[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Virtual Boy Wasteland

January 13th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Nintendo Virtual Boy Wasteland advertisement- 1995Virtual Boy: The #1 video game console on Mars.

When the Virtual Boy first launched in 1995, I rented the console (yep, the whole console) and a few games from my local Blockbuster store. Prior to that time, I don't remember Blockbuster offering any other systems for rent; I think it was a joint effort with Nintendo to get the novel machine into people's hands to try it out. (Later, I also rented a Nintendo 64 and a PlayStation from Blockbuster. But I digress.)

In fact, here are some early digital photos of that Virtual Boy rental, courtesy of my Snappy Video Snapshot. The first, dated 8/29/95, shows one of my cats sleeping in the plastic hard case the Virtual Boy arrived in when rented from Blockbuster. The second shows the Virtual Boy sitting alone on a stool in my room, and the third (dated 8/30/1995) shows my friend playing the Virtual Boy.

Virtual Boy Snappy Shots

The Virtual Boy was an interesting experience — not exactly mind-blowing, but neat. Its display was all red, all the time, but with stereoscopic 3D. I remember that it seemed expensive (MSRP of $179.99, which is $275.26 today when adjusted for inflation), and I remember thinking that if it only cost less, it could be successful.

But as we now know, the Virtual Boy failed to take off. Nintendo killed it the same year it launched in Japan, and the company pulled the plug in the US the following year. At that time I bought a Virtual Boy new in the box on clearance at Toys'R'Us for $30. I still have it; in fact it's sitting next to me as I write this. Wario Land ranks among my favorite games for the system, and I always wished that this odd 3D console had lived long enough to receive a proper Super Mario Bros. title.

Why did the Virtual Boy fail? I wrote about some of the reasons in this 2009 article on Game Console Design Mistakes for Technologizer. I also briefly analyzed the Virtual Boy for my History of Stereoscopic 3D Gaming slideshow for PC World in 2011.

In some ways, it's a shame that the system died so early, but in absolute business terms, its early demise made perfect sense. The Virtual Boy was an odd machine without broad appeal — one of Nintendo's rare flops — but it makes for a heck of a video game collector's item today as a result.

[ From Computer Gaming World, September 1995, p.8-9]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever played the Virtual Boy? What's your favorite game for the system?

See Also: Virtual Boy Vortex (RSOTW, 2012)
See Also: The History of Stereoscopic 3D Gaming (PC World, 2011)



6 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Virtual Boy Wasteland”

  1. cozfer Says:

    It's not the discussion topic of the week, but I did work for Blockbuster during high school in 1990-1991. We rented NES games as well as full NES systems (for $10 a night or something), which came in a large black plastic case. Very few systems were actually rented while I worked there.

    One of many vivid memories involved the first day my friend started working there. A customer was renting a game, and as per usual, the instructions were unavailable and had been lost. She went ballistic, started screaming at him and tried to tear up her laminated blockbuster card before storming out. I handed him some scissors so he could finish the job (after the shock wore off).

  2. Benj Edwards Says:

    Awesome story, cozfer. I should make a post about Blockbuster to collect more stories like that.

  3. technotreegrass Says:

    I played the Virtual Boy at a demo station at my local Toys R Us an awful lot as a kid, but it quickly disappeared at clearance prices. To my shame and my friend's delight, I actually hugged her Virtual Boy when I saw it on her shelf a few months ago, treating it like a long lost friend.

    Wario World is the only Virtual Boy game I played and the only one I ever want to play.

  4. Zoyous Says:

    What is "phase linear array technology"?

  5. Jistuce Says:

    Ahh, the good ol' Veeb.

    Have one, and I love it.
    Wario gets my vote for best game too.

    I wanted to say Red Alarm, truly I did. But the limited draw distance and lack of occlusion generates too much frustration for that. You can only ram so many transparent walls trying to find a tunnel before you have to play something else.

  6. Chester Says:

    I've played the Mario Tennis thanks to a friend that is a serious 8-bit console/computer collector. And it's easy to see why, at the time, anyone would love to give it a spin (the 3D effect is indeed impressive), but no almost no one would bring one home (clunky, monochrome, neck-unfriendly). Maybe it would have been more successful as arcade hardware…

    (on a side note, I tried an Oculus Rift, and it settles the question: Virtual Boy was a great concept, but *way* ahead of its time. We barely reached the tech needed to have something like that with decent quality and price)

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