When I played the Labo VR accessory for the Nintendo Switch earlier this month, I was impressed with the software's Build-It-Yourself "hardware" and the creativity behind its games. "This is pretty cool!" I said to myself as I squeezed a clever mechanism that helps a bird wing around an island located in a colorful virtual reality world. "I wonder what a full-blown Super Mario or Zelda experience will look like in Labo VR?"
The answer is "Grainy, cramp-inducing, and awkward, but still kinda cool." In hindsight, I don't know what I was expecting. VR takes a certain amount of power the Switch doesn't have (yet; we don't know what Nintendo has up its sleeve for a Switch hardware upgrade). There are definitely some "Whoa, cool!" moments in the VR upgrades for Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but you have to endure some significant downsides to experience them.
The VR update for Super Mario Odyssey is the smallest of the upgrades. In it, Mario looks for musicians' instruments in three new self-contained levels located in the Cap Kingdom, the Luncheon Kingdom, and the Seaside Kingdom. After he reunites the musicians with their music-makers (which is done by collecting music notes), you can watch the band put on a performance with Mayor Pauline. The whole experience takes about twenty minutes.
I find the VR in Odyssey awkward. Each new Kingdom playground has a fixed camera, which means it's easy to lose track of Mario if he runs off towards the horizon. You can press R to zoom in on a spot which helps a bit. What's really problematic is there's no option for manual camera control; you have to turn your head around and around to see behind you in these stationary levels. This isn't easy unless you're an owl or a girl in need of an exorcist.
Overall, I don't believe Super Mario Odyssey is enhanced much with VR. There's little immersion; I don't lose myself in Mario's world whenever I slip on the goggles. It's too bad, because once in a blue (Power) moon you're treated to a moment that makes you say "Oh, cool!" For me it was climbing to the top of one of Cap Kingdom's buildings and noticing how Mario leaves faint footprints in the structure's dew-covered felt surface.
I was happy enough to bounce from Super Mario Odyssey VR because I've been hyped to visit Hyrule in VR for some weeks now. I downloaded the update for Breath of the Wild (neither VR update takes any time at all to download on a broadband connection, by the way), pressed the goggles to my face, and immediately said "Oh dang, this is fuzzy as heck."
Breath of the Wild usually looks wonderful whether you play it docked or in handheld mode, but that's because Nintendo made some great artistic choices, not because the Switch is a powerhouse capable of delivering fancy graphical effects. The screen-split method used for Labo VR results in two scaled-down images that look somewhat rasterized. Breath of the Wild VR's resolution seems similarly downsized as well. The mini-map is gone (kind of a problem if you're trying to make your way to a marker), and the camera practically rides up Link's back. The close camera makes it harder to travel around via horse or the Master Cycle Zero. I keep bashing into trees and getting caught on rocks, problems that usually don't affect me when I play without VR. It's not a mystery why the games built for Labo VR from the ground-up utilize very simple graphics, but if you need confirmation, Breath of the Wild VR has a plentiful supply.
Unsurprisingly, Breath of the Wild VR's close camera makes tough fights a little rougher, too. As soon as I slipped into VR mode, I picked a fight with Silver Lynel and was stomped into dust much more quickly than usual. Yeah, I'm not great at fighting Lynels, but I last longer when I can see more of the battleground around me. They move fast! Thankfully, I had better luck against a Hinox snoozing in the northern Hyrule wastelands. It helps that they're generally lumbering brutes who clearly telegraph their attacks and give you plenty of time to respond.
Two additional notes that are important for old people with creaky bodies. First, you're much better off using Breath of the Wild's manual camera controls over the option to control the camera using your head. I guarantee whipping your head around to see your surroundings will make you feel ill in a matter of minutes (I'm not surprised Breath of the Wild issues a polite "ding" and a suggestion to give your eyes a rest every five minutes). Second, your wrists will indeed get fatigued holding the VR goggles to your face, though it helps to rest your elbows on your knees. You can also invest in one of the third-party Labo VR headstraps out here if you're really dedicated to this whole "Breath of the Wild in Labo VR" thing.
Is it worth becoming dedicated, though? Are there any moments in Breath of the Wild VR that will take your breath (hey!) away? There are, usually when you use your sail from high elevations. I teleported to the top of Dueling Peaks, leaped off, and was amazed at how weightless Link feels when he drifts over Hyrule. It was honestly peaceful and stress-relieving. Makes me hope the next Zelda game will up the flying ante with a high-speed squirrel suit.
Breath of the Wild VR feels like a pleasant afterthought more than a fully-built idea. In all fairness, Breath of the Wild's technical director Takuhiro Dohta admits the VR option is intended more for sight-seeing purposes than heavy-duty combat. Honestly, it's not much fun to fight in Breath of the Wild VR, but it's lots of fun to look around. Hyrule isn't lacking for high peaks to throw yourself off (pro tip: Try driving Master Cycle Zero off the tallest cliff you can find. It's kind of great). I don't recommend buying a Labo VR for the sole purpose of playing Super Mario Odyssey VR and Breath of the Wild VR, but I still think Labo VR is a fun purchase for kids—and Breath of the Wild VR is a nice distraction for curious parents.
Again, there's a chance Breath of the Wild VR's image quality and camera issues will improve once the whispered-about Switch hardware upgrade finally comes to the market. There's also a chance the next 3D Zelda game (or even Link's Awakening Switch) has VR support baked into its early source code. Labo VR remains a clever curiosity, but its future is looking a little less fuzzy-edged.