Nintendo Virtual Boy: A Diamond in the Rough

A Brief History of the Nintendo Virtual Boy

Ah yes... The Virtual Boy, one of Nintendo's greatest commercial failures. A system that led to a falling out between the company and legendary Game Designer, Gunpei Yokoi (1941-1997). Yokoi is man spear headed the development of famous Nintendo handheld devices like the Game & Watch, and Game Boy.

In the early 1990's, Nintendo found themselves intrigued with the idea of 3D stereoscopic head-tracking and began the creation of a project dubbed - "VR32". The VR32 (later released as the Virtual Boy). Nintendo seemed poised for a leap into the future; Virtual Reality technology has always been something fascinating to both casual and hardcore audiences alike. Having the leader of the gaming market spearhead and pave the way for VR to make its way into the average consumer household would be ground breaking, and with Nintendo putting one of their top designers at the helm of engineering and designing the device it seemed like there was no way they could botch this project.

However... The Virtual Boy became a product riddled with flaws and questionable choices in design which would become the defining pieces of its own death. It lacked head-tracking and relied on a monochromatic color scheme of black/red. These were choices made largely due to health concerns and budget limitations. Many consumers would come to find themselves experiencing headaches and other symptoms like nausea because of the aforementioned features.

Nintendo Virtual Boy

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Another nail in the coffin for the Virtual Boy was fact it was in the wrong market. The system was considered to be part of Nintendo's line-up of portable systems, when in most cases the game system was considered uncomfortable to play even in your own home. The ergonomics of the Virtual Boy are awkward and clumsy. The stand is rigid, but not flexible; offering only a few degrees of movement allowing for almost no variation on how to play it, other than standing or sitting down. It lacked a nose-piece, so if you decided to lay down and play it while on your back, the console would apply most of it's pressure to the bridge of your nose. Lastly, it lacked the features most contemporary HMDs (Head Mounted Display) units feature today, a proper head strap.

With all of these issues and problems with the Virtual Boy, the console bombed out and was discontinued in less than a year of being on the market (August 16, 1995 to March 2, 1996). So clearly these things are useless and there's no reason to own one, right...?


Not exactly...

Fast Forward to 2016

You see... a local game store in my hometown of Festus, Missouri happened to get a hold of a Virtual Boy for their Black Friday sales. As a collector and fan of such oddities as the Virtual Boy, it was a hard bargain to pass up. I spent a week in deep thought and consideration on whether or not I wanted to buy it. Friday rolls around and its a cold morning as we wait outside the shop. The owner identifies me in the crowd and tells me that he has the machine reserved for me, however... there was a caveat. The left-eye display on the Virtual Boy went out and they weren't able to get it repaired in time for the sales. This caused him to knock $20 off the sale price, which they were already selling it for waaaay under the value that these things normally go for.

Nintendo Virtual Boy in Store

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I'm no stranger to repair jobs. I've spent 50% of my life as an unemployed IT Worker through my teenage years. This is just another drop in the bucket for me. I managed to get a Virtual Boy for a cheap price along with a bundled game of "Galactic Pinball", and honestly I couldn't be more satisfied with my purchase. I would have been okay with paying a higher price now that I've had some time to let things sink in and get exposure to the console. It's fantastic.

I understand that I'm in a noticeably different situation than a kid begging their parents to drop a crisp $179.95 on a new Virtual Boy circa 1995. But as a collector in the modern age, this thing still has quite a bit of use as a solid game console for fans of retro games. You might have to accept that it only has like 14-something games that ever released for it and most of them are so over-the-top expensive that only serious collectors could ever get a hold of them. But that's a different topic, I'm here to highlight the things I've really come to appreciate about the console now that I actually own one; rather than be some random guy on an internet forum that is like, "MAN THE VIRTAL BOY SUCKS, HORTS MAH EYES" just because I watched the Angry Video Game Nerd or some other internet personality give a satirical review of it. Sure, there is merit to the headache and nausea claim. The system absolutely shouldn't be played for long duration of time. With that said, many of the games I've been able to play are arcade-like; you wouldn't want to play these games for a long time anyway. You pick them up, pass a little time having fun, then you put the controller down and do something else with your day.

Nintendo Virtual Boy Controller

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Speaking of the controller
, I think that's easily one of the highlights of the system. It's a bit on the goofy side if you look at compared to regular controllers. Lanky would be the best way to describe it, also the dual D-Pad is something that hasn't ever been used beyond the Virtual Boy, but it works especially in games like Teleroboxer. But overall it's comfortable and feels pretty natural to play on. Well... As long as you're able to ignore the clunky AC/Battery pack or on back, it still plays well and is nice to use.

The next point is that the 3D effects and Graphics are pretty solid for what it is. The console is a 32-Bit game system (hence the name VR32), and it is fairly impressive with the graphical fidelity it can display. The system itself runs on a red LED display, rather than LCD. This allows for the Virtual Boy to achieve a very high degree of contrast between the red and black, as the LED is able to show total black, whereas a backlit LCD would not. What is created is a sense of almost infinite depth, which works well in some games like Galactic Pinball which has a background based off of outer space the starscape. The 3D, while not necessary, works pretty well in all the games I've played. It's not perfect, but it's also not incredibly shallow and unappealing. It's roughly in the same ballpark as the depth the Nintendo 3DS can create; of course it's no where near the quality of the the 3DS, but you have to account for the fact the systems are about 16 years apart in their development.

For a console that was quickly abandoned in its era of launch, it holds up remarkably well as a retro device in the year 2016. Personally, I'd recommend it if you have a little extra spending cash and are into the video game collecting scene. It's a great piece for not only its novelty, but its place history with Nintendo. It's something you can put on display, and bust out for a party or an event and take people on a trip back in time. Then you break out your Vive or Oculus Rift and show them how far we've come along.

All in all, try one. It's better than it's reputation.




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