About ten years ago I told everyone I was leaning toward obtaining my own Virtual Boy. I was told unilaterally, "DON'T GET A VIRTUAL BOY." They cited mutiple reasons why not: they break easily, their visors have all rotted by now, and the games aren't very good. I took their advice and put the earmarked cash toward my second choice, the grey-colored Majora's Mask cart with the E3 demo on it. It turned out to be very wise: while used Virtual Boys have gone up in price since then, that Majora's Mask cart now costs about twenty Virtual Boys.

But my reason for getting a Virtual Boy wasn't for investment purposes, but simply because I'd never gotten the chance to play one. Its games could be emulated pretty easily, but in just two dimensions, they would lose a crucial element. When Nintendo came out with the 3DS I immediately thought, "NOW they can bring back the Virtual Boy library! They GOTTA add those to Virtual Console within this thing's lifetime! It only makes sense." I forgot who I was dealing with.

The 3DS is now officially dead in every sense of the word, and Virtual Boy games were never made available for purchase. Fortunately, someone out there took the initiative to pull together what Nintendo never bothered to: a VB emulator that uses the 3DS's screen effect to produce 100% faithful recreations of its library at a fraction of the secondhand cost. That means, thirty years removed, i can finally dive in!

The "reappraisal" is a recent trend of Internet essay-ing where someone will take something that was universally hated when it was new and claim everyone back then was wrong. I can never be sure when they mean it and when they're just being contrarian for attention. "Actually, Norm of the North is the GREATEST ANIMATED FILM EVER MADE. Now gimme the clicks." Given that, you might be expecting me to come up with a completely sunny take on the Virtual Boy for the 2020s. After playing all the games I have to say....nope, it's just as underwhelming now as it was in '95.

MARIO'S TENNIS was packaged with the system. The title pretty much covers everything. It's tennis with Mario characters. This is fine for a pack-in title; a simple affair that whets your appetite for the meatier, more involved games on the system...Actually no...with the exception of one, every Virtual Boy game ever sold is barely above minigame status in terms of holding your interest. They're all simple, arcadey concepts where the screens barely change. They said you weren't supposed to play it for extended periods of time, and I guess that's one way of ensuring everybody did that.

I enjoy a good pinball simulation, or even a mediocre one...they don't take much. GALACTIC PINBALL is the Virtual Boy's sole pinball game, even though it does not technically use a capital-P Pinball...you're using the flippers to hit a flat puck instead. Video games have been trying to recreate pinball nearly since video games first existed, but there's always been one major problem: pinball tables are vertically oriented and TV screens are horizontal. Some games scroll the screen up. Some flash to a different static screen, like Pokemon Pinball. Some squish the playfield to the left or right side of the screen and leave the other side for a score bar or other game information. Since this particular game was in stereoscopic 3D, Nintendo tried something different: they pitched the pinball table at an angle, as if the player was looking from the bottom.

Interesting idea, but...no one actually plays pinball this way except for the very short. Usually the table is set low enough that you can see the entire thing. Much of your time playing Galactic Pinball is spent watching the puck collide with things from a distance and wishing you were closer. Before I leave it, I will point out one interesting thing: the team behind Super Metroid was given this as their next job, and you can unlock Metroid enemies and characters if you hit the right targets. So that's something.

"Virtual Reality" was THE buzzword of 1995 and everyone figured that, in the near future, we would strap video goggles to our faces and spend all our time in virtual worlds. The problem was that what people wanted out of a VR device and what it was capable of doing at the time were on two different levels. Notice all the TV shows and movies about VR had state-of-the-art CGI (for the time) that was way out of the price range of what folks would pay for a gaming console. The VR devices that actually came out at this time were either the Virtual Boy, or something so expensive that no one even bothered with it.

RED ALARM comes closest to what consumers WANTED the Virtual Boy to do. And it can barely do it. While the VB can do scaling tricks with its graphics, it can't rotate them like the SNES can, or texture-map anything. What we have to settle for is this primitive wire-frame program that 80s computers were capable of doing (heck, there's a Game Boy title that does this). Even pared down to this form, the draw distance is painfully short and things will often pop right in front of you. But if you squint hard enough, perhaps you can really believe you've escaped into a stick-figure world of barely defined spaceships.

TELEROBOXER is as simplistic as the others but is actually pretty fun. From a first-person perspective you're battling robots while blocking their punches. Your boxing gloves float out in front of you and you can move them with the crosspads, then strike with the trigger buttons. It looks good on the 3DS, and more importantly, it's a 3D idea that can be pulled off with 2D graphics, so the system can sell it. If only inspiration like this could have struck more than once.

MARIO CLASH....is the 1983 Mario Bros arcade game with a Z-axis added. There are two platforms now and Mario can shift between the closer one and the further one by entering a pipe. His goal is to clear each screen by kicking shells into other enemies. That's all this is. Rumor has it this was meant to be the side game of a larger Mario platformer for the system, but that one was cancelled.

VIRTUAL LEAGUE BASEBALL and GOLF: I don't have much to say about the sports games, as they're not really my thing. Golf would make sense, with the 3D viewpoint enhancing the scenery...if the system's solitary color wasn't the exact opposite of the one people associate with golf.

VERTICAL FORCE: it's a shooter. The Virtual Boy-ness of it comes in the fact that the enemies come at you on two different levels of depth, and you must drop down below to shoot some of them. It's fine, but the few who bought this system were hoping for shooters more like Red Alarm than this.

PANIC BOMBER: This is the only Virtual Boy game that WASN'T a Virthal Boy exclusive. The game came out on some other systems, where it functioned exactly the same as a drop-down match-3 puzzler. The 3D is the only real difference here, and on the 3DS the backgrounds are projected too far away. The crazy thing is that Panic Bomber retains its competitive two-player mode even though the VB can't support it. Your opponent is always the computer.

JACK BROS is the most expensive US-release Virtual Boy game to collect, and now I know why. The difficulty ramps up quickly, probably to mask the fact that the game is also rather short. But it is a lot more fun and addicting than most other Virtual Boy titles, and the music is a bop. Playing as one of three Halloween-themed magical beings on the night in question, you descend through levels of mazes, navigating with one pad and shooting with the other. The 3D is used to display the next maze below the one you're currently on, for a neat effect. I like it, and I returned to it several times. I'll never beat it though.

The weirdest thing about Jack Bros is that, technically, it belongs to the Shin Megami Tensei series, and it's the first of them to reach America. Most people never knew it existed, though, and wouldn't play an SMT game until the first Persona reached PlayStation the following year.

WATERWORLD: Go figure that the only video game this box office bomb ever received ended up on a system that bombed just as hard. There was potential here for a substantial multi-level adventure that followed the plot of the movie, but instead Waterworld is just as bare-bones as everything else, offering a repetitive string of Robotron-like levels that are all the same: you're floating in the ocean, pecking at enemy pirates. Both the sea and sky are solid black; the VB's pitiful rendering capabilities can only handle putting you and the wave of bad guys on screen. Enola, the waif from the movie, just can't seem to stop getting kidnapped and you must rescue her in every single level...unless you don't, then you just move onto the next level where she's there again.

The only real "GAME" game in the VB library is VIRTUAL BOY WARIO LAND, a proper platforming adventure that, gameplay-wise, feels halfway between Wario Land on the Game Boy and Wario Land II (most likely because it is). Unfortunately it's shorter than both those games, and once you're done with it, what other VB game of any substance is there? Promotional materials prior to release called this Wario Cruise, a baffling temp name since there's no cruising of any kind here.

NESTER'S FUNKY BOWLING: They say this was the only video game to star Nintendo Power Magazine's former mascot, but you can't convince me "Lark" from Pilotwings 64 didn't go by a different name at some point. Of course the unorthodox choice of character from Nintendo's IP library doesn't matter as long as the gameplay is good...but it isn't. The controls for the bowling itself are unreliable; I could only avoid getting gutterballs by positioning Nester to the far left and aiming the ball to the far right, which would never work in real life.

3D TETRIS was the final US game released in Virtual Boy's short shelf life. Starved early adopters might have settled for it, but it's not even Tetris. This is from that period in the mid-90s when Nintendo would slap "TETRIS" on games that had nothing to do with it, for sales' sake. 3D shapes slowly (and I mean slowly) drop into a box and you must position them to cover gaps. I don't get it.


V-TETRIS: Yep, Japan got the real Tetris and we didn't. Fortunately Virtual Boy has no region lock and the language barrier to Tetris is non-existent. There were multiple attempts to "3D-ify" Tetris when the technology arrived, and we got a lot of confusing puzzlers about fitting shapes together that didn't feel like Tetris at all. There's no reason for Tetris to be on Virtual Boy since it can't take advantage of a third dimension in any way. But who cares?

SPACE SQUASH: You're in a room in space, floating around, and aliens are batting a ball at you. You move all over the screen with the left pad to intercept the ball, then swat it back with the right pad. It will travel at the angle you hit the pad with, so the goal is to smack one of the aliens and earn a point. This game is as simple in concept as all the others, but it doesn't do much that's wrong. It's fun, and it uses the unique Virtual Boy controls and 3D display in a cool way. But we couldn't have it.

THE BETTER BOWLING GAME: Japan got a non-Nester-related Virtual Boy bowling game that has better controls and better use of 3D (the camera follows the ball, which is a pretty impressive effect for this system). I'm beginning to think they hate us.

SPACE INVADERS VIRTUAL COLLECTION: Then again, it wasn't all roses and lollipops. This simple recreation of the 1978 quarter muncher does nothing but tilt the perspective so you're looking at rows of aliens above you. It's completely unnecessary and adds nothing to the experience.

INNSMOUTH MANSION: The wildest Virtual Boy game to be sold on the market and I'm surprised it exists. A first-person shooter with a Lovecraftian horror theme; you're given a strict time limit, teleported to a series of corridors and told to exterminate hideous monsters before they get you first. Nail them all and you're warped to a tougher level, rinse and repeat. It sounds great on paper, but don't get TOO excited: you move on a strict grid because Virtual Boy can't generate texture-mapped walls. Remember the first-person sections of Friday the 13th on NES? It's like THAT. An FPS that clunky in 1995 had no chance.

VIRTUAL FISHING: I cast my line and looked at a static display of a river. I waited three minutes. Nothing happened. I moved on.

VIRTUAL LAB: A grotesque idea for a drop-down puzzler where you're matching up what appear to be throbbing bits of someone's intestines. Considered the single worst Virtual Boy game, it's also super-rare because the publisher rightly figured no one would want it.


BOUND HIGH: Previewed in Nintendo Power, completed and almost ready to ship, but cancelled when the Virtual Boy was pulled from the market. Thankfully leaked to the Internet in 2010. It's considered a lost treasure by some, but...your mileage my vary; I know mine did. You are a bouncing ball traversing maps of squares. The camera follows the ball, constantly zooming in and out, over and over, without end. This effect made me nauseous.

VIRTUAL BOY FACEBALL: So the Virtual Boy CAN display 3D corridors smoothly? What was Innsmouth Mansion's problem then? It's the same Faceball that's on Game Boy and SNES, but better since it's on a system that can really take advantage of its setting. It's a real tragedy it never came out, but there's one extra problem: Faceball is most populat as a multiplayer game and the Virtual Boy can't do multiplayer stuff (unless the players take turns). A link cable was planned, the VB has a port for it, but the system didn't get far enough for them to bother releasing it.

ZERO RACERS: Would have been the VB answer to F-Zero, and would've used the same wireframe graphics as Red Alarm. No leaked version exists; Nintendo Power is the only source of what it looked like.

DRAGON HOPPER: The Virtual Boy had no RPGs, not even in Japan. This would've been the closest thing. No leaked version of this either.

I'm hardly the first person to look critically at the Virtual Boy, nor far from the first to conclude it underwhelms in just about every category. But there IS an appeal to its general aesthetic, which is unique to itself. No other system looks or feels like this one does. Perhaps with time, developers could have made the device truly shine....but that was not to be.

It's up to the homebrew community now to figure that out. There is a lot more Virtual Boy homebrew out there than one might assume, and some of it isn't bad. There's even a perfect recreation of Street Fighter called "Hyper Fighting" which you can download. Perhaps faithful Platypus Comix reader and forum contributor Chris Read would appreciate a review of some of HIS past Virtual Boy experiments.....

...and then again, maybe he wouldn't.