After Nintendo Labo VR launched earlier this month, gamers were treated to a selection of fun virtual reality minigames from Nintendo. There wasn’t anything exactly groundbreaking, but the whole package was unique enough for it to have a small niche and be a worthwhile investment for those that want to simply check out VR gaming. However, the company’s support didn’t end there. It just released VR updates for two of the Switch’s biggest games, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. However, while both promising in their own regard, they show that the current setup isn’t ideal for VR gaming and how Nintendo has to step it up if it wants to succeed in the VR field.
Super Mario Odyssey VR has good ideas but they aren’t fleshed out
The better implementation of the two updates can be seen in Super Mario Odyssey. It adds in an entirely separate mode that can be selected from the main menu. In it, players can visit portions of three of the kingdoms found within Odyssey in virtual reality. It’s clearly just repurposing existing assets for a short VR experience, but it winds up showing quite some promise.
Players are tasked with finding hidden instruments in each of the three worlds that can be found by collecting a series of time-sensitive music notes. The camera (which is completely controller by where the player looks) is completely different from the main game and is positioned at one location overlooking the rest of the kingdom.
This turns each level into a platformer that has elements of a picture hunt, as players try to figure out what parts of the world could be hiding instruments. It’s a fun twist on Odyssey‘s core theme of exploration, but each world can be finished in just about 10 minutes or so. After finishing the three kingdoms, players are rewarded with a concert hall performance of “Jump Up, Super Star!” by New Donk City mayor Pauline and the rest of the gang that you helped find instruments for.
It’s an enjoyable way to spend 30 minutes, but it also makes one thing very clear: this isn’t virtual reality at its finest and quite a small step. However, despite all the limitations in place, from the game not taking much development resources to the Labo VR’s limited technology, it’s still an impressive proof of concept. A true Mario game in virtual reality with new worlds to explore sounds fantastic. There’s so much potential here and we’re only scraping it since Nintendo is merely dipping its toes in the water.
Breath of the Wild VR support is shaky
You can now play the entirety of Breath of the Wild in virtual reality but that isn’t really true. Sure, you are literally able to play the entire game while lifting the Labo VR goggles to your face, but it’s not really in virtual reality. Instead, it uses the goggles to render the game world in 3D, not unlike how the 3DS used stereoscopic 3D to do the same for Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. It’s a cool effect, but once you start playing you realize how much of a rush job this conversion was.
The main issue stems from how it uses your head movement. The crux of virtual reality is being in a 3D space yourself, and then being able to move the camera independent of a character. However, that isn’t how Breath of the Wild works. Instead, you are controlling the game’s camera with your head. Try to look right while moving Link forward and you’ll see him start veering in that direction. There is no independent movement here, and you’re not immersed in the world.
To be fair, this is just a conversion of an existing game that clearly was never meant to be played in virtual reality and these are just simple proofs of concepts. That being said, it begs the question of why it was even made in the first place other than to trick players on the fence into buying the Labo VR headset. It’s not an effective use of the technology, the movement in-game feels slightly muddier, and it’s difficult to view some aspects of the user interface. It’s a poorly done addition that just makes you realize how limiting the Labo VR headset really is rather than giving value to it.
Nintendo needs to do VR right
If Nintendo wants to continue doing virtual reality in the future (which would be great to see), then it needs to change how it approaches VR. These updates are nice to see, and it shows that Nintendo views the technology as something bigger than just a Labo project, but they aren’t a selling point. Instead, they show just how limited the current technology is. From Breath of the Wild merely being in 3D to it being difficult to spot Mario when he’s far away from the camera due to the low resolution, there’s no shortage of issues.
Hopefully, Nintendo Labo VR will have been enough of a success that Nintendo decides to double down on the virtual reality space down the line. It would be great to see the console maker release an upgraded version of Labo VR, or at least a pre-built one with a strap so you don’t have to constantly hold it up to your face, granted the hardware can improve to stand up to the challenge. However, these would have to be developed from the ground up rather than just trying to shoehorn VR into existing titles.
While it seems like we’re still a console generation away from Nintendo introducing a full-blown headset and fully entering the VR world, Labo VR has enough potential to be more than what it currently is. If anyone can truly take virtual reality to the mainstream and away from its current niche (and it is a niche, despite a moderately successful one) it is Nintendo. It has got the beloved game franchises, the ingenuity, and the marketing power to really make a mark and this simple step almost does those positive qualities a disservice.