Published on January 7th, 2012 | by Shawn Long, Features Editor
[Editorial] Virtual Boy: No Chance to Become a Man
Nintendo has always been known in our industry as a risk taker. The Nintendo 64 console was a risk because the company kept the cartridge format. The Nintendo DS was a risk because of the touch screen. The Nintendo Wii was a risk because of motion controls and a weaker graphics card. For better or worse however, all of these risks for Nintendo paid off in the long run and lead to high system sales and branded the name Nintendo as the risk takers powered by those who knew what they were doing. Before all that however, there was one little guy the tried. He was a boy, only two colors could he see and shortly after his birth, he was smashed down to reality. The Virtual Boy — no chance to become a man.
Gunpei Yokoi, the father of the Game Boy, was the mind behind the project. The massive video game company, Nintendo, was the power behind the project. Three-dimensional graphics with full immersion gameplay? Twice as powerful as the Super Nintendo? On paper, this sounds like the greatest system ever. Oh, and it’s portable? Sony and SEGA don’t have a chance! Well, that’s what a lot of people were thinking. I remember I was 10 years old and Christmas was coming up. I was told I could have a new system. My choices? Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn, or the Nintendo Virtual Boy. I remember it like yesterday and without hesitation, I said “Virtual Boy!”. The strange thing is, I don’t know remember why I gravitated towards it. I actually had a Sega Genesis with around 30 games, so I was a big fan of SEGA. The charm of the Virtual Boy sucked me in though. Three-dimensional gaming in a cool headset? You could only see or play things like that at a large carnival. Sure enough, Christmas morning, I had my very own Virtual Boy.
Virtual Boy was released in America on August 14, 1995 and was doomed from the start. The 3D effect was dodgy at best, and more importantly the graphics were only in black and red. Several reports of headaches and nausea were tagged to the system, so much that when it was released in America it had a warning telling you to take a break every 15 minutes. It even had a built in feature that would stop your game every 15 minutes so you could rest your eyes. Packed in was Mario Tennis, which was a solid game, but didn’t provide true 3D effects, and the digitized sprites didn’t help the effect much either. Still, I was enthralled with it. Maybe it was the child in me who just enjoyed a new toy, but I remember playing the Virtual Boy for hours. I was proud of my red and black monster, no matter what anyone else thought.
I was one of the only ones happy though. After an astonishing seven months, the Virtual Boy was discontinued, with a paltry 14 games being released stateside. Nintendo swept the debacle under the rug while releasing the Nintendo 64, and all was forgiven. The Virtual Boy became the butt end of many jokes, with prices slashed to as little as $20 for a new system in his final month. The boy was dead, and the industry didn’t seem to care. Consumers were left to search through the wreckage for a reason to hold onto the Virtual Boy, but I feel that in retrospect the system did have some solid titles.
Mario Tennis, Teleroboxer, Wario Land, and Vertical Force were fun, solid titles. Each game in its own way showcased the system and showed what could be possible if developers got creative. The system did have an impact in future gaming as well, with 3D now being the new big buzz in the world, and at the time the Virtual Boy controller was unique, featuring buttons behind the controller and two D-Pads. His seven-month lifespan was one of the shortest for a system, and by far the shortest for a Nintendo system. Fans felt they were left with unfulfilled promises, and helped lower the casket and drop the dirt on what was left of our two legged friend.
Seventeen years later I still have my Virtual Boy. I actually have two. I use one of them as a hood prop for my Nintendo themed car at car shows, and it always sparks a persons interest. Whenever someone comes to my house and see’s my Virtual Boy in my room, they are perplexed and want to know more about it. They want to know what it is, how much it costs, can they play it, and so on. Most of the time, I smirk and laugh and say “Oh him? That’s my boy. He may never become a man, but he will always be my boy.”