Nintendo’s new Labo Vehicle Kit was more fun than I expected

Especially the punching-cars part.

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Mark Licea/CNET

I never played with a Nintendo Labo kit before, but I knew the gist of it: spend hours popping out and folding cardboard pieces, connect it to some rubber bands and string, and build yourself a set of wacky accessories that work with the Nintendo Switch game console. 

There are two of these Labo kits out now to help you build various programable toys, like a piano, a fishing pole and a robot battle suit. Nintendo's third Labo craft package is landing Sept. 14. It's called Vehicle Kit, it costs just under $70, and Nintendo invited us out to check out the new accessories and gameplay at a preview event in New York City.

There are several cardboard contraptions you build to control a vehicle that switches between a car, plane and submarine in an open-world adventure game. That much was already known from an early teaser video.

But I did not expect my car to have magic fists that punch other cars in a Super-Smash-Bros.-style arena.

I did not expect a little doggie to tell me it needed my help to pee on his favorite tree.

I did not expect to be racing with three other people using delicate taps of my right foot.

This is weird Nintendo. And I love weird Nintendo.


Cows can be so demanding.

Mark Licea/CNET

The gameplay experience in the Vehicle Kit is different than previous Labo kits. You'll jump between several cardboard toys (Nintendo calls them "Toy Cons") during the included adventure mode game. You'll be spending hours building a complex steering wheel with multiple levers and knobs, a foot pedal, a joystick, and a submarine-steering twisty thing. Insert a "key" (aka a cardboard-wrapped Joy Con stick) in each to switch from car to plane to submarine, all on your quest to complete random missions to help creatures of this world. 

You also build a cardboard spray-paint can to give your vehicle a custom design. "Spray" the screen to give your car a new paint job. Another surprise: make your own stencils, hold it in front of your spray can, and the IR sensors inside the controller will put the pattern on the car.

Things get more entertaining when a friend jumps in the mix. If you have extra Joy Con controllers, one person can steer while another shoots off weapons, forcing you to work as a team.

It was a short preview, maybe I played a total of 30 minutes. It all went by so fast. I'm left wanting more. And I especially want more of the car-battle mode.

The battle mode is a side-game where you take on the computer -- or better yet, find another friend with a Labo wheel. Drive around an arena, pull cardboard levers to swing giant fists, punching at your opponent while grabbing power-ups falling from the sky. It was a real party-game treat. But what if you don't have a friend with their own Vehicle Kit wheel and pedal? The fun is playing against someone next to you.


A sampling of what you get in the Vehicle Kit. I made the little gray controller-holding "key" in under 10 minutes. I was very proud. 

Mark Licea/CNET

Nintendo opened up the possibility you can make your own extra cardboard controllers using household objects. The Toy-Con Garage section encourages users to tinker and make their own creations.

Take, for example, another side-game where you can race slot cars with four players, using just a foot pedal control. But wait... it only comes with one foot pedal. Here's where you'll work your arts-and-crafts magic. Follow the included instructions and make one from a binder and kitchen sponges. Now you have another party game.

I left pleasantly surprised at how silly it all was. I love crafts, racing, weird humor. This was my jam. Is it worth $70? Well, you are getting hours of entertainment from all that crafting, but it was hard to tell in my short preview how much gameplay there would be. (There seemed to be a plenty of missions.) And I would love to see other racing games be programmed to work with this steering system so it doesn't become useless when you beat the main adventure game. 

And I really hope there's a reasonable way to make more car-steering systems at home. That car-punching game is too much fun to play alone.

Nintendo Labo: Unboxed and assembled

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