It always seemed too good to be true. A virtual reality update to Breath of the Wild that enables you to play the entire game with the Labo VR Goggles? Blimey Charlie! Despite all our nagging doubts, the very fact that Nintendo was putting it out meant it must pass a minimum quality threshold, no? At the very least it wouldn't reduce players to nauseous, woozy wrecks after a few minutes of play, surely?
Unfortunately, it seems that is exactly what it does. We expected to hear caveats and advice from Nintendo – and to be fair we’ve heard the developers state that it’s mainly intended to be used ‘on and off' for scenic spots and checking out our favourite NPCs - but masochists are absolutely free to play the entire game in VR.
In some ways it’s admirably un-Nintendo to simply tag on a blanket mode and send it out into the wild, but it only takes a short while to realise that a small, bespoke VR area might have been the better option after all.
Frankly, Hyrule is very hard to stomach in VR, certainly for any length of time. Anybody thinking of picking up a custom 3D-printed pair of Switch VR goggles and headstrap on Etsy might want to hold off – the pain as the lactic acid builds up in your arms while holding the Switch to your face signals the duration the average gamer will be able to manage Breath of the Wild through VR goggles. As we write this, we’re still feeling a little spaced out following an hour or so of play.
The motion from the camera is the problem. The gyro in the console enables you to look around but rather than rooting you to the spot, you float around Lakitu-style behind Link. Look skywards and the camera moves in closer to Link, just as it does when you do the same using the right stick; look down and ‘you’ zoom out further. This, in addition to the regular rotational movement, instantly feels strange as your brain struggles to marry the erratic visual data with the information it’s getting from your inner ear.
Anybody with a cursory knowledge of VR will tell you that this disconnect is one of the biggest problems developers face and, frankly, Switch isn’t equipped to deal with it. Standing in one spot is one thing, but while in motion the screen resolution, refresh rate and various other factors become much more important – all of the things which we were worried about from the very first announcement.
It is possible to mitigate some of the effects. Turning motion aiming off in the menu stops the gyro from registering your head movement, meaning you can last longer, but it’s simply delaying the inevitable. In terms of immersion, the field of view offered on Switch is too narrow to improve upon a big ol' TV. Yes, Hyrule has depth but you're looking at it through binoculars, and very pixelated ones at that.
Things feel much better when you’re gliding. Climbing (or warping if you’re clever) to the highest place on your map and leaping into the air, the sense of depth provided by the Goggles is impressive. Looking down may well give you a sense of vertigo – anybody for whom this is their first brush with VR will likely be impressed with that sensation, at least. Until they start developing pain behind the eyeballs and feeling dizzy, that is.
Any other part of normal gameplay is tough, though. Combat scenarios get messy quickly. Guardian battles aren’t easy at the best of times but with one of the beasts bearing down on you – and while you're struggling to control Link with your hands cramped up around your face – the last thing you want is to be battling wooziness as well.
Who knows – we imagine the homebrew scene will be reverse engineering this mode into the Wii U version for use on emulators and perhaps we’ll see a HTC Vive or Oculus version of this which solves the tech problems inherent to Switch. Zelda in VR seems like an experiment that somehow escaped Nintendo's R&D department. It's a nice gesture, but not something you’ll want to – or will be able to – spend any length of time with.
We’ll keep our fingers crossed for another update. We’d jump at the chance, for example, to unearth a few specially-developed VR shrines more along the lines of the Super Mario Odyssey VR content. As it is, Breath of the Wild through the Labo VR Goggles is a nausea-inducing failure - a noble, curious one, but a failure nonetheless.
Have you tried out Breath of the Wild in VR mode yet? How did you feel afterwards? Share your thoughts below.