Useful Notes: Virtual Boy
A 3-D game, for a 3-D world.
—Tagline for the console.
Nintendo's little red mistake.
Nintendo console-thing which is a rather infamous case of mismanagement, comparable to Sega
's 32X (and by many accounts, even worse). It was the brainchild of Gunpei Yokoi
(more famous as the software designer of the first three Metroid
games and main designer of the Game Boy
), intended to be a true 3D simulation. While it sort of lives up to that claim, it had a number of problems:
- Though obviously designed to be a handheld system, it couldn't really be held in the hand: it needed support from a flat surface to use correctly.
- However, being awkward to use at least detracted from yet another problem — extended use (say, over 15 minutes at a time) could cause considerable eyestrain. Games came with a mandatory pause feature.
- If you wear glasses, it's no surprise to learn that you'll have serious trouble playing while wearing them.
- The system's games library missed the whole point of the system (that is, to employ first-person view and be, well, a simulation). This said, the library was a surprisingly strong set for a platform so glaringly user-unfriendly and which was pretty much destined to be discontinued quickly.
- The graphics were monochrome, and rather than the usual black and white, it was black and bloody, demonic red, which did not help the eyestrain issue one bit.
- Part of the fun of video games lies in watching your friends play and being watched yourself - oh, and multiplayer games. The Virtual Boy not only had no multiplayer note , but due to the design, it's impossible to watch people play it (and additionally, to effectively demo games to prospective buyers).
The system was released on July 21, 1995 in Japan and in America on August 14. It lasted just five months
in Japan (through December 22, 1995), and another three months in America (through March 22, 1996)...although there were a few Killer Apps
planned for the next few months which never saw release.
The Virtual Boy is widely considered one of the worst game systems of all time. Nintendo considers it an Old Shame
and has gone to some effort to retcon it out of history
, although Super Smash Bros.. Brawl
has a full list of its first- and second-party games. Shigeru Miyamoto
also stated in an Ask Iwata interview that the Virtual Boy's failure killed excitement for 3D at the company, making it hard to initially develop support for the Nintendo 3DS
. He does feel that the system would've succeeded if it was marketed as a toy instead of a full-out gaming system, though.
As for Yokoi, the man who created the Virtual Boy and had been forced to release it in essentially an unfinished state
? After the system's failure, he was Mis-blamed
and Kicked Upstairs
- or so goes the rumor. Yokoi actually had planned to retire shortly after the system's release, but stuck around so rumors that he was fired for its failure wouldn't start circulating, to obvious effect. That, however, is another story entirely.
But there are still quite a few fans, as exemplified by the comprehensive Planet Virtual Boy
...including homebrew games dating back to at least 1999.
- A custom NEC V810 32-bit RISC Processor @ 20 MHz.
- 128KB DRAM
- 128KB VRAM
- 64KB WRAM (Window RAM)
- 16MB megabyte ROM cartridges with an additional 16MB of RAM if needed. Games only used up to 2MB of ROM and 8KB of battery backed RAM in practice
- Dual monochrome red-and-black LED displays.
- 1x224 resolution per screen. The LEDs actually strobe through 384 columns really fast, but it's also stressful for the eyes, hence headaches.
- Took 6AA batteries or a 10V DC power adapter.
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Note that while only 22 games were released, the February 2003 issue of Tips & Tricks
counted the eleven released in both regions as "separate" for the purpose of assessing rarity. The same article also notes that thousands of copies of several Japan-only games (including V-Tetris
) were imported by Electronics Boutique (now EB Games) in 1996 and sold for $10.
- 3D Tetris (US only), basically an Obvious Beta of Tetrisphere. A Japanese version called Polygo Block was planned but not released, although a playable build was present at Space World '95.
- Galactic Pinball, a collection of four space-themed pinball boards that predates Metroid Prime Pinball as Samus' first appearance in the genre.
- Golf (T&E Virtual Golf in Japan), a golf game featuring 47 virtual opponents.
- Insmouse No Yakata (Japan only), a surprisingly creepy and criminally overlooked first-person shooter/Survival Horror game based on the Cthulhu Mythos. The only FPS released, with an American localization planned as Mansion of Insmouse (a prototype build of it surfaced in a 2004 bankruptcy sale auction, where Acclaim's stuff was sold).
- Jack Bros. (with the subtitle No Meirô De Hiihoo! in Japan), the first Shin Megami Tensei game to be released in North America.
- Mario Clash, a revamped version of Mario Bros.. Revisited as a microgame in the first WarioWare.
- Mario's Tennis, Mario's first outing as a tennis player (he'd been a referee in Tennis for the NES and Game Boy).
- Nester's Funky Bowling (US only), the only video game to star former Nintendo Power mascot Nester. It's bowling. With Nester. And it's funky. If bowling was ever by any measure of the imagination "funky".
- Panic Bomber (Tobidase! Panibon in Japan), a Match Three Game spinoff of Bomberman also released for several other platforms.
- Red Alarm (Red Alarm Virtual 3D Shooting Game in Japan), which looked like Battlezone and played like a hybrid of Star Fox and Descent.
- SD Gundam Dimension War (Japan only), one of two games released on the Virtual Boy's last day in Japan.
- Space Invaders Virtual Collection (Japan only)
- Space Squash (Japan only)
- Teleroboxer, best described as Punch-Out!! WITH ROBOTS! Or Real Steel: The Video Game.
- V-Tetris (Japan only), a really bad idea due to being Tetris (i.e., addictive) on a system with an "LED-strobing-gives-you-headaches" element.
- Vertical Force, a Vertical Scrolling Shooter by Hudson Soft, playing like Star Soldier on two layers.
- Virtual Bowling (Japan only), the second of two games released on the Virtual Boy's last day in Japan and the rarest of all 22 that got released.
- Virtual Boy Wario Land (with the subtitle Awazon No Hihou in Japan), more than likely the system's Killer App.
- Virtual Fishing (Japan only). An American version was planned but never released.
- Virtual Lab (Japan only), a puzzle game which was clearly unfinished upon release (for starters, it uses a password-based system with nowhere to input said passwords).
- Virtual League Baseball (Virtual Pro Yakyuu '95 in Japan)
- Waterworld (US only). 'Nuff said.
- 3D Tank, a Battlezone-esque title by Boss Game Studios Inc. that didn't get any farther than a one-level demo.
- Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest, in development for only a few weeks before being scrapped and eventually released on the SNES.
- Doraemon: Nobita no Doki Doki! Obake Land, based on the Japanese Doraemon: World of Faries manga and scheduled for release in March 1996.
- Golden Eye, unrelated to the the game eventually released on the Nintendo 64 — this one was a racing game.
- Interceptor, a Japan-only shooter by Coconuts Japan Entertainment Co., Ltd.
- J-League 3D Stadium, a soccer game by J-Wing which was scheduled for release on March 20, 1996.
- Mighty Morphin Power Rangers...yeah, we know. Bandai was in charge of making this game, which was scheduled for release in Winter 1996.
- Night Landing, a game by Pow. Other than that...nobody knows what it is.
- Faceball (NikoChan Battle in Japan), an entry in the series that would've supported the unreleased Virtual Boy GameLink cable. It's also one of only two unreleased games for the console to have been dumped, and the build appears to be about 80% finished.
- Out of the Deathmount, a shooter (although the existing screenshot makes it seem like a Shadowgate-esque point-and-click game) by J-Wing that was scheduled for release on March 1, 1996.
- Proteus Zone, a game by Coconuts Japan Entertainment Co., Ltd. that was scheduled for release in March 1996.
- Shin Nihon Pro Wrestling Gekitou Densetsu, rumored to have been released in Japan in extremely limited quantities during December 1995.
- Signal Tatto, a Japan-only game by J-Wing. Nobody knows what it is.
- Sora Tobu Henry, a Japan-only game (although despite three pictures existing, nobody knows what it is) scheduled for release on December 15, 1995.
- Star Seed, a game by Coconuts Japan Entertainment Co., Ltd. Nobody knows what it is.
- Strange Animal School, a Japan-only game which might have been something like Tamagotchi.
- Sunday's Point, a game by Coconuts Japan Entertainment Co., Ltd. that was mentioned as an upcoming game at E3 '95. Nobody knows what it is.
- VB Mario Land, a fusion of traditional side-scrolling Mario platforming with the "jump into the background" element of Virtual Boy Wario Land and top-down Zelda-style areas. Based on pictures shown in Nintendo Power and other publications, plus a recording of the one-level demo shown at the Winter CES '95, it appears that Wario was meant to be the villain. While the game was canned and Mario Clash rose from its ashes, the system's lack of a true Mario title definitely hurt its chances more.
- Virtual Block, a 3D Breakout/Arkanoid/Alleyway game with two paddles, each connected to one of the D-Pads. A playable build was present at Space World '95.
- Virtual Bomberman, an entry in the long-running series with 3D explosions. Hudson's booth at Space World '95 showed off the game, which was scheduled for release in December 1995 but pushed to February 29, 1996.
- Virtual Dodgeball, a dodgeball game.
- Virtual Double Yakuman, the third entry in the Mahjong-based game series (the first two were released for the Game Boy and Super Famicom, respectively).
- Virtual Gunman, an FPS that was shown at Space World '95.
- Virtual Jockey, a horse-racing simulator (maybe) and one of the few unreleased games to have official artwork released.
- Virtual League Baseball 2 (Virtual Pro Yakyuu '96 in Japan), a sequel to Virtual League Baseball/Virtual Pro Yakyuu '95.
- Wangan Sensen Red City, a Japan-only Asmik game that, based on the two available pictures, might have been a tactical war simulator.
- Worms, an entry in the series that was canned a few weeks into pre-production when the developers looked into the console and decided it was destined for failure.
Around March 1996, three games prominently took the spotlight in what was to be a relaunch of the console in both America and Japan. These looked to be the Killer Apps
that stood a good chance of at least keeping the system around for a few more months (if not saving it outright), possibly even giving some of the above games a possibility of seeing release:
- Bound High!, an extremely well-done 3-D game that took full advantage of its platform. Scheduled for release on February 23, 1996 in Japan and August 26 in America, it's one of only two unreleased games for the console to have been dumped...and the build appears to be finished.
- Dragon Hopper (Jump Dragon in Japan), a Legend of Zelda-ish action/adventure game that appeared at Space World '95 and E3 '96 along with being previewed by Nintendo Power. Scheduled for release on August 26, 1996.
- Zero Racers (called G-Zero early on), an F-Zero sequel that was previewed by Nintendo Power. Scheduled for release in Fall 1996.
With no sign that the games would ever be released and the system was dead, Nintendo Power
dropped the "Forecast" after Issue 87 (August 1996) and Virtual Boy coverage altogether after Issue 89 (October 1996).
As with many systems, several tech demos were created to show off the Virtual Boy's abilities.
- Dolphins Demo: Dolphins and water effects (a theme Nintendo would use for other systems' tech demos), including a 3D beach scene where the water appears to come in from the horizon. Shown at the Winter CES '95 and E3 '95.
- F1 Demo: A 3D first-person driving demo that runs about 30 seconds. Shown at the Winter CES '95 and E3 '95.
- Mario Demo: The startup screen of the Virtual Boy prototype shown at Shoshinkai '94. The sequence shows a rendered Mario under a simple Virtual Boy logo, the letters of which fly one at a time toward the viewer.
- Sample: Some very simple code that came with the VUE Debugger software, where the user moves a ball around a 3D playfield.
- Sample Soft for VUE Programming: A sample program for Virtual Boy programmers, which also came with each VUE Debugger. The demo consists of five programs, selected with the L and R buttons.
- Starfox Demo: A Star Fox-like ship made of filled polygons (as opposed to the empty ones of Red Alarm), spinning and zooming in 3D. Shown at the Winter CES '95 and E3 '95.
All Hail The Virtual Boy!