Breath of the Wild was not built for VR, and it shows
by on May 2, 2019

Breath of the Wild’s new VR mode, usable with the Nintendo Labo VR headset, is not proof that virtual reality is bad. It’s not even evidence that Labo and the Switch are bad ways to experience virtual reality. It’s proof that VR has to be looked at very differently from what we traditionally know about games and built from the ground up accordingly. It’s an example of what not to do, from head to toe, if you want to make content for virtual reality.

A brief note about me: I love 3D content. I play games in 3D on my 3DS, I’d still rather be seeing Avengers: Endgame in 3D, and I love the immersion of VR gaming. I do think that VR games have yet to find the right tricks and voice to be completely compelling, especially for the price point, but the tech itself is wonderful. Between that, and being a sucker for Nintendo’s Labo initiative altogether, I, of course, bought this VR set and put it together. I have had an absolutely magical time with a lot of the little things there are to do with it. I think it makes a very compelling argument for VR at an insanely unobtrusive price point, while still sprinkling in that nebulous “Nintendo Magic” here and there. So, already committed to purchasing myself the kit, I was incredibly excited to hear that Breath of the Wild was getting a patch to make the whole game playable in VR. But I’ve researched a lot of “dos and don’ts” in virtual reality, and a lot of red flags were popping up. I was worried that there would be problems with this and that it would be incredibly unrewarding to experience.

I was wrong. It’s so much worse.

It absolutely does not look this good on actual hardware.

In comparison, Super Mario Odyssey also had a patch to add VR content into the game. However, the content there was unique and built for VR using existing assets from the main game. With Breath of the Wild, it would be an understatement to say that this was shoehorned in. It was wedged in, against its will, kicking and screaming.

Before the launch of the patch, Nintendo put up a small post on their website that talked about how to play Breath of the Wild in VR. There was a quote in the article that struck me as suspicious, but I initially wrote it off as another Fi-like warning to be dismissed: “It’s possible to switch the display method at any point in your adventure. We recommend taking a look through the VR Goggles when there’s something interesting to see, like a location with a great view, a favorite character…”

it would be an understatement to say that VR was shoehorned into Breath of the Wild. It was wedged in, against its will, kicking and screaming.

When I re-opened my older save file, I was delighted to load in right at the pinnacle of Hyrule Castle. Looking around the castle for the first time in VR I thought, “This seems fine.” Yes, the resolution took a hit, but I expected that. What I did not expect was just how bad looking over Hyrule Field would be. Everything beyond 20 feet or so looks like they tried to port Skyward Sword onto the 3DS. What I saw was a massive mess, and the only reason I knew what things even were was because of the hundreds of hours I’ve put into this game. So, naturally, my next idea was to ride the Master Cycle Zero around while strapped in.

The nicest thing I can say about this project is that you can very easily turn it back off.

At this point, it’s important to remember that the Labo VR has no head strap, though fan-made options exist. To play, you have to insert the Switch into the Labo Toy-Con headset, and then attach the Joy-Cons to either side and play with your hands on either side of your face. Due to the construction of the headset, I will say that it was not nearly as terrible as I had anticipated, though it still wasn’t ideal. With that in mind, I summoned my sweet bike and began cruising down Hyrule Field, dodging Guardians left and right. It was tough to drive through. I only had a vague idea of where I was going because everything was so muddled and blurry. That, and the map was completely out of view.

Which brings us to what I consider to be the biggest problem. I get that this game was going to see its resolution torn to pieces. I suspected that the controller situation wouldn’t be super cool. But the thing that suffers the most is the user interface. Breath of the Wild did a lot to minimize the interface and provide a sort of frame around the central action. This means everything is thrown hard to one side or another, which is fine! However, it was in no way retrofitted for the virtual reality display. Your hearts, the names of locations, your map, and pretty much all the loading text is mostly out of view. You can’t shift your head to read it, because it’s locked to the edges of your vision at all times. This user interface needed to be overhauled and retrofitted for VR mode. It wasn’t, it suffers greatly, and it’s the biggest thing that makes this absolutely unplayable.

That, and the motion sickness. Again, see my history: 3D, VR, and all sorts of crazy games have never given me that problem. But a few seconds on my cycle, my fight with a Talus, and my trip to visit a passing Dinraal ended with me needing to set the headset down to keep nausea at bay. By the end of my first set of trials with the game, I had to take some medicine and go find my bed because it had wrecked me. This is something that people who make VR games learned very fast to avoid, and yet Nintendo has come in full force and checked off the whole “don’ts” list. It’s such a poor comparison to literally all the other VR stuff they’ve put out this month. I question why it even needed to exist at all, unless it’s to check off a “we got that Zelda thing” box. I’d rather just have Link’s Crossbow Training 2: Hylian Boogaloo.

I went here. It was not this nice.

The big hope here is that Nintendo understands that it can’t do this in the future. It needs to be more thoughtful with what it does with VR, otherwise, it will burn a lot of good will on the whole concept. I fear that someone might have bought the Labo Kit primarily to play Breath of the Wild in VR, and they will feel incredibly disappointed by the poor implementation. If that’s what you wanted out of this setup, I cannot stress enough that you need to avoid the kit altogether. I would highly recommend the actual Labo VR content that comes with the cardboard, as it does so good of a job explaining why VR is awesome while letting you toy with your own stuff. But Breath of the Wild is not what anybody should be looking for, and this attempt needs to be forgotten altogether.

 

Randy Marr