Nintendo's Greatest Failure Had Gamers Seeing Red

Nintendo's Greatest Failure Had Gamers Seeing Red

20 years ago, Nintendo gambled on the unconventional Virtual Boy, bringing an end to a remarkable winning streak.

They can't all be winners, and eventually even the hottest winning streak has to come to an end. 20 years ago today, Nintendo played its first bad hand since the 1983 debut of the Famicom home console.

In 1995, Japanese console giant Nintendo still stood on top of the world. It had been quite a slugfest with Sega for a while, there in the 16-bit years, but eventually Super NES prevailed. And in the handheld space, no one even came close to Game Boy's popularity. So it would stand to reason that Nintendo's next portable system, designed by Game Boy creator Gunpei Yokoi, would be the next big thing, right? Well....

Unfortunately, Virtual Boy was not a case of the right system at the right time. It wasn't even a case of the right system at the wrong time. It was just plain wrong — a combination of miscalculating what players wanted and how they wanted to play, marketing that had no clue what to do with such an unconventional game device, an outlandish price, and technology that wasn't quite ready for prime time. It landed on the market with a dull, resounding thud, falling millions of units short of Nintendo's projections and dying quietly within a year.

Plenty can be said — and has been! — about Virtual Boy's failure. But on the plus side, it also demonstrated Nintendo's reslience. It was a huge blow for the company, but they survived. And not just by launching better hardware; the Nintendo 64 arrived the following year, but it was only a hit in the U.S. and fizzled in Japan and Europe. No, Nintendo thrived in the latter half of the '90s on the strength of a simple RPG on the platform that Virtual Boy was supposed to replace: Pokémon. Not everything the company comes up with works out like it's meant to, as we've seen with the Wii U, but Nintendo has a remarkable ability to survive its mistakes by betting big on unlikely winners....

For new bite-sized retrospectives every weekday, subscribe to our YouTube channel and keep an eye on our This Day in Video Game History playlist!

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Read this next

Apple Arcade Springs Soft Launch on Developers, Some Games May Not Be Final Versions

Some iOS 13 beta participants can play games that don't even have official release dates yet.

Starting Screen | Games are Running Worse Than Ever on the Base PS4 and Xbox One. Is There a Solution?

Owners of the base consoles are increasingly saddled with long load times when playing games like Borderlands 3.


Sly 2: Band of Thieves' Stellar Heists Still Can't Be Topped, 15 Years Later

Sly 2 turns 15, making us all feel very, very old.

Why the Dreamcast Still Matters

Why the Sega Dreamcast still resonates with game enthusiasts on its 20th anniversary.

Final Fantasy 8 Was Always Good

Reexamining one of the most divisive games in the series on its 20th anniversary.

10 Years Ago, Batman: Arkham Asylum Showed Us That Superhero Games Could Be More

Nothing before could capture the Dark Knight quite like Arkham.