20 years ago, on July 21st 1995, the Virtual Boy became available in stores in Japan. Less than a month later, August 14th, it released in North America as well. We never got to see a release here in Europe but it was advertised and many people were excited to see it, but disappointed that it never came out. Unfortunately the console got discontinued not even half a year later! On December 22nd 1995 the Virtual Boy was discontinued in Japan, and 3 months later on March 2nd 1996 it discontinued in North America.
The Virtual Boy only sold a mere 770,000 units, it’s Nintendo’s lowest selling console ever! The launch price of a Virtual Boy was $180, and it was supposed to be a considered “handheld” system. Compared to the Game Boy which initially cost $89.99 the Virtual Boy wasn’t attractive enough to justify the price tag. The portability was questioned, since it was on a stand and there was no way of equipping it on your head like a “real” VR headset. It only had one color, red on black, it was less powerful than home consoles, and even though it was 3D it wasn’t interesting enough to beat the other handhelds on the market which had more colors. Finally the health issues were on all the parents’ minds, the Virtual Boy even had a built in function to turn itself off after 15-30 minutes of gameplay so that the player could take a break before any injuries occurred to their eyes! That and the warnings that use of the Virtual Boy might cause epileptic attacks, nausea and headaches probably made parents hesitate on buying one for their kids. Still today many people who have tried gaming on a Virtual Boy states that they experience nausea when playing, I thankfully don’t! ;D
Apart from all this, at launch Nintendo partnered up with Blockbuster, having 3000 stores to rent out the Virtual Boy console for $10, once returned they got a $10 coupon for when purchasing their own Virtual Boy. This proved damaging to the system though, since everybody got to see what the system actually was (or was not!) capable of instead of being lured in by the advertisements. The console was rented out to 750,000 people in total during the campaign.
When I started collecting games some 12 years ago I bumped into the Virtual Boy for the first time on eBay, I got super intrigued and had to find out what it was! After getting my first Virtual Boy I became obsessed with the obscurity of the system and started collecting everything I could find related to it! Today I have 3 Virtual Boys (had a 4th which I gave to a friend) and almost all the games released for it. My latest purchase was Space Invaders which was only released in Japan. I am now only missing some obscure Gundam game and Virtual Lab I think.
I prefer the box art on the Japanese games, they’re usually prettier, but the US ones do carry a certain nostalgic charm to them as well :) Here’s all my Virtual Boy games with some screenshots I tried taking with my camera through the lenses on the VB, it was hard to get good focus ;D
Vertical Force is probably my favorite Virtual Boy game :) It’s a shmup with an awesome soundtrack! :D It’s kind of cools since you can switch between two different levels of depth in the stage, but it also makes it much more difficult than a “flat” shmup.
Space Invaders is also pretty cool, there’s both a classic 2D mode and a new 3D mode. It’s not that different from regular space invaders though.
Insmouse no Yakatta (インスマウスの館) is a dungeon crawling horror game, you walk through corridors and encounter creepy monsters. It was only released in Japan.
Jack Bros (ジャック・ブラザースの迷路でヒーホー!) is also a fun game. You can choose between three different characters, and the game is sort of a top-down platformer where you collect keys and enter new levels and encounter bosses. There’s a time limit on each stage which is kind of annoyingly short..
V-Tetris (V・テトリス) is just like normal Tetris. There’s just some flying spots in the background (maybe it’s supposed to resemble space and stars?) that are sort of 3D. I really like Tetris though, and it’s got good music ^_^
3D Tetris is different though! This is much like Blockout on Sega Mega Drive, but harder, since the platform keeps moving around like a 3D model.
Waterworld is based on a horrible movie with Kevin Costner, the game wasn’t all that bad though.. it’s not good, but it’s not awful. It’s a shooter where you’re some kind of boat shooting at people on jet skis hahaha ^__^
Nester’s Funky Bowling is quite a rare one out of the US releases, it’s a bowling game.. and I’m not that into that :/
Panic Bomber (とびだせ！ぱにボン) was only released in Japan. Just like in V-Tetris it’s not really using the 3D effects much, but Panic Bomber is fun anyway :) Not as good as Tetris though ;D
Space Squash (スペース スカッシュ) is the only game I own that I haven’t played.. because I only have one copy of it, and it’s still sealed >_< I need to find an opened one, but so far this is the only copy I’ve ever encountered.. This game was also only released in Japan.
Galactic Pinball (ギャラクティック・ピンボール) is just what it sounds like, a pinball game. I’ve never quite gotten into those… This was released both in the US and Japan.
Teleroboxer (テレロボクサー) is a first-person boxing game, which was released in both regions. This is one of the few exceptions where I think the US boxart is actually better than the Japanese ;D
Warioland (ワリオランド) is a nice platformer, just like the old school super mario games :) It’s quite challenging as well! Was released in both regions and the box art is really similar…
Red Alarm (レッドアラーム) is a rail shooter which basically just looks like lines that haven’t been finished drawn.. quite annoying, especially with all the explosions and tiny sticks flying around >_< I prefer the Japanese box art on this one, what do you think? :)
Mario Clash (マリオクラッシュ) is what you would have hoped to be the platforming classic Mario game, but it’s not. Instead you’re stuck on one screen where you move through tunnels to the front or back and try to hit enemies that are on the opposite side by throwing other enemies at them.. gets boring after a while..
Golf (or Virtual Golf in Japanese バーチャル ゴルフ) is a golf game. I hate sports games >_< On this one though I also kind of appreciate the US boxart more, but they’re both hideous ;D
Mario’s Tennis (マリオズテニス) was released in both regions, and this is a game that uses the 3D effects well. I still don’t like sports games very much so I rarely play this one. I bet it would have been cool if they would have released a link cable so you could battle a friend on another Virtual Boy though, but that never happened :/
Last and definitely least in my book is Virtual League Baseball (called Pro Yakyuu ’95 バーチャルブロ野球’95 in Japan). I just don’t enjoy sports…
There’s a whole homebrew scene for the system today though, I haven’t gotten into that yet, but I am considering getting myself a Flashboy so I can get to see all the games that were never released and also some of the new games that has been made for the system, since the original library only contains about 22 games or so.
Anyway, I would like to celebrate this old 32-bit system’s birthday by running down to the super market and buying a big package of batteries, plugging in 6 of them in the Virtual Boy controller and then play some Vertical Force, followed by V Tetris and maybe some Space Invaders ^_^