Yep, every part of the new Labo Vehicle Kit comes in a handy flat box. The game cartridge, the cardboard, stickers, elastic bands - everything you'll need is in the box and waiting to be built. You can't just pop the game in your Switch and play, however, as you'll have to sit and pay attention as you're guided through the complex building instructions for each component, which over time will come together to make the input devices for the three main vehicles: the car, the plane, and the submarine.
First of all, though, you'll have to craft a key. The key is the main component that activates all of the vehicles and once built you simply place the right Joy-Con inside it. This is due to a clever little light sensor on the bottom corner of the controller (yes, that's what that little shiny black panel is) but we will explain that in a bit more depth later, for now... we continue building...
It's completely up to you which parts you build first, we went with the steering wheel that comes with a whopping 150 - 210 min build time, with an additional 60 to 90 mins for the foot pedal. Be prepared to put in some hours to piece together all the parts! It's possibly advisable to build everything at the same time, as you can swap between car, plane, and submarine at just about any point in the open world mode, but as the build times suggest, this could take you over eight hours of slow building, and you may wish to make it across two or three sessions.
There are also instructions included to make a HUD for your steering wheel, a spare key, and a spray can with which to customise your vehicles with.
If you're feeling confident enough, it's possible to fast-forward the building instructions but we hasten to add that it's not as easy as it may seem and certain folds need to be done correctly or the parts simply won't work. We accidentally failed to push out a small piece of card from its hole and therefore blocked a light reflector and the whole joystick just refused to register as a result. If you were considering putting it together on Christmas day with the kids after a few glasses of sherry, for example, you may want to rethink those plans.
While the instructions and building are complex, the process isn't without its merits. A lot of time and effort has been put into making sure these cardboard peripherals not only look good and work, but they're also built to last! We're not saying you can throw them about, but with a little TLC and a safe storage space, we think they will last as long as the fun does.
As you construct the different vehicles, you'll notice that small reflective stickers need to be placed at specific locations inside the builds. This is where the light sensor on the Joy-Con key comes in. Small amounts of light are let in through the various gaps and holes on your creations and this reflects off of the stickers inside. Move the stickers with the various levers, pulleys and switches and watch as the sensors turn these movements into commands. It's all very clever.
After you've completed your build you will be instructed to insert the key and, once that's done, we can take to the road, sea, or air on the big screen. While Adventure Mode is where you'll spend the majority of your early time in-game, it's worth noting that some of the other modes are also great fun.
Slot Cars is exactly what you'd expect. This simple isometric racer uses the foot pedal to accelerate and decelerate, but with the added bonus that it can be played with up to four players provided you have enough Joy-Cons (each player only has to tilt the pad forwards to move). There are seven courses to race on with varying degrees of difficulty, but those lucky enough to also have the Variety Kit can use the bike tracks created in that set as well.
Circuit mode utilises the same tracks as Slot Cars but the racing is purely single-player from a first-person bumper cam view. Here you can select a speed difficulty and whether to race with CPU drivers on track (if you do, don't forget to try out your levers on either side to give your opponents a little nudge from behind). Rally takes place on the various biomes of the open world map, with each area filled with gate posts for you to navigate your vehicles through before the timer runs out. Battle mode is great fun, returning you to the isometric view as you manoeuvre your car around various arenas as you try to punch your opponents with your left and right levers. Power-ups drop sporadically and can be used to devastating effect, and they include giant cars, super speed, and a massive power fist.
But as we've already said, Adventure mode is where the core of the game is. Here you are free to explore and interact with the biomes as you see fit. There's nothing evidently special about the graphics, it sticks to Nintendo's love for simple bright colours and gentle textures; this doesn't distract you though, and it makes the game more accessible for younger gamers.
Everything in the 10 hexagonal biomes is accessible, the only real thing limiting your discoveries is fuel, the plane being the most thirsty by some way... But worry not, each area has its own refuelling station which can be used when controlling the car (if you're flying, simply pull the Key-Con out of the flight stick and you'll descend with a parachute, giving you enough time to slot it in to the steering wheel and motor on up to the pump). Now here's the clever bit: pulling down the lever on the side closest to the pump will extend a hose from the car to gain more fuel, but flick the switches around at the end of the lever and you'll see you can also extend other features such as an arm to catapult bombs, a circular saw blade, or even an aerial to change radio station. Each biome has a series of objectives to complete consisting of fetch and carry missions as well as items to destroy. While none of these activities are particularly difficult the restriction on fuel and the large amount of ground to cover means that it should take some time to complete them all even if you attempt it all in one sitting.
Paint Studio does exactly what it says on the tin; here you can use the Spray-Con to decorate your vehicle's various components any colour or design you'd like, as well as use the Mask mode to create patterns using shadows made by yourself (such as a handprint or a paper cut out). It may be fairly basic but that's not all you can decorate with the Labo Kits. Throughout the game you will meet The Gang, a strange group who will guide you as you discover just what is possible with your Labo creations. In Discover mode, you will learn not only the basics of how things work but you'll also get hints about what can be achieved if you put your creative mind to work.
Being made of cardboard, you'd think Nintendo wouldn't want you to mess about with the Toy-Cons but that's far from the case; the Discover section gives you full instructions on how best to let your arts and crafts side run free. Paint, colour, stick, cut, modify to your heart's content - they even give you full tutorials on how to fix broken parts too. This side of the game has endless possibilities and will challenge even the most creative minds into building strange contraptions that can use Custom Controls mode to operate your vehicles. Visiting the Joy-Con Garage will give you a basic tutorial on how it's possible to customise your Switch into almost any contraption from vibrating robots to elastic band guitars.
While some people may find the actual in-game content simple and possibly a little lacklustre, it's the creativity it channels that really sells it, and the only limit really is your imagination... (and maybe space to keep it all once it's built). Finally, while the game is aged 6+ we would highly recommend that no-one this young attempt to build the Toy-Cons, certainly not on their own, and play should probably be supervised to begin with as learning how to navigate the Toy-Con's various movements could prove frustrating and may result in broken cardboard.