In early 1995, I remember reading a letter in a video game magazine that talked about how much momentum Nintendo had with the upcoming Ultra 64 console and the futuristic Virtual Boy. When it launched, the Nintendo 64 (its final name) did fine — although it didn’t beat the new PlayStation system from Sony. The Virtual Boy, however, was an unmitigated disaster.
The Virtual Boy was Nintendo’s 32-bit offshoot of the Game Boy line that you played by sticking your face into a stereoscopic display. The device displayed 3D images with an effective sense of depth. But it failed because it was ugly, uncomfortable, and could only produce various shades of the color red. Nintendo even built a timer into every game that would pause the action ever 15 minutes, because otherwise you could end up with a headache or a crooked neck. The gadget was a nightmare that deserved its discontinuation less than a year after its release.
Nintendo has not done much to secure the legacy of the Virtual Boy or its games, so if you want to play Virtual Boy Wario Land or Mario’s Tennis, you’d have to rely on the original hardware or a 2D emulator on your PC. But that changed in recent years with the launch of the fan-made VBjin emulator that enables Virtual Boy games to work with the Oculus Rift headset.
I tested out VBjin recently, and it has actually made games that were once a miserable experience into something quite fun.
Most Virtual Boy games are still pretty bad. They were, after all, launch software for a new platform. Galactic Pinball is a low-effort pinball game, and 3D Tetris is a crime against nature. But it’s nice to have a reliable, comfortable way to play Mario’s Tennis, which always had big, beautiful sprites and decent mechanics. I also love the Wario Land adaptation, which looked appealing even in the all-red graphics thanks to some great art and animation.
I even like the look of the Waterworld game, based on the Kevin Costner film. The Jet Ski enemies had this weird holographic styling that popped even harder thanks to the all-red aesthetic.
Nothing here is a classic, but I still cherish having a pleasant way to look back on the history of one of gaming’s biggest own goals. And I recommend you giving it a shot if you have access to the hardware.