May 12, 2019
Every now and then, Nintendo loves to do the thing their fans least expected, and often these actions are in direct opposition to what we even consider to be within the realm of possibility. The latest in a long string of such events was the recent announcement and launch of Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 04: VR Kit. Considering numerous statements that the company was not intending to launch a VR product, combined with the Switch’s relatively low power compared to contemporary Virtual Reality machines, the last thing I expected was a cardboard contraption to accomplish this.
Well, not only did we get the so-called impossible, but shortly after the announcement of the product, we got a follow-up trailer revealing it was compatible with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. Of course as a Zelda fan I had to jump into the series’ first attempt at VR, though I was dismayed by many initial reactions from media outlets and YouTubers. Still, I am often more forgiving than many of Nintendo’s followers, so I thought I’d give it a go anyway. I’m not here to tell you it’s a flawless experience, but it absolutely has merits and is worthy of a discussion. So let’s dive into the best and worst parts of this do-it-yourself VR experience!
Merits of Breath of the Wild in VR
As majestic as Hyrule is in the base game, adding a 3-D effect enhances this tenfold. I believe the added depth creates an experience that a flat, static image cannot. During the 3DS era, I was among the minority who truly loved the signature gimmick of the console, and the level of immersion is similar to some of my absolute favorite 3DS games simply because of this effect, and it shines like no 3DS game did when you look over mountain vistas, enter a shrine, or explore the interior of a Divine Beast. It’s got the same thing going for it, but Breath of the Wild is noticeably larger than any 3DS title.
This may be a personal point, but hey, it’s my article so I’ll praise what I want. Putting aside my bias, however, the stylized graphics of Breath of the Wild lend themselves well to this effect, and though it is a noticeable downgrade from the original version, it still looks good. The cel-shaded world just works at a lower resolution than it should, and when you are in the moment, it’s just something you don’t think about because you are encapsulated in an expansive world teeming with scenery to view, treasure to find, and monsters to slay. Simply put, most people were not bothered by the game running at 900p on their HDTV, and likewise you will probably not be bothered by the extra pixelation in VR if you like VR. Well, at least in terms of landscapes. Other parts of the game don’t hold up as well, but more on that in a few paragraphs.
The most engrossing experiences I have had by far since beginning my VR journey were battling Thunderblight Ganon followed up by the Sand Seal Rally and a fight with one of the overworld bosses, a massive Molduga. Somehow an extra layer of intensity is added by the 3-D perspective, which makes Labo VR a truly immersive addition to the game. These sequences sucked me in like no other, which is impressive since Breath of the Wild is among the most “suck-you-in-and-never-let-go” games I’ve ever played.
I can’t exactly explain it, but the fast-paced nature of these segments shifted my focus to the action and away from any blurriness that might have otherwise caught my eye. When the action moves fast, dawdling on graphical imperfections will spell your doom, so honestly I didn’t notice a single issue with Molduga, Thunderblight, or even the smaller enemies you glide past during the sand-seal rally.
After defeating Thunderblight, I was of course given the chance to view an extended scene with Urbosa’s ghost and Link, followed by Vah Naboris climbing the mountain and aiming its cannon at Hyrule Castle. Honestly this may have been the best part of the VR experience. It felt close, personal, and as I keep stating, undeniably immersive. I’ve completed the game twice before, so of course this is nothing new to me, but it felt like I was seeing it for the first time.
I cannot tell you how excited I am to continue going through the game just to see all these cutscenes in VR. I am actually somewhat regretful that I had already gone partway through the game because some of my favorite scenes are between Link and Riju, who is easily my favorite secondary character in the game. I may even begin a new save file to see this, as well as the dramatic opening to the Great Plateau in VR. These scenes alone might be worth the forty dollar buy-in.
Shortcomings of Breath of the Wild in VR
It’s no shocker that looking at a 720p screen through a magnifying glass will not present the best quality image. As I’ve stated before, this is not a huge issue for large parts of the game, however the problem areas are painful to look at. The issue is particularly prevalent during regular gameplay around NPCs, it gets hard to see smaller details and features, the ordinarily stunning 3D models look fuzzy, and what would normally be a stylized masterpiece becomes a muddied mess.
Before the Sand Seal race is a somewhat dialogue-heavy scene, but not a full cutscene, so the motions are not as clean, and you don’t have hardly any music behind it. This works fine to present a quick side quest, obviously, but several Gerudo characters, who all have unique designs, are present throughout the scene, and it pops you out of your immersion just about every time the camera shifts to another character. I have not explored many towns or NPC heavy areas outside this yet, but what I’ve seen does not seem promising. The NPCs look bad, and there’s no way I can justify it.
Traditionally in a Virtual Reality experience, you would move your head and the ingame camera would mimic your movements 1:1, giving you the illusion of being able to actually stick your head inside a digital world. In Breath of the Wild VR, your motion controls are essentially mapped to the same function as the right control stick on the controller. What this boils down to is that you look up, down, left, or right, and the camera rotates the same direction. On the horizontal axis I found this to feel okay, but vertical movements felt somewhat surreal since it does not match as closely what your head is doing. I am not generally prone to motion sickness from video games, but after a few minutes of attempting this, I showed symptoms such as dizziness, queasiness, and a mild headache.
Of course there is a simple solution to this, since turning off motion control aiming will make it so that only the movements of the thumbstick will affect your camera, and doing this I was able to comfortably play for about two hours with no such problem. Easy fix! Or at least… that is what I would say if it was possible to turn off motion controls for the headset but not my Pro Controller. Motion aiming has been one of my favorite additions to the Zelda series since Ocarina of Time 3D released. It is a small improvement, but it has become natural to me in this and other game series as well. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and Splatoon 2 would be completely different games to me without motion aiming, and the same is doubly true about the series that got me hooked on the concept. Turning off the motion controls may save me a case of motion sickness, but it is at the cost of one of my favorite gameplay elements, and that’s pretty lame.
No Head Strap (Or Is There?)
The most obvious difference between Labo VR and literally any other VR machine is pretty obvious; you need to hold it up to your face constantly. To me the worst issues from this are losing immersion from sitting in a weird position, and the risk of your arms getting tired, which to me happens pretty quick since I don’t have a particularly good chair for it. If you had well-adjusted armrests, the latter may not be an issue, but it was a pain for me.
Being somewhat handy and always keeping a supply of paracord, I decided to make my own redneck strap out of an old belt, and that helps a lot for gameplay but has its drawbacks as well. Even though the headset is just cardboard, the Switch is somewhat heavy on my face, and now neck strain is the issue rather than arm strain. This also causes the belt to loosen itself after a while, so I may make a one-size strap for myself when I get the chance as well. Even with this, though, the headset is not made to be worn on your face, and it’s not very comfortable because of that. Having a somewhat heavy piece of plastic on my face for a few hours left me with a numbness in the areas of contact as well as a hilarious looking red line across my forehead and underneath my eyes. Without some padding, I feel this is just a bad plan. That’s not going to stop me from using it, but I am aware of how stupid I am to do so.
All right so it has its issues, but what can I say? It’s fun! Breath of the Wild’s enhancements from VR make it a truly worthwhile experience for anybody interested. It’s not the best virtual reality has ever been, but for what it is, it’s well worth my forty bucks. If you’re on the fence, I say try it, despite what reviewers say. It has a unique charm that I don’t believe any other VR game can provide, and at the end of the day it’s still Breath of the Wild so seriously, can it really be all that bad?
What’s your take? Will you be trying out Labo VR with Zelda? Do you buy into the reviewers and just play the games they tell you to? Have you tried it and you still hate it, or do you find the drawbacks acceptable like me? Let us know by commenting below, or hit up the Two Guys Playing Zelda and Zelda Coalition Discord Servers or find me on Twitter, I’ll be glad to keep the conversation waltzing!