About Nintendo's almost forgotten Virtual Boy console system:
About year before it's launch there where rumors about an 32X futuristic console from Nintendo. Then there was a rumor about a VR-32. This turned out to be the Virtual Boy console, officially code named VU.
The Virtual Boy was first unveiled for the public on 15 November 1994 in Japan --Tokyo-- at the Shoshinkai Exhibition (Famicom Spaceworld'94).
The Virtual Boy was released on 21 July 1995 in Japan and on 14 August 1995 in the USA. Mario's Tennis/Red Alarm/Galactic Pinball/Teleroboxer cartridges were available at launch.
Here's what Nintendo says the Virtual Boy is: "The Virtual Boy, our RISC-based, 32-bit system, produces a 3-D experience not possible on conventional television or LCD screens. The system has two high-resolution, mirror-scanning LED (light emitting diode) displays. Its unique design eliminates all external stimuli, totally immersing players into their own private universe with high-resolution red images against a deep black background. The 3-D experience is enhanced through stereo sound and a new specially-designed, double-grip controller that accommodates multidirectional spatial movement. Virtual Boy is a stand-alone, table-top unit that doesn't connect to a television screen. It is powered by six AA batteries."
What their saying is: That the Virtual Boy is very much unlike other gamesconsoles, if you play the Virtual Boy you'll have your face pressed on the eyeshade of the two displays [didn't you notice the red ring in the shape of goggles on your face after playing the VB for a while?], thus creating one 3D image for you to view in black and 4 different shades of red (more colors --blue, green-- would have been --and at present still are-- too expensive, so Nintendo went for the monochrome display). The games that create a really good 3D effect will have you go up in the game itself, but then again the only thing you'll see is the game, because no one else can see what you're playing, it's as they say "A one man show". A 2-player LinkCable was in the works, but never released. Once Nintendo tried to tell everyone it could be used as a handheld because you can also use batteries with the system, well that just won't work. The 22 different games created for it, have really good quality ones between them, that use the 3D effect to great enjoyment of the player, essential classics such as Mario's Tennis (the pack-in game), Wario Land, Mario Clash, Tetris, Golf, Bomberman, Pinball, Space Invaders are all there, and especially Virtual Boy's Wario Land uses marvelous 3D & sound effects, which has the player surpass the enjoyment factor of the Game Boy's games.
The late Gunpei Yokoi was the Virtual Boy's inventor, he had already become a legend for creating Nintendo's Game & Watch series and the Gameboy. Plus working together with Nintendo of Japan's R&D (Research & Development) on the Famicom (NES), Super Famicom (SNES) and countless Mario Land Game Boy platform games. Therefore Nintendo gave him full support in order for Gunpei to innovate all he could, and that's what he did with the Virtual Boy. For Mr. Yokoi creating the Virtual Boy wasn't about cashing in on the latest Virtual Reality craze, he wanted to(and succeeded into) make a whole new kind of gaming experience (virtual reality-esque gaming). Once he had finished the hardware, he even worked on the splendid Mario's Tennis and VB Wario Land, plus supervised 3D Tetris and Galactic Pinball as well! (Metroid mini-game anyone?) It's a shame that Mr. Yokoi's pupil Shigeru Miyamoto (after Gunpei hired and trained him, they both created Donkey Kong & Super Metroid) was so busy with the "dreamteam" on project Ultra64 (the now N64), so the upto this day best living gamedesigner never got to make a Virtual Boy game, what a shame indeed...
Later on after it's launch as it turned out to be, the Virtual Boy had to compete with the newer Sony's Playstation & Sega's Saturn. The Virtual Boy only came in "two" colors, which a lot superficial consumers didn't like (without even trying out the gameplay) and it's original price was far too high (US$179.95 Dollar and in Japan ¥15,000 Yen), Nintendo hardly allowed any third party support to release games, because they were afraid of rubbish software to take the overhand. What they actually caused was a shortage of different gametitles, plus parents were afraid of the VB's screen, because it could cause eye damage for children under the age of 7 (read about this below), adding the fact that Nintendo marketed it badly (to say the least --in commercials/adds they didn't even show screenshots the first half year after it's release--) all together helped the Virtual Boy not make it's sales expectations of 1,5 million units by the end of 1995 (there were 770.000 units sold in total, only 140.000 units of which in Japan // although positive info states 700.000 units sold in the USA and 150.000 units sold in Japan, the latter I cannot confirm as Nintendo won't comment) and so Nintendo stopped production at the end of 1996 & declared the VB "dead", (in Japan half a year after launch the system went on sellouts at ¥980 and some games at ¥10), while they fired Gunpei Yokoi shortly after, eventhough he had earned them billions of Yen *!!!* with the success of the Gameboy, yes Nintendo can be foolish sometimes.
Actually Nintendo had already planned a re-launch of the Virtual Boy on Monday the 26th of August in 1996. With more mature/next-generation games such as Zero Racers (Action racing), Dragon Hopper (RPG), Bound High (Action puzzler). Even previews of these were done by gamesmagazines and some already had been for show at the Japanese Shoshinkai (Famicom Spaceworld 1995) & the American E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) tradeshows. Also in Japan they were THIS close to releasing an Adjustable Stand (and a Shoulder Harness was also in the making) for the VB. Eventhough all of this, what the Virtual Boy really needed were VB conversions of Zelda, Metroid, Mario Kart, Goldeneye007 (was in development) & Mario Land (was in the works by Nintendo as Mario Adventure). Nintendo cancelled all (+/-34) these games and with them all other games they were ever planning to release.
Still it must be said that after 5 years almost 800.000 gamers worldwide can experience that the Virtual Boy stands up equally against current videogameconsoles in terms of gameplay and lastability (plus the 3D effects are in 2000 still quite nifty!) --or more gamers depending on how much left over stock USA and Japanese stores had at the VB's demise-- There are still plenty Virtual Boy units and fun VB-games for sale on the internet (USA online stores ship worldwide & auctions are great as well) and in the bigger (USA/JPN) gamestores. So if you have a couple of bucks to spare, be sure to join in on the fun, because if you can get a complete new console with games for the price of a second hand Gameboy Color, why not try it? I reckon you won't be disappointed. One warning though: in Japan some games sell for US$1,- to 10,- but on the internet (in the USA) some rarer ones sell for much much more, I guess it's all about how much you want to spend on it right now. One thing is for sure, today's Virtual Boy is tomorrows collectable retro system.
One last thing I should not forget to mention: I was able to write this text as unbiased as possible, because I seem to be about the only person in the world who doesn't get a headache after playing the Virtual Boy for a longer time (up to 6 hours in a row). Well for now enjoy it and as we say: "VIRTUAL BOY ON!!"
HERE TO GET A PICTURE OF A VIRTUAL BOY YOU CAN MOVE AROUND WITH YOUR MOUSE!
*Make sure you have Quicktime movie player.
PS: The differences between an American and Japanese Virtual Boy system
besides the little difference in serial number are that I found
that the white sticker underneath had no barcode? So I looked for the Nintendo
help line sticker and I found Japanese writing. The
Most noticeable difference other than the stickers are that the EXT port is
named the "PLAYLINK".
USA VB = serialnumber VUE S RA01
JPN VB = serialnumber VUE-S-RA (JPN)
By Ferry Groenendijk.
*Click this image!
Here's a response letter from Nintendo of America after they stopped VB game production end 1996.
A small 1999 essay from a true VB fan about why Nintendo should bring back the VB with some good points.
In 1995 NOJ President Hiroshi Yamauchi said: "We're going to open up a new field for entertainment."
In 1995 NOA President Howard Lincoln speaking on Virtual Boy: "I think there are limitations and advantages in any videogame product, and I'm sure all the disadvantages you've explained can be quickly turned into advantages, particularly by our marketing people. My recollection is that there were similar questions about Game Boy when we launched it. Yes, the color is monochromatic, but it does produce the 3D experience. Yes, you have to look through it as opposed to playing it on a TV set and all that, but ultimately the product is judged by our shareholders in terms of whether is sells and whether we make a good profit."
Inventor Gunpei Yokoi about the Virtual Boy in 1995:
"When we initially started work on the Virtual Boy, in 1992, it was at a time when the Super Famicom (SNES) was really booming. But we still had doubts as to how long it would take before the general public would eventually get bored with a traditional (TV/LCD) display. So we came up with the idea of a 3D image project. Now we are showing a product that coincides with the release of the Playstation and Saturn. And I think that what we originally thought was right, because many people who have seen the demonstrations of these so-called next-generation machines have already said that they just can't understand the difference between them and the and the 16bit machines. Therefore, I think that the Virtual Boy will prove very important in this respect."
People tend to love overreacting when they hear the media say anything negative about something, and with time stories grow worse and worse and sometimes lies become truth in the eyes of the beholders who know no better. This is no different with Nintendo's Virtual Boy. This way stories about losing eyesight have spread around like wildfire, none of which can be true ofcourse, here's why and let me quote the Virtual Boy manual, aside from the common epilepsy and seizure warning saying if you have a history with any of these two you should not be playing videogames in general, so here goes:
!WARNING: This product MUST NOT be used by children under the age of seven (7)
Artificial stereo vision displays may not be safe for such children and may cause serious, permanent damage to their vision.
(This makes sense, because young children's eyes are not fully developed yet)
!WARNING: Repetitive strain and injury. Some people may experience fatigue or discomfort after playing for a long time. Regardless of how you feel, you should ALWAYS take a 10 to 15 minute break every hour while playing. If your hands or arms become tired or uncomfortable while playing, stop and rest. If you continue to experience soreness or discomfort during or after play, listen to the signals your body is giving you. Stop playing and consult a doctor. Failure to do so could result in long term injury. If your hands, wrists or arms have been injured or strained in other activities, use of your system could aggravate the condition. Before playing consult a doctor.
Although this is a common warning applied to all videogame systems, by wrongly adjusting their Inter Pupil Distance and Focus Slider in combination with not properly adjusted angle of height in front of the VB, many people have experienced eye strain, headaches, nausea, dizziness, blurred vision and discomfort. These are all very temporary negative side effects which SOME people MAY experience. Mainly because they have their eyes focussed at one point far too concentrated for a longer period of time without taking the automatic pause brakes between gameplay the VB offers each 10 or 15 minutes.
I myself have played the Virtual Boy for 6 hours in a row with Wario Land, Galactic Pinball, and Red Alarm on different days WITHOUT any problem whatsoever (just went to get a drink every 1-2 hours), at the end of the midday I could just stand up and walk away happy. You can never know if you will have any problems or none at all without trying it out yourself. In the past I've had 10 friends play some VB games for about an hour in a row, like me, no one had a problem. Just make sure you set the focus of your VB correctly, most people forget this and that's mostly what causes them a headache.
*TIP: Each time you start your VB, set the IPD & Focus at the startup screen!!
An eye care professional offers a few more detailed explanations:
As far as actually causing your glasses prescription to change, mostly you worry about that in young children, say under 5 yr old with a Hyperopic (far-sighted) correction. Playing a Virtual Boy won't change that.
The eyestrain associated with a Virtual Boy could surely be reduced with movable oculars (unfortunately not included)to account for each persons pupillary distance (distance between your eyes). For example: if your eyes are further apart you have to move and hold them in closer to your nose causing eye strain. Breaks every 15 to 30 minutes should help reduce that to nothing. Even a 20 second break, looking at least 20 feet away can drastically reduce symptoms.
Now, what about those of us, say 16 to about 30? Well, it has been documented that people in this age group can have a small increase in their myopia (near-sightedness) with prolonged work at near. Most often we see this in college age/professional students, especially in study intensive programs such as Law, Medicine, etc. . . I see no reason why this also cannot happen with a Virtual Boy. Basically this is the mechanism. Everyone has in their eyes behind the iris a lens that changes shape in order for you to see things up close. For most of us this lens still works pretty good, and will continue to not give us problems until we're 40 or so (and then we get bifocals woohoo). With prolonged near work our lens is trying very hard to keep focused up close. This could lead to an 'accommodative spasm' meaning when we are finally done doing stuff up close and we try to look in the distance our lens cannot fully relax and things may appear slightly blurry. Basically after time this can lead to an increase in myopia (near-sightedness again). With breaks, this effect can also be reduced. As we age that extra tension will be released and your prescription will settle to where it was before.
Some people have eyes with a tendency to turn out or in leading to strain and double vision. Obviously these individuals will have more severe symptoms up to and including headaches. If you have specific questions your friendly neighborhood Optometrist can certainly answer those for you.
I hope that this helps, its a lot of information, but its not like Nintendo was trying to make us go blind. The Virtual Boy is a fun little system and I'd hate to see someone turned away before they had a chance to try it based on the supposed effects on the eyes.
Virtual Boy total software sales in Japan in '95 (vertical) per month
Sales X 1000
Sales per month in 1995:
|Total sales =||18|
Virtual Boy software sales in Japan in '95, in percentages of the whole
taken per company
Virtual Boy number of software sales:
|T & E software||2|
|Coconuts Japan Entertainment||1|
|Pack In Video||1|
|Total Number =||18|
Creator of this info, based on official statistics: Fumiaki Kosiro
Date: April 26, 1998 Sunday.
are some headshots of the vb unit;
PPS: VB appears in the GameCube hit Super Smash Bros. Melee here, japanese here, and not in the usa/eu here.