I used to own a Virtual Boy. True story. My local Albertsons (supermarket chain, for those who don't know) was holding a drawing for a Virtual Boy sometime in September. I wanted one simply on the virtue that it was a new videogame thing, and I liked videogames. Being about 14 years old with nothing better to do, I'd swing by the store on my mile-long walk home from school and grab a stack of about 15-25 entries. When I stopped by on my way home the next day, I'd deposit the entries I'd filled out and grab another stack. This continued for probably close to a week. If you ever wondered why contests have clauses that say, "one entry per person" - well, it's guys like me that created a demand for that sort of rule.
It probably won't shock you to know that I won the Virtual Boy. If I had to guess, I'd say around 50% of all the entries in the entry box were probably filled out by me. We took it home and realized immediately that the red monstrosity needed 6 AA batteries to function. Obviously, this meant a trip back to the store, where a 12 pack was acquired for something ridiculous like $8 or whatever. Came home, popped the batteries in, and fired up the included game, Mario Tennis.
Obviously the first thing you notice about the Virtual Boy is that it can make you go blind. Every time you turn on the system, it demands that you read the operating manual in order to make you understand just how dangerous prolonged use of the hardware might be. Get past that screen, and it will ask if you want to set up a timer - if left on, every 20 minutes or so the Virtual Boy will interrupt whatever game you happen to be playing and ask you if you'd like to take a break in order to help alleviate eyestrain. Nevermind the big fat warning on the box itself, saying the system may be dangerous for those who are younger than 7 years old. But yeah. Mario Tennis. It was a good game for its time - obviously outclassed by today's entries in the series, but back then, with the 3D effect, it was amazing.
For about two hours. Then the batteries died.
Four hours after I had come home with my Virtual Boy, it was toast. No batteries left. No way to get any more. The next day, I stopped by Wal-mart on my walk home from school. It was next door to Albertsons. Virtual Boy A/C adapters were $20. I didn't have $20. I checked the price for the unit itself. $179. That was quite a lot of money, especially to a 14 year old. I went home and stared at my powerless Virtual Boy. Eventually, a little under a week later, I would trade it in. By the time I traded it in, Wal-mart had already dropped the price to $139. The system had barely even been out for a month and it was already $40 lighter. I would come to find out that if I had kept the Virtual Boy, I would have most definitely gotten an A/C Adapter for Christmas. Instead, I used that $140 to buy a Sega Game Gear, three discounted games (Sonic: Triple Trouble, Sonic Drift 2, and Columns III), a set of batteries, and an A/C adapter. I still have that Game Gear, somewhere.
Every now and then, I still get nostalgic for the Virtual Boy. It was definitely a turd - make no mistake. It was physically hazardous to your health, heavy, bulky, and chewed through batteries like nobody's business. But it was a neat novelty, at least - the 3D effect was very convincing and when a game made proper use of it, it was fantastic.
Somewhere in this post I actually wanted to talk about a specific Virtual Boy game. One that I didn't get a chance to play then, and only had a chance to play recently: The uninspiredly-titled Virtual Boy Wario Land. Many would call it the only Virtual Boy game worth playing, and after having a chance to play it myself recently, I'd have to agree.
Essentially, VB Wario is the lost Wario Land game, primarily being a continuation of Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land (his debut game). If you're familiar with the power-ups from that game, they return in VB Wario, but obviously with much larger sprites, much better animation, and some very subtle, very awesome 3D effects. Everything in this game takes great advantage of the Virtual Boy's 3D hardware - every layer of parallax is portrayed in 3D space, and even Wario himself exists in more dimensions than his 2D sprite initially belies: when facing to the right, Wario's right arm is rendered as being closer to the camera, while his left arm is portrayed as being further away, while his body rests somewhere between the distance of the two. It's not incredibly amazing by any stretch of the imagination, but it's cool enough.
The game uses 3D in less subtle ways, too. A lot of enemies will zoom in and out of the foreground and background, and even Wario himself can use special "spring board" blocks to jump to secret areas located in the game's background. Again, not mindblowing or anything, but at the very least, it's functional without being annoying. Bosses also make use of 3D - the first boss will attack you with a mace from a platform in the distant background and you have to dodge it. Dodge it enough times and he'll jump to the foreground (where you are), where he becomes vulnerable to attack.
Arguably, though, nothing in VB Wario needs to be in 3D, however. Just like how 2D versions of 3D movies are perfectly watchable (though full lots of silly "3D moments" where objects toward and away from the camera), VB Wario is perfectly playable minus the stereoscopic 3D and you'd be none the wiser. It's a shame, then, that Nintendo has swep the Virtual Boy under the rug - because this is a great game, if a bit short (there appear to be only 14 levels or so). We'll never see it appear on the Virtual Console or anywhere else - basically, you'll probably never get to play this. The "alternative" methods to play the game aren't exactly ideal, either - they're tricky to set up and can be sluggish to play the game with. The closest we've ever gotten to playing VB Wario Land on more recent hardware is perhaps Wario Land 4, but even that's more of a distant cousin, as the only element it shares is the idea that you have to find a key within a strict time limit in order to escape the level.
Still, for those of you who refuse to let the dream die and want to see a Virtual Boy game running in stereoscopic 3D, I've got you covered. Youtube, as it turns out, implemented a "3D Glasses" mode back in July. Combined with some crazy voodoo magic, I have captured and uploaded footage of VB Wario Land and have enabled the 3D Glasses Mode.
Unfortunately, as you can no doubt see from the thumbnail, the 3D Glasses Mode does not work in the embedded Youtube player. If you have a pair of 3D Glasses, you'll have to go to the actual Youtube Video page, which has a drop down box for various 3D Glasses options (including the classic red/blue colored lenses and their ilk). If the 3D doesn't work right, try flipping your 3D glasses around so the colors are on opposite eyes - I use a pair of Blue/Yellow glasses that I have to wear "backwards" for the effect to look right. If you don't have glasses, there's a even an option to view the video "normally" (just select "View Left Only").
Maybe one day, if 3D really becomes a prominent part of watching TV, we'll see VB Wario Land get an official re-release as a "retro" title. But until that far off distant future, we'll have to settle for Youtube.