Virtual Boy – Gaming Historian
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Virtual Boy – Gaming Historian

September 30, 2019


In the early-90s, it seemed like
Nintendo could do no wrong. The NES era, which began in 1985,
was coming to a close after nine years. The Super Nintendo was winning the
16-bit wars against Sega, and putting out some classic games. The Game Boy was absolutely dominating
the handheld video game market. And finally the highly anticipated
“Project Reality” console, also known as the Nintendo 64, was on its way. But then…there was the Virtual Boy. Code-named “VR32”, and designed by the brilliant Nintendo engineer Gunpei Yokoi, it was supposed to revolutionize video games. Nintendo promised it would… Instead, it was a commercial failure,
and was discontinued in less than a year. It all began in the early ’90s,
when a U.S. company known as Reflection Technology, was trying to find a buyer for its 3D display technology. Two separate LED screens would reflect at each individual eye, creating a 3D effect. It wasn’t “true” virtual reality, but it was a good imitation. Initially, they pitched the idea to toy companies, but when no one was interested,
they turned to the video game industry. They first went to Sega, who turned them down. Reflection Technology then pitched it to Nintendo,
which got Gunpei Yokoi intrigued. There was nothing else like it, and it would take at least a year
for competitors to catch up. If you aren’t familiar, Gunpei Yokoi was
one of Nintendo’s most famous engineers. He had been with the company since the 60’s,
and was responsible for two major products: the Game & Watch and the Game Boy. It’s safe to say Nintendo trusted him with decision making, when it came to possible new hardware. Said Yokoi, In 1992, Nintendo acquired exclusive worldwide rights to the technology, for a price of $5 million. The famous Research and Development
team at Nintendo, R&D1, set out to create a new system. The team, led by Yokoi himself,
began brainstorming ideas. “How would gamers enter this new virtual reality world?” “Would the system utilize motion detection?” The idea of a headband-mounted
system was discussed, but it was ultimately decided that the system would be played on a stand, without motion tracking. To keep the price down, R&D1 went with a
monochrome color display of red. Nintendo saw the Game Boy be successful,
despite being only able to display black and green, but it did have trouble with
blurriness with high-speed gameplay. The red and black colors of the
Virtual Boy eliminated this. The system actually contained a 32-bit processor, just like the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn. The problem was,
it was pulling double duty with the two LED screens, so the power of the hardware wasn’t as apparent. With the base system in place, Gunpei Yokoi
and his team began fine-tuning the system. However, pressure from executives,
particularly Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi, put a wrench in those plans. It was 1994 at this point. Sony and Sega were gearing up
for the PlayStation and Saturn. and Nintendo’s own next-gen system, the Nintendo 64, was still a ways away. Yamauchi wanted new hardware
out as soon as possible, to keep the focus of the
video game market on Nintendo. It was clear the system simply wasn’t ready to be launched, but Gunpei Yokoi had no choice. In November of 1994, the brand new Virtual Boy was introduced to the public at the Shoshinkai trade show. The public reaction was…luke warm. People complained that the system
was uncomfortable to play with, and that the red and black colors
were not very appealing. Others complained of headaches,
only after playing for a few minutes. One reporter wrote, Regardless of the complaints,
hardcore fans of Nintendo, were still interested. The technology “was” impressive, and if
good games were released, there was potential. At the E3 Expo in 1995, Nintendo announced the Virtual Boy would be released in North America and Japan on the same day, August 14, 1995, with a retail price of $179.95. Several more titles were announced as well,
even a few third-party games. Nintendo changed their date in Japan and the Virtual Boy was officially released over there on July 21, 1995. Every Virtual Boy came packaged with “Mario Tennis,” a simple tennis game
starring all of the Mario characters. Hiroshi Yamauchi boldly claimed
that he could sell three million units, along with 14 million games, within the year. But on launch day, things were unusually…quiet. The normally long lines that packed
toy and game stores for Nintendo launches, were reduced to practically nothing. On August 14, 1995,
the Virtual Boy was released in North America, backed by a $20 million ad campaign. Nintendo also partnered with several retailers, including Toys ‘R’ Us and Blockbuster,
to promote the system. Their hope was once gamers tried it out,
they would believe the hype. Blockbuster even allowed customers
to “rent” the Virtual Boy. I still remember the day
I first laid eyes on the Virtual Boy. My childhood friend called me in excitement
to tell me he got the new system. I went over to his house, walked into the living room,
and there it was, sitting on the table and staring back at me, inviting my eyes to take a gander
into the world of virtual reality. Or so I thought. By itself, it looks like an elaborate pair of binoculars, but on the stand, it looks like a little robot. On the top of the Virtual Boy, you had two buttons. An IPD dial adjusted the distance between the two screens and your eyes, just like a pair of binoculars. The focus slider adjusted… …well, the focus. Underneath on the left-hand side,
you had a volume control and a headphone jack. On the right, the controller port and a Game Link socket, which was for the planned link cable
that would hook the two Virtual Boys together. The system wasn’t around long enough
to see it actually happen though. The cartridges loaded into the back and you played the games by looking into the front. The most interesting thing about the system
is actually the controller. It actually feels really good to hold. It’s got not one, but two D-pads, an A and B button,
Start and Select, and trigger buttons on the back. Power to the system was placed
on the back of the controller, either by six AA batteries or with an AC adapter. The on/off switch was right on the front. Shortly after release, Nintendo had boasted
they had sold out of Virtual Boys. What they failed to mention was that
they shipped very few consoles to stores. Some shops got as many as two systems. Things did not go well from there. Just one month after release,
Nintendo dropped the price by $20. Some consumers complained of headaches and nausea, not to mention neck and eye strain. Nintendo had slapped the console with many warnings, one of which included not letting children under 7, play the system because it could harm eye development. Word of the trouble spread, and many parents didn’t want to risk
their children’s health on a video game console. At the 1995 Shoshinkai trade show, Hiroshi Yamauchi admitted that sales were lower than expected. But he assured the public that
new games were coming out, as well as an
adjustable stand and shoulder harness for the system, despite the fact that the Virtual Boy
was given little to no showroom floor at the event. But it didn’t matter. By March of 1996,
the Virtual Boy was discontinued in North America. Stores began selling their stock of systems
for as little as $20. Officially, the Virtual Boy lasted less than a year. It sold about 800,000 units, was never released in Europe, and is one of the worst-selling consoles of all time. The system only had 22 games officially released. Since the library’s so small, well, I figured we could go over a few of the highlights of the Virtual Boy. Now, keep in mind, you can only experience the “amazing” virtual reality of the system, by using your own eyes. So, this footage won’t be as impressive. “Mario Tennis” was packaged with every Virtual Boy. There is not much to it. It’s tennis with Mario characters. You can do singles or doubles matches,
and compete in a tournament as well. “Mario Tennis” for the Nintendo 64 is leaps and bounds better. “Teleroboxer” is a first-person boxing game. You use the two D-pads to block and the trigger buttons to throw punches. This game is probably the
most unique one on the Virtual Boy, and really showcases what the system could do. “Nester’s Funky Bowling” isn’t special, but it’s worth mentioning simply because it features Nester from the Nintendo Power comic strip. As the author of “The Video Game Bible,”
Andy Slaven, wrote, “It is the quintessential bowling game
for the Virtual Boy.” “Mario Clash” is an updated version
of the classic “Mario Bros.” arcade game. except this time you have to throw
Koopa shells to knock out the enemies. It was developed by R&D1 with Gunpei Yokoi, and it’s actually pretty fun. It’s got 99 levels, so it’ll keep you busy. The best game on the Virtual Boy is, without a doubt, “Wario Land.” If you have ever played any of the “Wario Land” games, this should be pretty familiar. You play as Wario through various stages as you collect treasure while bulldozing through enemies. It does have a 3D effect where you can jump to the back of the stage to collect various items and access secret areas. It’s a really well-done game,
and it’s a shame that it only came out on the Virtual Boy. Id love to see a re-release of this on the 3DS. So… what went wrong with the Virtual Boy? Well, geez… Where do I begin? Although Nintendo was confident it would sell well because it had no competition, that might have been its downfall. There was really nothing else like it. The system had little software and lacked a killer game. Hiroshi Yamauchi purposely withheld the Virtual Boy technology from third-parties for “quality control” purposes, in fearing other companies might find out about their revolutionary new 3D technology. It hurt the system in the end. Few companies outside of Nintendo made games for it. For a system marketed as a portable system, the price was pretty steep at $180. And speaking of portable, it wasn’t very portable at all. You could easily take a Game Boy and play it on the go, but the Virtual Boy? Not so much. The colors of red and black were unappealing. Graphics for games were getting
more colorful and more detailed. The Virtual Boy visuals felt like a step back. People’s complaints about headaches,
nausea and eye strain, as well as all the warnings that came with the system,
gave it a poor reputation. Advertising the Virtual Boy, was hard. You couldn’t see the technology unless you actually checked out the system for yourself. Even making something like a commercial
to show off the Virtual Boy proved difficult. Shigeru Miyamoto recently stated,
that he felt the system was marketed incorrectly. He thought the Virtual Boy was a “fun toy”, but Nintendo treated it like
the successor to the Game Boy. So the expectations were too high. But I think Jason Plumb,
who worked on the Virtual Boy game “Waterworld,” said it best when he stated, It sums it up perfectly. Growing up, my friend and I rarely played the Virtual Boy because we couldn’t play it together. Not to mention you can’t even see
what’s going on while your friend plays. Gunpei Yokoi, the man who created
Game & Watch and the Game Boy, felt personally responsible
for the failure of the Virtual Boy, and quietly left Nintendo after 31 years of service. He would form a new company known as Koto, which developed the
Bandai WonderSwan handheld system. Just a year later, he tragically passed
away in a car accident. The Virtual Boy may have been a failure, but Nintendo was still fascinated by the concept of 3D gaming and virtual reality. The Nintendo 3DS system, released in 2011, accomplished what the Virtual Boy could not. It’s a true portable handheld
that provides a 3D effect without any glasses. Today, because it sold so poorly, the Virtual Boy and many of its games
are considered collector’s items. Personally, it’s more of a novelty to me than anything. Every time I play this thing,
I feel like I just woke up from a nap. It’s a neat piece to have in your collection, but I doubt you’ll find yourself playing it for a while. That’s all for this episode of the Gaming Historian. Thanks for watching.

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  1. 3D Tetris the world hardest Tetris (on the virtual boy) it’s so hardcore and hard that the blocks are anime characters

  2. I thought it was the coolest thing ever when I was a kid. I couldn’t afford a new one, but got one used at a yard sale for $5 when I was maybe 8 years old. I actually got a lot of playing time out of it. It was a great concept, just a little ahead of its time to be what it needed to be to be successful.

  3. I got mine for 25.00 from toys R us and two free games that I got to pick from what they had. I ended up buying one of every game they had for 3.00 each. I had it for years and enjoyed it. I let my sisters kids use it when their N64 broke and within two weeks they broke it fighting over it 🙁

  4. My godmother bought me one a thousand years ago. I liked it. The Wario game was great. Shame If it had COLOR the system would have been very successful.

  5. Pretty sure everyone remembers their first time playing this thing and thinking, “Why is it red? My eyes hurt. I’m nauseous. I have a headache. Wanna play Donkey Kong?”

  6. The virtual boy was THE SHIT! I LOVED this thing regardless of how much every1 hated it. I would bet I played more Mario virtual tennis that ANYONE that EVER owned a virtual boy

  7. Played my brother's Virtual Boy couple of times when I came home from my mission. First time, no problem. Second time I had to lie down cuz it gave me a migraine.
    All my baby bro said was "That's why I don't play it no more."

  8. I remember that as a kid i used to cry because i wanted this console so badly… then one day one of my friends got it as a birthday gift and he let me play it. I was so fucking disappointed but at the same time i was super glad that i didnt waste a gift receiving this piece of shit. I got a gamegear instead

  9. Nintendo got greedy and dumb. VirtualBoy did have competition: Nintendo themselves. Even though they marketed as a 32bit system, to compete with 3DO and 32X, it was mainly marketed as a portable game machine, hence the Boy suffix. Since the GameBoy was slowing in sales, this would be the next direction for Nintendo. Of course, in hindsight, the GameBoy pocket was released and then GameBoy Color…with Pokemon!

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