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Useful Notes / Virtual Boy

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"A 3-D game, for a 3-D world."
—Tagline for the console.
Nintendo's (not-so) little red mistake.

The Virtual Boy was a 32-bit portable console...thing from Nintendo, and remains the company's most notorious failure, comparable to Sega's tumorous 32X (and by many accounts, even worse). It was the brainchild of Gunpei Yokoi, father of the Game Boy and lead designer on the first three Metroids. It was intended to be a true 3D simulation. While it sort of lives up to that claim, it had a number of problems:

  1. Though clearly designed to be a head-worn system, it couldn't really be worn: It needed support from a flat surface to play correctly. The main reason for this is Japanese safety regulations that forbid wearing a game system while moving. You needed to be sitting in an uncomfortable position in order to play it.
  2. Extended use caused eye strain. Games came with an optional automatic pause feature to relieve this. If the focus and IPD weren't adjusted properly, it could cause headaches in addition to serious eye strain. This led people casually using display kiosks or not reading the instruction manual to assume that it caused headaches and eye strain all the time, which spread bad word-of-mouth.
  3. The games library missed the whole point of the system. Few of the games were first-person and most were simple sports games or parallax scrollers. That said, the library was a surprisingly strong set for a platform which was pretty much discontinued right away, Virtual Boy Wario Land being the stand-out here.
  4. The graphics were monochrome black and red, as red LEDs were cheaper and more reliable than other colors, and the human eye can spot the '3D' effect better in monochrome.
  5. Part of the fun of video games lies in watching your friends play and being watched yourself, hence multiplayer games. The Virtual Boy was planned to have a link cable and included a port for one, but it was never released. And due to the design, it's impossible to watch people play it. Effectively, this prevented Nintendo from demo-ing the games to prospective buyers.
  6. The biggest problem was that Nintendo decided to use cheap glue on the display ribbons, rather than soldering. This means that when the glue decayed, the display stopped working and the ribbons had to be soldered. (This problem also exists in Game Boys to a much-lesser extent.)

The system was released on July 21, 1995 in Japan and in America on August 14. It lasted only five months in Japan (through December 22, 1995) and another three months in America (through March 22, 1996). There were some would-be 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 went to some effort to expunge it from history, outright refusing to port Virtual Boy games to the Virtual Console. Shigeru Miyamoto himself stated in an Ask Iwata interview that the Virtual Boy's failure killed all enthusiasm for 3D within the company, making it hard to generate support for the Nintendo 3DS. He believes that the system would've succeeded if it was marketed as a toy instead of a game console. As for Yokoi, the man who created the Virtual Boy and was forced to release it in an essentially-unfinished state, he 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.


However, Super Smash Bros. Brawl has a full list of the VB's first and second-party games on its "Chronicle" (a reference sheet for all of the crossovers and in-jokes therein), and the company as a whole has since taken to use the system's existence as a point of Self-Deprecation. As with any defunct platform, there is still a cult of Virtual Boy fans and collectors out there, as exemplified by the comprehensive Planet Virtual Boy, which includes homebrew games dating back to at least '99.



  • A custom NEC V810 32-bit RISC Processor @ 20 MHz.


  • 128KB DRAM
  • 128KB VRAM
  • 64KB WRAM (Window RAM)
  • 16MB 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.


  • VSU-VUE custom sound hardware - 5 wavetable channels and 1 noise channel, easily comparable to the PSG of the PC-Engine, which was released about 8 years earlier)


  • 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. One of two games on the system that uses both of the controller's D-Pads.
  • 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 which 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 game to officially star then-Nintendo Power mascot Nester. (However "Lark" in Pilotwings 64 is clearly Nester by a different name.) 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. One of only two games that actually tried the "3D first-person simulation" angle.
  • 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". One of two games on the system that uses both of the controller's D-Pads, and one of only two games that actually tried the "3D first-person simulation" angle.
  • V-Tetris (Japan only), a really bad idea due to being Tetris (i.e., addictive) on a system with an "LED strobing that gives you headaches if you play too long" 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 Hihō in Japan), more than likely the closest thing the system had to a Killer App.
  • Virtual Fishing (Japan only). An American version was planned for release in Winter (later Fall) 1996, but never released.
  • Virtual Lab (Japan only), a puzzle game which was clearly unfinished upon release (for one, it uses a password-based system with nowhere to input said passwords).
  • Virtual League Baseball (Virtual Pro Yakyuu '95 in Japan). Notable for being one of the few baseball games that allows you to play with international baseball teams rather than club-based baseball teams from a specific country or fictitious ones.
  • Waterworld (US only). 'Nuff said. The only non-Japanese game developed for the console, and the sole movie-based game on the system. Called a case of The Problem with Licensed Games by The Angry Video Game Nerd.

Note that some of these games have little to no info listed not for the sake of space, but because little to no info is known to have been released about them.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • GoldenEye, unrelated to 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.
  • Invincible Iron Man Gagaga-In, an action/fighting game by Hudson involving giant mecha. The game was canned not far into production, though a demo ROM is known to exist.
  • J-League 3D Stadium, a soccer game by J-Wing which was scheduled for release on March 20, 1996.
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, developed by Bandai, which was scheduled for release in Fall 1995 but was later delayed to Winter 1996.
  • Night Landing, a game by Pow. Other than that... nobody knows what it is.
  • 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 five 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. Most likely the inspiration for Bomberman World for the PlayStation three years later.
  • 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). Scheduled for release on February 1, 1996.
  • Virtual Gunman, an FPS that was shown at Space World '95 and scheduled for release in March 1996.
  • 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 that was scheduled for release in March 1996.
  • 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 better possibility of seeing release:

  • Bound High!, a very well-done 3D 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 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 also previewed by Nintendo Power. Scheduled for release in Fall 1996.

While Nintendo Power Issue 87 (August 1996) previewed Zero Racers and listed the aforementioned three games as having release dates of "Fall '96" on the Forecast page, the magazine was evidently told they wouldn't be released and the system was in fact dead - the Virtual Boy section of the Forecast page was dropped immediately afterward and the magazine stopped coverage of the system altogether after Issue 89 (October 1996), which printed a few codes for Jack Bros. and Panic Bomber. The magazine did revisit the system a few times between 2005-09, though.

    Tech Demos 
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 Winter CES '95 and E3 '95.
  • F1 Demo: A 3D first-person driving demo that runs about 30 seconds. Shown at 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 Winter CES '95 and E3 '95.

All Hail The Virtual Boy!

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