The Virtual Boy was a "portable" game system developed by Nintendo, described as the first portable game system to display 3D graphics. It was also Nintendo's first 32-bit gaming system. It was Released on July 21, 1995 in Japan and on August 14, 1995 in North America. It was discontinued on December 22nd, 1995 in Japan and on March 2nd, 1996 in North America.
Why It Flopped
- Overpriced; as it cost $179.95 USD (approximately $307 in 2020) at launch.
- Despite being advertised as being a portable game system, it is not portable in the context of it being a handheld like the Game Boy, but rather as a tabletop system that could be taken anyplace.
- Nintendo rushed the Virtual Boy, far before its creator, Gunpei Yokoi, felt it was ready. This was because Nintendo was not seeing a return on their investment in VR technology and was already starting to rebrand their home console, "Project Reality," as the "Ultra 64," dropping all VR-related elements. The Virtual Boy was surplus to their plans and clearly not working, so they simply dropped it on the market as it was in the hope of recouping some of their R&D costs. Because of the failure of the Virtual Boy, Yokoi's 31-year career with Nintendo ended on a sour note.
- Prolonged use of the system could cause medical problems, often causing neck and back pain when trying to use it. In addition, it was known for causing eye strain, nausea, and headaches. It was even capable of causing permanent eye damage if used too long, the console's box even warns you from using it for too long.
- The only colors used in the games were red and black.
- The decision to make the graphics in red and black was a call purely based on cost. Attempting 3D graphics was very expensive in 1995, so having a single color was cheaper. Cheap multi-color LEDs weren't invented until 1996. While the tactic of a grayscale screen worked for the Game Boy, it didn't work for the Virtual Boy.
- It had a very small library of games, with 22 games total, with 19 released in Japan and 14 in North America.
- Despite the name "Virtual" Boy, none of the games succeeded in taking advantage of the term, in fact while few games tried to add 3D effects, none of the games even tried to add virtual reality in their games, with gamers complaining that they weren't immersed in a virtual world, and felt that it was just like playing a regular 2-dimensional game that one would normally play on a television or handheld screen.
- None of the released games had any form of two-player gameplay modes (the link cable that was supposed to allow this feature was never released).
- The controller is required to run the system, as it actually has the power switch on it.
- Its removable battery pack holds six AA-size batteries, not unlike certain other systems. This can be changed out for the AC adapter tap (which uses the SNS-002 AC adapter of the SNES) if the user doesn't wish to use batteries, but if playing on a table, the AC adapter can come loose during gameplay and the console will turn off.
- Fans of the console claim there are methods to lessen the medical problems this console can cause like playing the game in the dark to lessen eye strain.
- Some good games were released on the console like Mario Clash, Virtual Wario Land, Teleroboxer, Space Squash (even the Angry Video Game Nerd acknowledged this), although they were mainly games that could have been played on a home console or Game Boy. Among its Western releases at least, the only Virtual Boy game that's usually considered to be outright bad is WaterWorld, while the worst Japan-only game is Virtual Lab.
- Its small library also means that it's easy to finish the collection (though the prices may be very high for some games, such as Jack Bros.).
- Decent 3D effects in some of the games.
- If not for the Virtual Boy's failure the 3DS might not have been made.
- The controller has a more conventional design than the Nintendo 64's.
- Before being discontinued, the price was reduced from $170 to $100.
The Virtual Boy flopped horribly and was discontinued in less than a year, making it Nintendo's most infamous console. Despite its failure, it has a cult following and is considered a valuable collector's item.
YouTuber Doc Seven ranked it as the worst game console (made by well-known brands) of all time. (His review also contains a short clip of AVGN trying to find a good pose to use it)
Nintendo would eventually make built-in 3D without glasses correctly with the Nintendo 3DS.
- Argonaut was working on a VR project for Nintendo called the Super Visor, which would have had superior hardware specifications to that of the Virtual Boy, along with Argonaut's own BRender realtime 3D graphics engine. However, it was canned in favor of the Virtual Boy. The Super Visor was also sold to Hasbro, which was going to release it as a VR gaming console codenamed "Toaster" (later known as X-Scape and later the Rush), but it was never released.
- The Virtual Boy's CPU is a customized version of the NEC V810 RISC processor, which is also used in the PC-FX console.
- It made a cameo appearance under the name "Virtual Boo" in Luigi's Mansion 3.
- It was originally going to be worn on the head with head tracking, but Japanese safety regulations forced Nintendo to put it on a stand.