Let's Get Virtual (Sort of) With Retronauts Micro

Contemplate Nintendo's greatest failure with this companion piece to last week's portable game consoles episode.

Column by Jeremy Parish, .

The Game Boy ruled portable gaming with an iron fist throughout the '90s. Well, maybe not iron, but whatever that plastic was that Nintendo used to make the Game Boy was just about as tough.

Last week, we looked at two of the Game Boy's later competitors, WonderSwan and Neo Geo Pocket. Someday, we'll look at its earlier competition, Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gear. But as we work our way backward in time, we have a brief Micro episode focusing on the weird sidestory that came smack-dab in the middle of the '90s: Virtual Boy.

It's hard to know whether Nintendo actually intended Virtual Boy to be Game Boy's replacement — the name would suggest yes, but the actual manner in which you used the two systems was completely different, and they occupied totally separate gaming spaces. And Nintendo's not saying — their story about the Virtual Boy changes radically with each telling. I don't crack this particular mystery in the latest Retronauts Micro, but Virtual Boy makes for an interesting story nevertheless.

And hey, the system still generates headlines. Just a few days ago, someone ported Hideo Kojima's Snatcher to Virtual Boy. It may have been a dud of a system, but it nevertheless holds a certain fascination. I mean, it's the only system with games that star Wario, Jack Frost, and Nester. It's a strange little slice from a very specific point in history. Inessential, perhaps, but all the more interesting as a result.

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Following our look at Game Boy's competitors in the late '90s, Jeremy explores the system's would-be successor: Nintendo's disastrous Virtual Boy. Aw, but it wasn't all bad.

Music in this episode comes from the Game Boy Wario Land games. I couldn't find any actual music rips from real Virtual Boy games, so those will have to do.

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Comments 7

  • Avatar for wegum #1 wegum 2 years ago
    Still have my Virtual Boy and play it from time to time, it was pretty easy to get a full collection from KB Toys when they were practically giving them away (I love how the box brags about coming with two AA batteries. What a deal!). The flash carts necessary to play these homebrew games like Snatcher are pretty hard to get a hold of these days.

    It's a very interesting curiosity of a console. I wish Nintendo would consider putting the VB on the 3DS Virtual Console, because Wario Land, Galactic Pinball, and Telroboxer are all pretty cool games (Wario especially) that are deserving of wider recognition. However, I definitely understand that VB is the nichest of the niche and they probably wouldn't make much money on it.

    You can experience these games with emulators, but if you get the chance to try them out on a VB in person, I highly recommend giving them a shot.
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  • Avatar for feryx #2 feryx 2 years ago
    Many years ago I found a Virtual Boy on the free shelf at my hometown's dump, It had Mario's Tennis with it.The 3D doesn't really work anymore, but it's still a neat thing to pull out and show to people every now and then.
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  • Avatar for msturge116 #3 msturge116 2 years ago
    I remember taking advantage of one of those fire sales Jeremy mentions in 1998 or so. I remember getting eight games, all Japanese, but none of the interesting strangeness.
    I created a set-up with some science lab goggles to allow for me to lay the VB on my face as I lay on my back. It was the only way to play "comfortably" for more than 30 minutes. Panic Bomber was the game of the system as far as I was concerned.
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  • Avatar for yuberus #4 yuberus 2 years ago
    I always wanted one of those weird things, but even with the fire sales my parents never got me one as a kid, and I never could find one for sale once I started working and the prices were low. There was ONE guy in high school circa 2000 willing to sell his, but he didn't offer it to me because he didn't think I - the person well known in the school for being a big fan of retro games - was interested in it. Haven't seen a good price on one since.

    The moving parts with the mirrors are a point of failure, but I also hear that there's a cable - I think a ribbon one? - that breaks down over time too. Specifically, the glue used to keep it connected weakens and it comes loose. I guess you can solder it into place, and that can fix most Virtual Boys, so if you find a busted one for a low price, hey! It may be fixable without much effort.
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  • Avatar for Thad #5 Thad 2 years ago
    Wario Land was really good. I wish they'd dust it off and release a remastered version for 3DS.

    I tried emulating it awhile back but (1) the options for Virtual Boy emulation are about as mature as you would expect and (2) even once I finally did get one running, I found the 3 shades of red to be too muddy and the depth to be too hard to detect on a modern TV. Wonder if there's an emulator that will let you futz the palette into something higher-contrast. Or I guess I could try one of the ones that implements 3D with red-cyan glasses...
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