I vividly remember the disappointment I felt when I bought a PS1 lightgun for Time Crisis and it didn’t recoil after I pulled the trigger. It quickly became clear that, aside from the thrills of seeing the game on a big screen or gleefully wasting all my dad’s spare change, something about that plasticky kickback alone made the arcade version feel special – so much so that I continued scraping together pound coins to play the cabinet version while my copy at home was slowly entombed in dust.
Over the course of three sets it’s become clear to me that I enjoy building Labo’s Toy-Con more than I enjoy playing what those controllers enable, but Nintendo’s latest ream of cardboard, the evocatively named Toy-Con 03: Vehicle Kit, comes with an added bonus after you’ve put it all together. It doesn’t let me down like that lightgun.
The Vehicle Kit primarily consists of the pieces needed to construct a car steering wheel, plane joystick and submarine… hand-cogs. For its first trick, the kit also has you construct a key which, with a right Joy-Con inserted, can be put into each of the other pieces, reads some white tape (this, by the way, is still absurd to me) and seamlessly changes the in-game vehicle to match your peripheral.
But the real heart of all this, to me, is the pedal. Used alongside every other vehicle piece, it’s by far the simplest build, essentially just two rectangular boxes attached by an elastic band – but with a Joy-Con inserted, it uses the Switch’s increasingly essential HD Rumble to gorgeous effect. The pedal, this well-recycled house-moving box, suddenly becomes a rumbling, buzzing mechanism under your foot. You feel the chug of a trundling engine as you begin to put pedal to the corrugated card, an increasingly frantic pulse when tugging an afterburner pulley, even a thump as your car lands a jump.
Driving around the Vehicle Kit’s miniature, surreal open world at my desk feels like I’ve secretly smuggled arcade cabinet pieces into work. And yes, I know force feedback steering wheels have existed for decades at this point, but: a) they weren’t made out of cardboard and, b) I didn’t build them myself.
Just as I didn’t understand quite why Time Crisis without the kickback felt worse, I’m not able to formalise exactly why I think this is quite so good. I think I like it for the same reason I enjoyed Dropmix. Both take something so ordinary – cardboard slabs, or trading cards – and makes them do something unexpected. There’s a gentle, unassuming magic at work that feels beyond the realm of regular games.
This, really, is Labo’s promise realised – not just making cardboard communicate with a game, but having them feel linked inextricably somehow. I am likely not the target market for all this. You probably aren’t either. But I would have been back when I was playing Time Crisis.