I finished Bioshock: Infinite on Wednesday, which was a day after its’ release. I think it’s the fastest I’ve completed a game in over a year. Last time I finished a game that quick was when I played the everloving hell out of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Anyway, I was feeling the need to play something else after finishing Bioshock. So, I did what anyone would do and I fired up my Nintendo Virtual Boy. After putting in some V-Tetris, I was off to a red-colored land of falling blocks and painful eye strain.
The Virtual Boy was Nintendo’s attempt to make a virtual reality game console in the mid 1990s. Y’know, since virtual reality was the wave of the future back then. The Virtual Boy looked a hell of a lot like what you would expect a virtual reality device to look like; it was a big pair of goggles that you had to look into to see the game, and a nifty game controller that had two directional pads, which was kind of novel. Note that I said “novel”, not “useful” or “needed.”
Sounds pretty cool, right?
Well, yeah. It is. It’s friggin’ sweet. There’s a few very glaring flaws with the system design, though.
– The system uses special black magic to allow the user to see games in 3D. This is something that’s all the rage right now, so to see it on a console that was released in 1995 is pretty amazing. The flaws of stereoscopic 3D still plague the system, however. It is very hard to play games for more than a few minutes at a time due to the eye strain that occurs when looking at the screen for long periods of time. There was even a disclaimer on the box that warned that children under the age of 6 shouldn’t play the console due to the potential for it to cause PERMANENT EYE DAMAGE.
– The Virtual Boy used a red and black color scheme to display its games. This, coupled with the 3D issues listed above, made for a sometimes-disorienting game experience. Some people have claimed that it also makes red things harder to see once you stop playing, as well.
– There were a little over a dozen games released in the US, so there isn’t much to choose from. It’s unfortunate, too – A lot of the games are really good. Even more tragic is the fact that most of them haven’t been released since.
The game lineup was… interesting. Here’s a few of my favorite games for the console:
– Wario Land is probably the best game on the Virtual Boy, and it’s usually the first one that people track down for the system. This was the game that made me need a Virtual Boy, back when I played one in a Service Merchandise while my mom was shopping for school clothes and stuff that actually mattered. It’s a ridiculously fun platformer, where you play as Mario’s even-more-overweight and greedy opposite, collecting coins and elbowing enemies in the face. This game plays similar to the rest of the Wario Land series, but it’s most similar to the first one on the Game Boy. Despite the fact that this game was more or less the killer app for the Virtual Boy, it hasn’t seen a release since ’95.
– V-Tetris. This was actually a Japan-only release, developed by one of my favorite companies, Bullet Proof Software. They’re the people responsible for games like Yoshi’s Cookie, Hatris, and… Michael Andretti’s Indy Car Challenge. They haven’t made much. Now, Tetris is a game that is hard to screw up. And, honestly, BPS didn’t really screw up here. The biggest hurdle to overcome was the 3D effect with the Virtual Boy, and they didn’t quite do it. Now, don’t get me wrong. The 3D works fine. It’s actually a really cool effect that made me flinch a little bit because it actually kind-of-sort-of looked like the blocks were actually coming towards me. The game plays great, as well. The problem is that Tetris is an addictive game. Putting an addictive game on a console that can physically harm you is a terrible idea. I played this for about an hour straight earlier today, and I felt awful afterwards. Most of the Virtual Boy games are designed for short bursts of gameplay, so you can take a break from playing when you feel lousy. Tetris doesn’t quite work like that.
-Nester’s Funky Bowling. There isn’t anything particularly “funky” about it. It’s just a bowling game, starring Nester. Who is Nester, you may ask? Well, he’s was the long-time mascot of Nintendo Power, which was a magazine that recently ended, just after the launch of Nintendo’s Wii U. Nester appeared in a monthly comic strip for Nintendo Power, which highlighted a different game for each comic. Nester’s Funky Bowling is one hell of a bowling game. It’s a genre that I honestly have no interest in, but this one manages to actually be enjoyable. It’s satisfying as hell to actually get a strike, and Nester’s reactions whenever you don’t get one are very amusing.
The Virtual Boy’s library was small. Most of the games didn’t see a release outside of the console. There’s a few more gems in the VB library, such as Vertical Force, a shooter by Hudson Soft, and the incredibly-rare Jack Bros., which is a dungeon crawler in the style of Gauntlet. Jack Bros. is actually the first game in the Shin Megami Tensei series to be brought over to the US. It was published by Atlus, which basically means that it’s incredibly expensive on the aftermarket because Atlus didn’t make nearly enough copies of the game, like always (see: Run Saber, Snowboard Kids 2, Ogre Battle 64, and any of the Shin Megami Tensei games).
The Virtual Boy was a gigantic failure for Nintendo. In fact, it was their first “real” failure in the game industry. The general public just didn’t catch on to the whole craze of virtual reality once all of its’ flaws were apparent, and the sales of the VB reflected that. This thing was nearly given away by 1996. It’s treated as a huge black mark on Nintendo’s history, even moreso than the mistakes they made when developing the Nintendo 64. Needless to say, Nintendo really doesn’t like to talk about it right now.
I think a lot of the criticism is valid. The console is not well-designed, and the pain that can be caused by LOOKING AT THE SCREEN is a huge issue that cannot be avoided. Despite this, a lot of the games on the VB are really good, and it’s a shame that a lot of people didn’t experience it. Most people who have heard of the VB in passing will dump it with truly horrible game consoles, like the Tiger Game.Com or the Hyperscan. That’s not really fair. Te Virtual Boy actually has good stuff on it, and you owe it to yourself to at least give it a play if you ever see one. Just make sure to bring some eyedrops.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go build a vest out of my spare copies of Michael Andretti’s Indy Car Challenge.