through five clouds in quick succession, use your submersible’s hook to break open a cage, or drive a curious tourist around many of the world’s sights. None of these challenges are particularly taxing, with most solutions presenting themselves after a little careful exploration. The challenge level–along with Adventure Mode’s bright yet basic presentation–is aimed squarely at younger gamers, and there’s probably not much here that will prove engaging in the long run for anyone older.
But if you’re in that target demographic, then these otherwise rote activities become a little more engaging. My nine-year-old son was my primary partner in this review (occasionally joined by his four-year-old sister, who just really wanted to fly that plane), and from his perspective, the gentle pace and steady exploration afforded by Adventure Mode was immensely appealing. Nintendo Labo’s Vehicle Kit certainly isn’t for everyone. But if you have a curious, excited child, then it might be just for you.