The lowest resolution Zelda since the first one.
On paper, the pitch for Breath of the Wild in VR sounds like a no-brainer. One of the best open worlds ever crafted can only get better with a little extra immersion. No doubt under the right circumstances this could be true, and perhaps one day those circumstances may come to pass, but unfortunately we are not there yet. The Labo VR support patch for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild runs into trouble in three distinct areas: implementation, playability, and performance.
The concept of being able to freely look around Hyrule sounds great. While it was immediately obvious that this VR version of the Breath of the Wild wouldn’t support a first-person viewpoint, I had at least hoped for 1:1 head tracking. Instead of your head position being mapped to looking around from a locked position behind Link, this movement instead orbits the camera around him. For example, if you turn your head to the right, the camera will orbit around to Link’s left just as it would if you moved the analogue stick. You still ultimately wind up looking in the direction you want to look, but there is a disconnect between the movement you perform and what happens before your eyes. Having all this happen in VR results in an immediately nauseating experience that your brain will not thank you for.
In contrast to Nintendo’s Mario Odyssey update which adds VR-focused levels, the patch for Breath of the Wild grants you free reign of the entire game in VR. And while this is certainly an interesting feature, the Labo VR headset simply isn’t meant for long play sessions. Nintendo clearly intends for the player to leave the Joy-Con attached and hold the Switch up to their face while they play. If you’ve ever wanted to test the circulation to your arms, this is a great opportunity. What I found more realistic was using my homemade labo head strap. To Breath of the Wild’s credit, it does allow you to play with a wireless controller almost as if Nintendo knew you were going to rig up a strap of some kind.
Since launching their VR platform, Sony has been very strict about the performance levels of VR games on their system. Sony’s policy is to not allow games that run at less than 60 frames per second to be released for the Playstation VR. This frame rate helps reduce lag and thus reduce motion sickness and headaches. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is, at best, a 30-frames-per-second game. It is also a game that operates on a variable resolution. Given that Labo VR uses the Switch’s portable setup, the best you can hope for is 360p per eye (half of the native 720p resolution). Breath of the Wild regularly dips below its target in both resolution and frame rate, resulting in some extremely rough moments.
I play a lot of VR games on various platforms. I’m a huge fan and supporter of the technology and in general love the affordability with which Nintendo is approaching it. These VR updates are free, so worst case scenario they’re something you’ll never pay for and never play. That being said, it is clear that the Breath of the Wild VR patch was put together with minimal effort and it shows in every aspect of the experience. While at times you will admittedly encounter a view with a scale that is conveyed by VR to a degree you may never have seen before, it is for the most part and underperforming mess of pixels. I hope Nintendo continues these VR updates, as I do think there are plenty of games that could work wonderfully with this technology. That being said, if these updates are to continue, they must be held to a higher standard more befitting Nintendo’s history of game development.