Over the past few weeks I've been putting together Nintendo's newest cardboard creation kit, the Labo Vehicle Kit. Based around the idea of building a series of vehicle controls, the kit contains the cardboard required to create a key, steering wheel, pedal, flight stick, and submarine controller. In many ways it's similar to the kits that came before it, but the key difference is in what you can actually do once your cardboard creations are finished.
Much like the Labo Variety Pack, most of the value in the Vehicle Kit lies in the process of actually building the things. The full pack of vehicle instruments took me around eight hours to assemble, and the combination of pre-creased cardboard, simple instructions, and assembly-style building made the whole experience accessible and rewarding. I was able to zone out and construct everything piece by piece, barely feeling the hours fly by as I just sort of forgot about the world. It's tactile and fast-paced creation with a tangible end result that feels both sturdy and functional.
Compared to the Variety Kit, the vehicle kit feels more adventurous in what it has the player creating. The steering wheel in particular is a masterpiece of cardboard origami. It's huge and full of pulleys and levers which spring into place properly, rotating gears, a smooth turning wheel (sturdy enough to use as a carrying handle), a functional horn, and even more. The number of moving parts and attention to detail is superb: it even has a set of anti-slip feet on the bottom.
In terms of what you can do with these creations, the included software offers a few more substantial games than the Variety Pack managed. There's a Scalextric-style game controlled solely using a pedal at differing levels, a Mario Kart-style first-person racing affair, a rally racing off-road experience, and an exploration title. The last is probably the most engaging, a sandbox experience with a pretty sizeable open world, containing multiple different regions each with their objectives. Each vehicle in the kit serves different purposes within this environment, and create a cohesive experience where all the tools feel like they're being used.
The most fun I've had with Labo's Vehicle Kit, however, involved another game: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. This already supported the Labo Motorbike from the Variety Kit, and a few days after the release of this kit steering wheel support was also added. I've built both kits and used them with the game, and they're a very fun control option, even if you probably don't want to be using them in competitive play.
When using the steering wheel with Mario Kart, things map as you might expect: the pedal accelerates or stops, the steering wheel turns, and the horn in the middle of the wheel fires items. Tapping the pedal to the bottom makes your kart hop, while a tap and hold will hop and drift. It does work well, though it's weird it crams so much on the pedal when there's no support for other elements of the wheel: I found myself constantly wanting to really floor the pedal but unable to.
For a silly party experience where you're handing the game to someone who doesn't have a clue about the game, or a bit drunk and wanting to have a laugh, it's a lot of fun feeling the whole wheel and pedal vibrate alongside the engine. But it is annoying there are several things you just do not have access to when playing this way, and I'm not entirely sure why.
Even though the pedal is analogue, and functions that way in Labo's software, it acts as an analogue switch in Mario Kart. You have to be careful to only partially depress the pedal, because pushing it down completely is the only way to trigger a hop or drift, and there is no way to brake or reverse. You can't fire items backwards, and you can't use the rear mirror feature.
I can't understand why so many features of Mario Kart are unavailable on the steering wheel control mode, because a huge number of the wheel's inputs are not used by Mario Kart. It feels like at least one of these could have been set to be one of those missing functions. It's still fun, but only if you're in the mood for silly casual gameplay.
Having put my time into Labo's vehicle kit, the built-in software feels more substantial, and the Mario Kart support is nice, but ultimately the joy here is still in making these cardboard creations. If you didn't enjoy Labo before, this is unlikely to convince you it's interesting. But if you want an excuse to build intricate and sturdy cardboard vehicles, this gives you much more to do with them.