Nintendo Labo VR’s release largely came and went earlier this year. The set itself offered a few fun distractions and mini-games, but nothing was more enjoyable than just putting all of the different figurations together. Shortly after launch we saw some of Nintendo’s biggest releases get patched in support, but they were in the form of a poorly performing and visually unappealing version of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a terrible single-player viewing mode for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and a 10-minute tech demo for Super Mario Odyssey. While it’s not quite a killer app by any means, the newly released Captain Toad Treasure Tracker VR update is the most interesting release the Japanese console maker has put out yet.
Captain Toad is a perfect title for virtual reality, and that’s why it made my list of 10 Switch VR updates we need to see back in April. Many of the coolest VR games allow players to view the world as a god peering into a smaller diorama and that’s exactly how Captain Toad is viewed in the first place. From a playing perspective the transition was pretty effortless as playing the virtual reality version is just like the main game, except you also get to enjoy a bunch of 3D effects and have a new way to control the camera.
There are limitations here since Labo VR isn’t a “true” VR headset, so there is no actual head tracking to speak of. You can’t actually get closer to objects and interact in a 3D space. Instead, you can just turn your head and the gyroscope will track that movement. It’s slightly frustrating as it would be a lot more immersive without that restriction but it doesn’t hamper the actual gameplay any.
Similar to the modes found in Odyssey, Breath of the Wild, and Smash Bros. Ultimate, this is not a complete offering. Rather than being able to play the main game in VR (which clearly would have been a lot more work for a peripheral that very few people actually own), Nintendo has just converted four of the main game’s level into virtual reality. That is kind of underwhelming, but as a free update to an already great puzzle platformer, it’s hard to complain too much about its scope.
Captain Toad Treasure Tracker VR plays exactly like the full game
The Captain Toad Treasure Tracker VR mode makes a fantastic first impression with the player. Before you even get into a level, you get to take a look at the 3D hub area. You’ve got the adorable Captain Toad and all of his adventuring buddies hanging out by their campfire, a Magikoopa magically darting around the area, and Toadette riding a minecart throughout a cool track that players will hopefully be able to play in some future game. It’s the game that you know but in a platform that easily fits the headset and this organic presentation doesn’t put too many steps between the non-VR version and the VR version.
But despite the easy translation, The Treasure at Mushroom Ruins, the first level, lacks any challenge or enemies and is just meant to get the player acquainted with the controls and viewing the world in virtual reality. It’s all self-explanatory thanks to it being the same game, so it feels like a wasted level, but thankfully the next three are all a blast to get through.
The two more traditional levels included here are Walleye Tumble Temple and Briny Bowl Swimming Hole. They’re two of the more entertaining and memorable stages from the first two campaigns in Treasure Tracker and it’s a delight to see them from a new perspective. The level designs are completely faithful, but getting to see the vertical waterscape of the latter is a cool visual spectacle as Toad takes warp pipes in and out of the water in order to find his way to the area’s star.
There are no prizes for collecting all of the in-game hidden gems (which disappointingly doesn’t unlock a fifth level), but it’s satisfying to have the full functionality intact. As far as a tech demo goes, this further proves that Captain Toad would make one hell of a great VR experience if Nintendo could commit itself to creating a full title. It borrows enough from the main game to not feel like some haphazard tech demo and naturally fits the platform. This ease of use the best use of Labo VR and Nintendo would be wise to use this as a positive learning experience to create its next experiences.
The fourth and final level is the best of the bunch. Called Mine Cart Tunnel Throwdown, it’s one of Treasure Tracker‘s mine cart levels that have Toad throwing turnips at enemies, POW Blocks, and gems. Considering how these levels already took place from a first-person perspective in the main game and how you could use gyroscope controls to aim your shots, it’s a perfect fit for Labo VR. Aiming your shots are as simple as moving your head, and I had a blast playing through it while sitting in a swivel office chair. It even has a nice sense of speed near the end as it tosses Toad out of the mine cart and toward the star that finishes the free VR mode.
More Captain Toad Treasure Tracker VR DLC would be a great move
While the Captain Toad Treasure Tracker VR update is a blast, it’s unfortunately lacking in content. With just four stages, it only takes 30 minutes maximum to get through it and players that remember how the puzzle solutions and secret locations can probably 100% it in under 10 minutes.
That being said, this is far from the first update that Captain Toad has received and Nintendo just released a $5.99 DLC pack for the game containing new stages. Considering that the studio already got a handle on how to convert existing levels to virtual reality and are still working on the game, another VR-only DLC pack would be awesome and a must-own for any Labo VR owner.
While Nintendo definitely still needs an actual virtual reality headset if it wants to create VR experiences that are up to its high standards, Captain Toad Treasure Tracker shows that they can do more with Labo at the moment. It’s the first time a Labo VR game that is satisfying and leaves you wanting more over disappointing you with a weak proof of concept. That’s a great first step and Nintendo would be smart to capitalize on it further.