The Virtual Boy is one of Nintendo's strangest products, and Nintendo
has released a lot of strange products. This system, however, was just too weird
for its time. The public did not like the price of the hardware, and the Virtual Boy,
having little gaming potential given its specialized format, was doomed to live the
life of a Sharper Image type of product, being owned only by people who are
crazy enough to spend their money to be the first man on the block with their own
virtual reality game system. Thus, the
system died a quick, premature death. Gunpei Yokoi, who designed the NES controller and Game Boy, created the Virtual Boy as his
last innovation before being run over and killed by a car.
The picture really explains the system better than I could with
words, but basically, the system is a virtual-reality headset (originally designed
to strap around one's head, but this feature was removed and the rubber caps on
either side of the system replace where straps would have connected). The screens
on either side are a series of bright red LEDs that are projected by oscillating
mirrors on each side. Some argue that the lack of color was what killed the Virtual
Boy, but I am suspicious since the Game Boy and the Game Boy Pocket succeeded
before and after the Virtual Boy, and its black-and-white, ghosting LCD screen
left a lot to be desired.
I began my Virtual Boy collection long after the system's demise,
and I have decided that it was a very fun and innovative system, specialized as
it may be. There are some games on there that can be found nowhere else.
For example, Vertical Force is your typical Galaga style shooter,
but it has two areas, foreground and background, where you must switch to
shoot the enemies on a certain level. The gameplay works very nicely in a
manner similar to the Japanese arcade hit Ikaruga.
Space Squash is another great game, but few American
Virtual Boy gamers would be familiar with it, since it was released only in
Japan. While Mario's Tennis, the bundle game, makes little use of the
three-dimensional space in the Virtual Boy, Space Squash makes elegant use of
perspective to make the game much more fun. Many games for the Virtual Boy
follow this principle. Of course, there are a few games that just do not belong
on the Virtual Boy, like V-Tetris and Virtual Lab, both very
two-dimensional puzzle games. I am wishfully hoping someone will come forward
with more information about the mysterious RPG that was in beta stages when
the Virtual Boy was scrapped, entitled Dragon Hopper.
As unbelievable as it sounds, it is apparently possible to use
even a Virtual Boy controller on the PC. This is accomplished through a
home-built adapter connected to the parallel port according to this site's plans (a few
pages down). There is also a simplified manual
in TXT format. Needless to say, there is no ready-made solution available.
Now, there is one catch for building your own interface. Where do you get the
socket to plug into? There is no extension cable for the Virtual Boy, and the
connector is in a non-standard shape. The only way to hook up the controller is
to either remove the socket from a Virtual Boy or to cut the wire and put a
removable plug on either end (if you would like to keep using the controller
on your Virtual Boy). I refuse to do this to my Virtual Boy, but I'm looking into
finding either an orphaned controller or broken system on eBay