The Virtual Boy is crap. It is the least portable, portable system of all time, even worse than the Game Gear or the Atari Lynx. It’s so not portable that it came with a large black stand attached to the base making it virtually unplayable. The red and black color scheme was used partly to save on money and partly to stop the blurring that occurred with the Gameboy’s green scheme, but only worked to give it a weird Tron style feel. The 3D effects on it were so bad most people could only play it for around 10 minutes before they got headaches, and the music simply blared out to all those around you.
Not that this all matters because the library of games for it is small, uninspired and simply bad. Most games are sports games or space shooters and only one, Teleroboxer, is played in first person, something which all games available in the first step of virtual reality technology should be. So missed is the opportunity for immersion that even games like Mario Tennis, which feels perfectly equipped for a first person immersion, takes place somewhere a little behind Mario’s head.
It was both a commercial and critical failure. It sold only 350,000 units in its first Christmas out of a projected 3 million and is often placed high on lists of the worst consoles of all time. And yet, the Virtual Boy’s legacy endures. It is a crucial part of gaming’s rich history and a mistake that Nintendo needed to make in order for the games industry to move forward.
Consumers had seen console gaming going the way of virtual reality for decades. How many futuristic films depicted people wearing virtual reality headgear much like the Oculus Rift long before the technology was ever possible? The Virtual Boy has the look of a machine all gamers had been dreaming of—a futuristic form of complete immersion. It’s safe to say that the Virtual Boy was way before it’s time. The 3D effects were very unrefined and produced in an age when people weren’t spending so much on gaming as a hobby; the Virtual Boy was doomed to failure restrained by the need for an affordable price point.
When Nintendo’s 3DS came out in 2011, 16 years after the Virtual Boy, it was seen as Nintendo’s first successful foray into the world of 3D gaming, and the Virtual Boy was looked on nostalgically as the big brother that paved the way for its more successful sibling. In reality of course the Virtual Boy is more like a disastrously failed experiment, but a lesson learned that helped Nintendo on its way to creating the 3DS. In a way the Virtual Boy had to burn in order for the 3DS to rise from the ashes.
And yet the Virtual Boy is so very collectible. I have my own stored lovingly in my glass cabinet of gaming memorabilia that should have been good, but in reality was a bit pants, lay next to my Game Gear, Casio Loopy, and R.O.B. I didn’t buy it to play it often, I don’t because as I mentioned earlier it’s pretty crap, but because it was such an important part of gaming history it seems wrong to not experience owning it at least once in my life.
So here is to you Virtual Boy: 20 years on you are still pretty crap, but boy do we love you for it.