Nintendo Virtual Boy Celebrates 20th Birthday This Week

virtual-boy-collection-close-upNot a lot of people remember Nintendo’s biggest flop, the Virtual Boy. First of all if was never released in Europe or the PAL region, and secondly it did not have a very long life span, but the console still shows the innovative spirit of Nintendo.

Released on the 21st of July 1995 in Japan, and just a few months later in North America, the Nintendo Virtual Boy was discontinued only 6 months later. Arriving as an expensive purchase at $180, at the time the Game Boy cost less than half of the red and black coloured system. This is probably what people compared it to since it was marketed as a portable gaming system, even though the portability could strongly be questioned. You needed to have it on a stand, which had to be placed on a flat surface, preferably a table, so you needed a chair to sit comfortably in front of the system - and to make matters worse, it had a separate controller on a chord, much like a regular console...

The system only sold a mere 770,000 units

There was however a lot of hype around the system before it launched, albeit with Nintendo making a giant marketing failure by teaming up with Blockbuster in the US. There they rented out the system for $10 so people could try it out, and then subsequently gave away a $10 gift card for when they purchased the system. In total, 750,000 people rented the system. These people might have bought the system out of curiosity, but after having tried it most people hesitated. The system only sold a mere 770,000 units in both Japan and the US, and it is still today Nintendo’s worst selling console.

So why did it sell so bad? First of all it was too expensive compared to what it actually delivered. The parts and technology made it expensive, even though Nintendo had attempted to hold costs down by making it monochromatic in its display instead of full colour. Everything is red and black… and it’s not particularly appealing to look at.

virtual-boy-screenshot-panic-bomber-gameplay

Even though the screen portrays a 3D depth in the picture the games still feels kind of “flat”. You couldn’t wear the console, and it didn’t interact with your movement, which was expected by a virtual reality system, but the technology wasn’t there yet. Another thing that affected sales negatively was the fact that parents and buyers were worried about health implications of using the Virtual Boy. Every game on it has a built in function to go into pause-mode after 15-30 minutes of gameplay, this was to avoid injuries to your eyes. A lot of people were also complaining about experiencing headaches and nausea when playing on the Virtual Boy. Personally I don’t feel sick when playing it, I guess people experience it differently, some people can’t go on carnival-rides without puking ;D

There were not many games released for the system, only 14 in the US and 22 in total. Today there are some homebrews being made though. At Planet Virtual Boy you can find both homebrews and unreleased games that never got to see the light of day for the system.

virtual-boy-eyes

The Virtual Boy is a sought after item for many retro game collectors today. It’s an obscure tale in Nintendo history, quite an oddball of a system, but it’s nice to see a company like Nintendo try something different and not being afraid of failing. Virtual reality was very popular in the 90s and we can see today how that trend is coming back with the Oculus, HoloLens and Project Morpheus.

Happy Birthday Virtual Boy, you’re a milestone in video game history that shouldn’t be forgotten!


Last Updated ( 25 July 2015 )  

Heidi

Heidi is an avid game collectress, collecting all the retro video games she never got as a kid (yes she was deprived of gaming as a child!!). This together with her OCD for hoarding has lead to an enormous collection of almost every retro gaming system out there. She's spreading her love for retro games all over the internet through her blog :)

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Comments 

(Link to this comment) DarakuTenshi 2015-07-26 13:22
I was one of the few early adopters of this system who actually enjoyed it and still enjoys it to this day. I don't have issues with headaches that people claim to get when playing it even for extended periods of time. It's a great system and I would love to see a successor to the VB with a true virtual experience now that the technology is here and already implemented in many of the current Nintendo products. I'm not holding my breath, because honestly with so many not buying into the VB back in the day I think it really would be a bad move on Nintendo's part to try and do another virtual system. I guess I'll have to see how the Sony Virtual headset goes.
(Link to this comment) stopXwhispering 2015-08-11 10:51
I enjoy the Virtual Boy too, unfortunately I never had the chance to play it back when it came out..
I don't feel that the 3DS is as "3D" as the Virtual Boy was.. still the 3DS has been a major success, and I don't understand why, that 3D effect just looks awkward and blurry in my opinion. I have a 3DS, but I ALWAYS turn the 3D effects off! Haha ^_^
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