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The Nintendo Virtual Boy: Failure or Brilliance?

Every gaming company will have its fair share of failures and mishaps. Microsoft with the Kinect for the Xbox One, the Red Ring of Death for the 360. Sony with the PlayStation Vita which should’ve never failed. The old thick daddy PS3 which is thicc with three “C’s” and that maxed out price tag of $599 which is a massive yikes. Sega with the botched launch of the Saturn in North America and “$299” with the Sony PlayStation killed that system, the current state of the Sonic franchise. The brutal murder of the Sega Dreamcast (thanks again Sony you evil blue bastards) that ultimately took Sega out of the console market for good and even Nintendo with the failure of the Wii U… and the canceled PlayStation from 1993. Jesus Sony, you keep killing everything.

Every company has had their fair share of bumps in the road and failures, but one console that gets the most ridicule of them all, and it is the Nintendo Virtual Boy.

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Now there’s obviously terrible consoles out there, like the Atari Jaguar, the Philips CDi, anything Tiger Electronics ever made including the Game.Com, every AtGames console, the Amiga CD32 that ultimately killed Commodore, the Mattel Hyperscan which was a weird console, any console with a numeric keypad. Serious question and mini-rant: whose idea was it to turn a game controller into a freaking phone? I can’t call 911 on a controller while I’m playing B-17 Bomber on the damn Intellivision, and there’s zero purpose to have more than 14 buttons… oh wait, there’s 14 buttons on controllers nowadays as well as scuf controllers.

Well you get my point, unless I’m calling the fire department or the police, numeric keypads on controllers were absolutely dumb. Now back to the article. The Apple Pippin which only sold 42,000 units (420 joke), the Pioneer LaserActive which sold 420,000 units (second verse, same as the first), as well as external peripherals for games that costed hundreds apiece and used CD’s twice the size of vinyl and was a technology that aged like breast milk, the Gizmondo.

The mere existence of LJN with their notoriously bad games and that ONE CONSOLE they made that the Angry Video Game Nerd properly tore into it and ripped it a new butthole so wide, he found out the answer of 7 ÷ 0. The Virtual Boy gets the most hate out of all of these systems, and this is mostly due to the review that the AVGN himself made about the system in February 2008 that was eventually uploaded to YouTube in August 2009. That’s where everyone’s opinions about the Virtual Boy comes from, and as a proud owner of a Virtual Boy, and because I spent hard earned money on it, let’s see if the Virtual Boy is as bad as everyone makes it out to be.

Watch Angry Video Game Nerd’s Review on the Virtual Boy

The Virtual Boy had a really short life, being released in August 1995 in America and being discontinued in March 1996 with only a handful of games ever released, making it one of the smallest gaming libraries in existence. Today, Virtual Boy’s run from $250 to even $1,000, with games varying in price, from anywhere between 20 dollars for Teleroboxer, to hundreds of dollars for the American cartridge of Jack Bros. or even more for the Japan-only games, which is good news if you’re wanting to own one and planning to collect them all, as the Virtual Boy isn’t region-locked.

The Virtual Boy was supposed to be a virtual reality console made by Nintendo, and it was made by the inventor of the Game Boy, Gunpei Yokoi. The Virtual Boy also came out during a very awkward time, as the N64 was being made, and developers were making games for the system, while the Virtual Boy was pretty much on its own, from a developmental standpoint.

Nintendo higher-ups wanted the Virtual Boy to be released by 1995 as the N64 was around the corner, and they didn’t want the Virtual Boy to shy away from the release of their big-time console release, and in August of 1995, Codename: VR32 became the Virtual Boy, and immediately became the laughingstock of Nintendo failures and is regarded by the internet as “the worst console ever”. There were mass reports of headaches and eye strain when it was released, and this went on until its discontinuation. Only 22 games were released for it until it got discontinued, and later on in 1996, the N64 was released.

So how and why did the Virtual Boy fail?

Well, if you look at the specs of it, and compared it to the SNES, it was more powerful by a long shot. After all, it is a 32-bit console, but the Virtual Boy, was rushed into the market, and was far from finished. It was pretty much supposed to be something you have on your head, but because it was rushed and the technology was too expensive, they had no choice but to make it stationary.

Another issue was that they wanted to research if the red LEDs that were used would be safe for the human eye, and because that would’ve taken more time, they pretty much put warning labels all over it. Now it wasn’t just the Virtual Boy that did this, the 3DS also has a lot of warning labels on it due to a Japanese law behind it.

Were the red LEDs safe for the human eye? Actually in today’s studies, yes. So if the Virtual Boy had some sort of legacy release, we probably don’t have to worry about eye problems. But there’s also something behind that as well. The reason why eye strain and headaches were common, was the one thing no one does at all. Reading the manuals. With every game you purchase comes a manual, and that manual shows you how to properly calibrate the two eyes of the Virtual Boy to your sight, as you’ll need to align it to where you can see four squares on the corners, two in each eye, which would be the dial of the system.

The slider would be the depth perception of your eyes, and that’s more of a personal preference than a beneficiary thing, like the 3D slider on a 3DS. But what if you’re still having headaches and eye strain? Well there’s a video on YouTube explaining it, but essentially if you still have eye strain and headaches from it, chances are that your eyes can’t detect or adjust to stereoscopic sight, so that means you probably wasted money on something you can’t use. There are some decent games on the system like Teleroboxer, Wario Land, Galactic Pinball, Mario’s Tennis, Jack Bros., Mario Clash and the one or two I haven’t mentioned, but the rest is either mediocre or abysmal like Waterworld, which was another issue. Almost all of the games that were made for the system were first-party games, no third-party support of any kind, it was basically a pure Nintendo console.

Now is the system capable of handling something like say Doom? Yes, in fact, members of Planet Virtual Boy have talked about possibly making a Doom game for the Virtual Boy. Not only that, there were a plethora of games that were ready to be released to the system, but because the system had a very bad reputation, 37 games were abandoned along with the console, and the link cable that never came to be until recently thanks to the Homebrew team over at Planet Virtual Boy.

So, does the Virtual Boy deserve the hate it gets?

I don’t think so. The Virtual Boy was a corporate mishap due to the higher-ups’ decision to launch it when it wasn’t finished, and when research on red LEDs wasn’t even finished, and they released it at a weird timing as it was released a year before the N64 came out. The other factor was user errors that led to media outlets to give the system the bad rep it had gotten. Had we simply read the manuals, the system wouldn’t be so shunned.

The development of games was nearly impossible since everyone in each R&D department in Nintendo was doing something and no great game was able to be released for the system with the exception of Teleroboxer and Wario Land. And honestly, the fact that it was also falsely advertised as a portable system, with the fact that it’s a tabletop console, along with a 180 dollar price tag in 1995, the writing was on the walls for it.

Regardless if this was a failure or not, it was an innovation and a massive risk on Nintendo’s end. As a proud owner of the Virtual Boy, the controller for the system, while odd, is ergonomically amazing, as the controller fits perfectly in your hands and all the buttons sit in place with your thumb, and your index finger. The idea of two D-Pads, although relatively unused could’ve made for something interesting, as it’s probably the closest we got to dual analog sticks in the 90s that we’re so used to today. That, and if the Virtual Boy never existed, the 3DS would’ve never gotten released, which means the Wii U would’ve been game over for Nintendo, and VR wouldn’t be where it is today. That or Nintendo would’ve released a handheld that could’ve been the backbone while the Wii U was in disarray in an alternate universe.

Yes, it definitely was a failure, but it doesn’t deserve the consistent hate it gets all because one very popular internet personality says it’s a pile of crap. While I do think it’s a matter of interpretation of how good it may be to you, it’s definitely not a terrible system. Hell, the 64DD (Disk Drive) sold far less than the Virtual Boy and flopped even faster than the Virtual Boy, but it never got hate. It does seem unfair to give a system that was rushed heavily to market any sort of hate, especially when it could’ve been something amazing.

Do I recommend buying one and trying it out on your own? Well if you’re willing to cough up money to purchase one fully working with a controller, the visor and stand, along with spending up to standard prices for the games, then heck yeah. Although I do recommend something with elevation to put on it if you are a taller person to alleviate the sore neck issue that may come. If you want to get games for a good price, Planet Virtual Boy is the perfect place to make trades and purchases for the Virtual Boy.

The Virtual Boy may have been a failure, but its legacy lives on.

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