Nintendo is an odd company in many ways; deeply conservative in some respects, but also able to swing for the fences and invest money and resources in the pursuit of pure novelty. Time and again it puts out products that no other platform holder would have dreamed of, and more often than not those frivolities turn out to be delightfully entertaining. Not every idea can be a winner, though, and there are few more high profile failures in the Kyoto company’s back catalogue than the Virtual Boy.
An odd concept for a console that delivered rudimentary (and very red) autostereoscopic 3D gaming through a built-in viewer, its development was led by legendary Nintendo engineer Gunpei Yokoi, the same man behind the Game & Watch handhelds and the all-conquering Game Boy. Virtual Boy launched in Japan on 21st July 1995, but performed very poorly, both at home and in North America. So poorly, in fact, that it never reached European shores at all; production was discontinued after only five months in its homeland.
With a catalogue of just 22 games released between both territories, it’s an infamous example of one of Nintendo’s more outlandish products completely missing the mark. But does it really deserve its reputation? Surely there are a couple of stone-cold classics in its library which would make tracking down a Virtual Boy worth it, no?
In honour of the console’s 25th anniversary, we’ve ranked all 22 games in order of merit below. To hear more about each game, check out our reviews for each and every one. That these games never found their way to 3DS feels like a real missed opportunity, that’s for sure – especially to poor Europeans for whom the Virtual Boy represents a tantilising missing piece of the Nintendo puzzle.
With the console now a quarter of a century old, perhaps it’s time to dig through the cupboard here at Nintendo Life HQ and fire up the ol’ Boy again…
And you thought the film was bad. Waterworld is an ugly, depressingly dull excuse for a game. The film might have been a box office bomb, but it really isn’t as awful as its repuation suggests. The VB game is irredeemably poor, though, and you have our permission to label your mint boxed Virtual Boy library ‘complete’ with this one missing.
A soupily slow game that made our ears bleed, falling block puzzler Virtual Lab threatens to become passably fun at times. They’re empty threats, though, and it never escapes its crushingly dull, repetitive loop. It’s not insultingly offensive, but if you’re after an excuse to splurge on a near-mint Virtual Boy on ebay, this ain’t it.
Oh dear. Maybe we should have started at the top? Nestling at #20 we’ve got the first of several sports games available for the system. Some decent 3D effects can’t disguise a game only its mother could love, and unfortunately Virtual League Baseball can’t make up for its lacklustre looks with decent gameplay, either.
3D Space Invaders might seem like the draw, but actually it’s the 2D version included in this collection that captures the arcade original best. Still, there’s no shortage of ways to play Space Invaders these days, so while this isn’t terrible, it’s hardly worth giving yourself a headache for.
Well-designed characters and decent 3D can’t save this poorly-presented and repetitive Gundam game from the dusty depths of your wardrobe following its debut in your Virtual Boy’s cart slot. SD Gundam Dimension War could have been worse, but not much.
A Japanese exclusive, Virtual Fishing is far from the worst game on the system, although you know you’re in trouble when that’s the highest compliment you can pay. It struggles to find the right balance between presenting a challenge and becoming boringly easy when it comes to landing a lunker. Again, not awful but also not worth flaring up your glaucoma to play.
A first-person horror game that suffers from similar issues of repetition as many of the console’s other titles, but at least it tried something different. It all feels a little old-hat by modern standards, but as a curio in the Virtual Boy catalogue, Insmouse no Yakata may be worth a look if you’re into old-school 3D dungeon exploration games.
Teleroboxer is the first of the Virtual Boy catalogue that could be legitimately, consistently labelled as ‘fun’. Unfortunately, the experience is extremely short-lived, but while it lasts this first-person fighter isn’t half-bad. Hardly a sterling recommendation, we know, but at this stage we’ll take what we can get.
Okay, a Mario title – surely a harbinger of quality, no? Well, not quite. Playing much like an updated version of the original Mario Bros., Mario Clash is not exactly the killer platformer we want from the plumber, but it’s in a whole other league to some of the dross we’ve waded through to get here.
To reiterate, this is by no means essential, but it’s not bad. Our quest for the killer app continues.
Perhaps it’s our affection for sports games with plain, unadorned titles, or perhaps it’s tough to make a bad golf game, but we quite like Golf. Its lack of multiplayer and ability to save your progress hurts, not to mention its single course and inevitably repetitive nature, but the base gameplay here is solid and, as we’ve seen, you could do a lot worse. We give this three headaches out of five.
The first of Virtual Boy’s duo of Tetris titles, V-Tetris is Tetris and therefore hits a minimum level of quality almost by default. It’s not particularly special in any way, and not being able to save your high scores is a significant omission, but we can comfortably say without fear of contradiction that this is in the top two Tetris titles on the system.