We all consider Nintendo to be one of the more “conservative” video game companies out there. They stuck with cassettes when everyone else was moving towards CD-ROMs. They preferred to release cheap handheld devices with low processing power when the competition was putting out premium devices with state-of-the-art tech.
Nintendo is also quite conservative with its video game licenses and isn’t the best of companies to work with if you’re a 3rd party developer. So why on Earth did they decide to come up with something like the Virtual Boy? Well, that’s clearly a case of misguided corporate vision and overreaching expectations.
Nintendo marketed Virtual Boy as the next step forward in gaming, the first “true 3D” game console. Not because it renders games in 3D, but because it has an actual 3D LED eyepiece built into the console (with two separate 384 x 224 screens that refresh at 50.27Hz).
You can perceive depth through a parallax effect, even though the color palette is limited to just one shade of red. When the console was initially put into test runs at public shows, gamers had mixed feelings. They liked the 3D vision capability and controller.
But most testers were displeased with the console’s design, which forces you to bend forward to fit your head through the 3D goggles. Plus, it’s a nightmare to transport due to the long legs and awkward form factor. Health concerns were also brought up since many people experienced eye strain and headaches after playing this console for just a few minutes.
Nevertheless, Nintendo has never been one to shy away from experimentation. They made motion gaming accessible with the Wii and portable gaming possible with the GameBoy.
To recap this ill-fated console’s legacy, I shall review the top 20 all-time Virtual Boy games that you must play. Some of these games aren’t all that great, but the Virtual Boy literally has 22 games in total. So let’s get started, shall we?
Virtual Boy Wario Land
Wario is basically Mario’s evil doppelganger, focused solely on the selfish pursuit of wealth and fame. He has become very popular with fans since his first appearance as a boss in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. People love Wario’s exaggerated bad-guy appearance and goofy nature.
Wario Land is a series of adventure platformers in which you play as the titular villain rather than a plumber rushing to save his princess. The first two Wario Land games played very similarly to Super Mario Bros., but subsequent releases introduced unique game mechanics and challenges.
For the Virtual Boy version of Wario Land, you get a fully stereoscopic 3D representation of the “Awazon”, which is basically a parody of the Amazon jungle, supposed to hold ancient treasures that Wario is interested in finding. Along the way, you come across some weird creatures who have dug up a cave behind a waterfall.
After following them, Wario falls through a hidden floor trap and gets stuck in a dungeon. The game is all about your journey back to the top while avoiding any monsters that get in your way. But you can’t just go without finding all treasures (it’s a Wario game, and he needs money).
When this game was released, critics weren’t impressed by it since Nintendo didn’t exactly innovate or introduce new mechanics. It’s literally just regular old Tetris, but this time with 3D wireframe models. You control falling blocks that go into a pit, where they can be rotated on both the vertical and horizontal axis.
Blocks cast shadows while falling, giving you an idea of where they will land. The pit has been partitioned into five separate vertical compartments that fill up one by one as blocks land. Every time a block stack reaches the ceiling, you lose one compartment (and the game ends when none are left).
If you love retro games and are interested in SNES Games as well then you must check out my other list Top 50 All-Time SNES (Super Nintendo) Games That You Must Play
As you can see, the Virtual Boy achieved quite a bit of diversity in its catalog despite having just 22 games in total. Red Alarm is a shoot ‘em up, and many consider it to be a relic from the 4th-generation of consoles (SNES, Genesis, etc.). No, not because the concept of shoot ‘em ups was outdated or anything.
It’s just that Red Alarm failed to innovate in the same way that GoldenEye 007 did for the N64. It’s yet another space shooter, but with 3D wireframe graphics. Depth perception is pretty nice for dodging incoming attacks and targeting the closest enemies.
But other than that, Red Alert fails to provide anything truly “next-generation”. It’s still got old-school boss fights and enemies that arrive in predictable wave patterns. The story is quite basic, and you get just six levels in total.
Well, before Atlus started churning out endless sequels, prequels, and expansions to Persona, they made Jack Bros., which is a simple action game centered around three brothers. Frost, Lantern, and Skelton find themselves trapped inside the human realm after crossing through a hidden gateway that opens once every year during Halloween. They are fairies from an alternate dimension and need to get back into their world before the portal closes.
A fairy called Pixie shows them how to make it back within an hour. Because that’s how long the trio has before the human world becomes their new home. You can play as any of the three brothers, but be warned- there are many enemies and traps between you and the portal.
The game is squash but in space! It has quite a convoluted plot that explains how and why you’re playing a squash tournament in space against space pirates. Your player character is a robot who needs to free the planet called Animal Star since it’s been captured by space pirates.
So what is the best way to do that? Why, playing a squash tournament, of course! There are six stages in total, each with a boss battle at the end.
This is like any regular video game representation of squash. Except the walls and court are in 3D which gives you excellent depth perception of the ball and your racket.
If you love retro games and intrested in NES as well than you must check out my other list Top 50 All-time NES Games That You Must Play
Despite the name, this game is very different from Bomberman. It doesn’t involve a maze puzzle in which you place bombs to blow up enemies blocking your path. Instead, it’s a falling block puzzle game similar to Tetris.
And it has a slight horror theme, evident from the spooky music and background. You fight against an AI in a test of endurance to see who can prevent their blocks from reaching the top. You’ll be rewarded with a bomb if you align three identical blocks.
But this bomb can’t be blown up unless a special fuse-lit charge drops from the top. If you blow up several blocks in a row, you get a giant bomb that clears out nearly all of your blocks.
No, it’s not Mario Tennis but “Mario’s” Tennis. Yeah, this game was definitely released in an incomplete state because Nintendo themselves didn’t want to associate it with their actual Mario Tennis franchise. But is it any good as a standalone title?
Well, it’s actually not that bad because 3D works wonders when you’re whacking a ball around on the tennis court. If only they had given us more than two colors, the game might have turned out to be great. There are no charge shots, obstacles, or power-ups, so you just play some old-fashioned tennis with a simple rule set.
Vertical Force is a space shooter in which you pilot a bomber ship. There is a malfunctioning AI on a human colony in outer space. Its supercomputer must be destroyed to protect all people on that planet.
The gameplay is similar to that of most vertically-scrolling shooters. You avoid incoming fire, take down defensive structures, and gather any power-ups that float your way. Your ship is called the Ragnarok, and it’s equipped with laser cannons and energy shields.
If you love retro games and are interested in Nintendo DS Games as well then you must check out my other list Top 60 All-Time Nintendo DS Games That You Must Play
Innsmouth no Yakata
First-person horror games were a novelty on consoles back in the early to mid-1990s. Eventually, we got killer titles such as Resident Evil and Parasite Eve. But nobody had tried something like Innsmouth no Yakata, which is a 3D horror game with just one color- red.
The atmosphere of this game is tense, and you can’t take your eyes away from the screen. Well, mostly because you’ve got your head inside a 3D viewfinder while playing the Virtual Boy. But the game can be scary too, despite the tiny number of enemy monsters.
In fact, each floor in the mansion is very sparsely populated. Occasionally, creatures that look like mutated fish will pop up, and you can shoot them with your gun. And the game will automatically select your path depending on how long it took you to complete a level.
I can see the appeal behind a truly 3D boxing game. Being in the ring with another fighter is great in 3D since you have an accurate perception of the distance between both of you. This helps you decide which move to use or how much striking range either of you has based on stuff like height, reach, etc.
And the game is actually about robots fighting each other within a ring, very similar to the movie Real Steel featuring Hugh Jackson. With some motion controls, a concept like this has great potential (especially in VR). Unfortunately, Teleroboxer is more of an eyesore than an entertaining 3D boxing game.
Its monochrome color palette and tight viewing angle caused headaches for most players after just 5 or 10 minutes. Plus, the enemy seems to have every conceivable advantage over you. You’ll struggle to land a single hit while the AI runs circles around you.
Pinball as a game has been around since the 1930s and is still a great way to kill some time. It is available in many flavors for all sorts of gaming platforms- both virtual (video games) and real (pinball machines). Galactic Pinball is about our very own Milky Way Galaxy.
And it has four different tables that you can swap between- Cosmic, Colony, UFO, Alien. If you choose the Cosmic table, you get to control Samus Aran’s spaceship. You have 5 pucks, and the goal is to stop these from hitting the bottom of your table.
Game rules are similar to that of most pinball tables. You can press and hold the launch button to charge up the plunger for a more powerful strike. You can also shake the table, but don’t do it too often or else the plungers will stall.
Nester’s Funky Bowling
As you know, the Virtual Boy has just 22 games in its library. Nester’s Funky Bowling is the 21st game that was released for this ill-fated console. And you know what, it’s actually pretty decent.
Nester is a boy from the Nintendo Power magazine, and he used to appear in one of its comic strips. Eventually, he became the magazine’s mascot character before getting phased out in 1994. In Nester’s Funky Bowling, you try to drop some pins in a tiny bowling alley.
You can also play as Hester, who is Nester’s twin sister. Depending on your score, you are rewarded with one of 4 ranks- amateur, intermediate, experienced, and pro. The pins bounce and collide with each other based on a primitive physics engine.
Nintendo wanted to experiment with a 3D version of Mario Bros., but they didn’t like the idea of tying one of their most popular franchises to a disappointing console. So they created a new IP, called Mario Clash, which looks and plays similarly to Mario Bros. but has its own unique identity. Well, how did they do with this game?
Mario Clash is a fun platformer that doesn’t innovate or introduce many new things over its predecessor, and the 3D effect isn’t very useful. In fact, you’d notice very little difference between the 2D and 3D versions of this game. Means it could just as easily be played on TV, and you wouldn’t enjoy it any less.
In regular 2D Mario games, you jump over enemies to knock them off their platforms. In Mario Clash, you fade in and out of the background which requires a certain amount of depth perception to pull off. Mario can also jump on Koopas and grab them by their shells to use as wrecking balls.
One of the earliest games to be launched alongside the Virtual Boy console, Golf is simple and light-hearted fun. It’s a shame the Virtual Boy never got proper multiplayer support with a link cable as Nintendo promised before release. I can see the potential for a game like this or Mario’s Tennis in 2P mode.
This game is based in the Papillion Golf & Country Club, with a standard 18-hole set. You have all your traditional hazards such as sand, rough grass, water, trees, etc. The physics are actually quite good, and you can see the ball behaving in a realistic manner when struck by different types of clubs on various terrains.
Some say this is the worst Virtual Boy out there and one of the worst games in general. After all, it’s a game based on a movie that was a commercial failure and released on a console that disappointed everyone. However, there’s more to Waterworld than meets the eye.
Waterworld’s story draws from the movie it’s based on. You’re a lone wanderer on a catamaran, roaming the newly created oceans in a post-apocalyptic world. Polar ice caps have melted and consumed most of the surface, and entire cities along with their skyscrapers are now submerged in water.
It’s like Mad Max, but you’ve got oceans instead of deserts. And there are savages/ bandits on their own boats who will try to attack you. You must save innocent residents of Atoll from getting kidnapped by these bandits.
Alright, this is not the same game as Nester’s Funky Bowling. However, both use the same color palettes and have a similar rule set. You get more game modes in Virtual Bowling compared to Nester’s Funky Bowling.
There are three ways to get started- jumping into a tournament, practice, and standard. In standard, you get ten frames, and the goal is to knock down as many of the ten pins as you can for a high score.
In training, you can customize the location of each pin. By selecting tournament mode, you play against the AI in four sets of 10 frames each.
SD Gundam Dimension War
It’s a space shooter where you pilot a Gundam in the UC timeline. All mobile suits are designed with exaggerated head sizes, which makes them look like Chibi figurines. This is also the last Virtual Boy game to be released in Japan, and I must say the console didn’t go out with a fizzle.
Gundam definitely benefits a lot from the 3D stereoscopic display of the Virtual Boy. The shooting happens on a 3D plane rather than a grid. It’s not a traditional side-scroller but more of a tactical RPG.
You position your battleships and mobile suits in the best spots to take down enemy units. You start at the bottom of the “board” while the enemy is at the top. You must destroy all of their cruisers to advance into the next stage.
Space Invaders Virtual Collection
You get regular 2D ports of the first 2 Space Invader arcade games, along with a special 3D remake of Space Invaders designed exclusively for the Virtual Boy. As for the game itself, it’s the first-ever space shooter and was initially released for arcades in 1970. This is a game that’s probably as old as your father.
So, does the old dog bring any new tricks in its 3D reincarnation? Well, not so much. It still plays like the regular Space Invaders in which you have to take out waves of enemy ships while dodging their projectiles.
And unlike more modern space shooters, the enemy positions are fixed. They are arranged in rows, and you move your laser cannon along a horizontal axis while firing bullets to destroy every single enemy ship. There are walls in between that act as cover for your cannon.
Virtual League Baseball
This is one of the better-looking games for Virtual Boy, with a high level of detail in the background and well-designed character models. Other than that, it’s a bog-standard baseball game that plays in a very arcade-like way. This is no simulator, nor is it trying to be one.
You’re just a batter standing on a pitch, waiting for the pitcher to throw his ball at you. The pitcher will make occasional variations in the type of throw and speed to make you miss your strike. There are three modes in total- Player vs. AI, All-Stars, and Pennant.
Now, why would Nintendo waste their 3D stereoscopic display on a boring fishing game? That is what most of you are thinking after reading the title. But trust me- this game isn’t THAT boring and can actually reward players with an exciting moment or two every once in a while.
If you’re planning to grab a copy of this game, understand that it was never officially released outside Japan. Although, fans have made an English translation which can be played via emulation.
The Virtual Boy certainly had potential, but Nintendo did away with it as soon as the N64 was ready for distribution. As a result, many of the games on the Virtual Boy feel unfinished. Nintendo promised many features in software within the game ROMs but was never enabled due to stability issues.
Overall, this console is certainly Nintendo’s largest failure to date. It existed for no more than a year and only has 22 games. Not to mention, Nintendo sold like 1 million of these things even after repeated price drops.
Gunpei Yokoi and the Nintendo team spent nearly four years developing the Virtual Boy, which was nowhere near ready for a proper commercial release. But the N64 was coming, and they had to push this device out somehow and make whatever profits they could before ditching it. Nintendo went all-out with its marketing campaign, spending nearly 25 million dollars to convince people that this was the future of gaming.
But people quickly realized that the Virtual Boy was far too uncomfortable, expensive, and impractical. Its color palette of red and black certainly wasn’t helping things along. Looking at the controller for this console, you can see that it is similar to the N64 controller (minus a joystick, of course).
No matter how you look at it, the Virtual Boy was a commercial failure. Even Nintendo knew it was going to fail, which is why they rushed the release and immediately stopped production after the N64 was announced. You could probably fit all 22 Virtual Boy games on a single cartridge included for free with every console, and people still wouldn’t be interested in it.
However, it’s worth discussing as an innovative piece of tech that wasn’t given enough time to iron out the rough edges. This concept was later realized in the form of 3D gaming, promoted by both NVIDIA and AMD. Stereoscopic 3D gaming monitors were released, which have now disappeared into the record book of failed gaming gimmicks.
You could say that Nintendo was 10 to 12 years ahead of the curve. Besides, VR is the new gimmick, and it has yet to become popular despite holding the most potential of any technology we’ve seen so far in gaming. It’s clear that prohibitive costs and proprietary hardware aren’t a great way to get the general public to adopt your ideas.
In the end, when all is said and done, the Virtual Boy remains a cautionary tale for Nintendo. A reminder of what happens when you go a little too wild with your creativity. Plus, it showed that people weren’t ready for a primitive form of 3D gaming just yet.