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Top 5 Virtual Boy games

The Virtual Boy stands as one of Nintendo's few outright failures, but it isn't hard to see why.  With its dark red LED graphics and being rushed to markets to capitalize on a trend over Gunpei Yokoi's protests, it was setting itself up for disappointment right away.  Not to mention the hardware was flimsy and unreliable (resulting in countless broken stands and eyepieces) and it had a library of games that largely failed to take advantage of its "virtual reality" selling point, resulting in most people viewing it as an incremental upgrade over the Game Boy at best and a weak gimmick at worst.  As a result of this and a high price tag ($180 - double the Game Boy's launch price and nearly the same cost of the soon-to-be-released Nintendo 64), the Virtual Boy sold well under a million units worldwide and was discontinued less than a year after its debut, amassing a total of 22 titles during its short existence; of these, eight were exclusive to Japan and three were exclusive to North America.

So why do a top list of a system that was virtually unplayable when it was new, let alone by today's standards?  Because like any system, there are a few interesting titles that are worth a look, even if you have to emulate them owing to the terrible original hardware (an alternative which allows you use more modern/less headache-inducing options for 3D effects).  So let's look at my five favorites.

5. Mario Clash (Nintendo, 1995)

The only Mario game on the system, and rather than being a sidescrolling platformer, Mario Clash is more or less a remake of the original Mario Bros arcade game.  It's a pretty loose adaptation, though, featuring reworked gameplay that takes advantage of a 3D layout - generally by having you throw Koopa shells to hit enemies from across the stage in order to defeat them, as well as a bonus level where you catch coins on a 3D layout.  Pretty basic stuff, but they stretched out for a whopping 99 levels, so you're going to be playing for quite a while if you want to see it all. Not a bad title for what it is, but disappointing for what it isn't.

4. Jack Bros. (Atlus, 1995)

The last game released on the Virtual Boy (in North America, at least) and, somewhat ironically, the first game in the Megami Tensei series to be released outside of Japan.  Rather than being a super-tough dungeon crawling RPG, however, it's a top-down action game where you navigate a series of mazes, defeat enemies, collect keys to open the door down to the next level, and battle stage bosses, all on a continually decreasing timer that doubles as a health bar (taking a hit costs anywhere from 5 to 20 seconds).  It's ultimately nothing that hasn't been done elsewhere, but Jack Bros. plays smoothly, has some charming monster designs and surprisingly good music, so that puts it in the upper echelon of Virtual Boy games.

3. Panic Bomber (Hudson Soft, 1995)

A solid head-to-head puzzle game in the vein of games like Puyo Puyo, based around matching up icons to fill your playfield with bombs, then detonating them when a lit one drops to bury your opponent in junk.  But like many other titles on the system, the nagging question is "why does this need to be in 3D"?  And the answer is... it doesn't, really.  This could have just as easily been an SNES or Game Boy game (in fact, it was) and would have been no worse off for it.  Well regardless, Panic Bomber a fun little title.  Just a pity they couldn't implement a two-player mode because the Virtual Boy was retired before a link cable was ever released...

2. Teleroboxer (Nintendo, 1995)

3D Punch-Out!  Well, maybe not quite; it has a futuristic theme and you're fighting robots from a first-person perspective, but the idea is definitely there (and several of the same developers worked on both games).  Regardless, it's a fun little title, having you block, dodge and attack, and even unleash some powerful haymaker hits with well-timed button presses that deal out major damage to your foes.  There was even a hidden eighth opponent if you managed to defeat all seven of the normal ones without losing a round.  Pretty cool, and it actually takes advantage of the system's gimmick rather well with its ring lit by overhead lights and having robotic fists flying right into your face.

1. Virtual Boy Wario Land (Nintendo, 1995)

As if there were any other choice.  Virtual Boy Wario Land is a well-crafted adventure where you fight enemies, traverse obstacles and explore creative stages by hopping between background and foreground layers, with the goal of collecting all the treasures and defeating an evil genie.  Hell, you almost forget this game's giving you a nail-behind-the-eyes level of headache because you're having so much fun plowing through everything in your path.  As the Angry Video Game Nerd once said, "It's actually a good game.  Damn good.  But, there's one problem: It's on Virtual Boy."

Just as a little bonus, let's talk about a few games that were announced but ultimately never released.
  • Bound High! - An odd little title where you play as a bouncing ball and have to land on enemies to defeat them; hitting them at the right angle would send out sparks that could potentially destroy other enemies and set off a chain reaction, earning you tons of points if you did.  Also had a minigame that played a bit like golf crossed with pool.  Bound High was ultimately canceled after the platform proved to be a major failure, but a prototype made its way online, making it one of two surviving unreleased VB games.
  • Nikochan Battle - A game in the Faceball series (which was originally released as "MIDI Maze" on the Atari ST), and a pretty decent one at that - it takes advantage of the 3D capabilities of the Virtual Boy surprisingly well and plays quite smoothly for the hardware, making it a fun, if simple, arena based first person shooter.  It was nearly completed before its cancellation, and a prototype has made its way online so you can try it out and see what could have been.
  • Dragon Hopper - This one actually sounded really interesting; basically a top-down action adventure similar in concept to the Legend of Zelda, where you'd have to solve puzzles, earn new abilities to progress and battle bosses, even featuring battery backup.  Could have been the Virtual Boy's killer app, especially with Intelligent Systems at the helm, but alas, it never saw the light of day.  It's also never made it's way online and may not even exist anymore, so all that we have available are a box scan and a handful of screenshots.
  • VB Mario Land aka Mario Adventure - Another one that's lost to time save for a handful of blurry screenshots and a couple of low-quality recordings from CES 1995.  But from what we know, it was going to play like a sidescrolling Mario game on the NES or SNES with a few top-down segments, as well as the ability to travel between foreground and background layers (an idea that would be reused in Virtual Boy Wario Land).  Apparently it also would have contained either a minigame or bonus stage based upon the Mario Bros. arcade game, which may ultimately have extrapolated into what we now call "Mario Clash".
  • Mario Bros. VB - Shown off at some trade shows and then mysteriously never mentioned again, but judging from available footage and screenshots, it was a relatively faithful remake of the Mario Bros. arcade game.  It's been theorized (though never confirmed) that Nintendo expanded on the idea and eventually made what we now know as Mario Clash.  It could also be linked to VB Mario Land, as mentioned above.
And for those curious, a list of all the Virtual Boy's games by initial release date.  Blue indicates a Japan-exclusive title, while Red indicates a North America exclusive.

Later Releases
  • Galactic Pinball - Jul 21 1995 (JP), Aug 14 95 (NA) - Launch Title
  • Mario's Tennis - Jul 21 1995 (JP), Aug 14 95 (NA) - Launch Title, pack-in game in NA later on
  • Red Alarm - Jul 21 1995 (JP) / Aug 14 95 (NA) - Launch Title
  • Teleroboxer - Jul 21 1995 (JP) / Aug 14 95 (NA) - Launch Title
  • Panic Bomber - Jul 21 1995 (JP), Dec 1 95 (NA) - Launch Title in Japan
  • Virtual League Baseball - Aug 11 95 (JP) / Sep 11 95 (US)
  • Vertical Force - Aug 12 95 (JP), Dec 1 95 (US)
  • V-Tetris - Aug 25 95 (JP)
  • Space Squash - Sep 28 95 (JP)
  • Mario Clash - Sep 28 95 (JP) / Oct 1 95 (US)
  • Jack Bros - Sep 29 95 (JP) / Oct 20 95 (US)
  • Virtual Fishing - Oct 6 95 (JP)
  • Innsmouth no Yataka - Oct 13 95 (JP)
  • Golf - Nov 8 1995 (JP) / Nov 1 95 (US)
  • Virtual Boy Wario Land - Dec 1 95 (JP) / Nov 27 95 (US)
  • Space Invaders Virtual Collection - Dec 1 95 (JP)
  • Virtual Lab - Dec 8 95 (JP)
  • Waterworld - Dec 21 95 (US)
  • SD Gundam Dimension War - Dec 22 95 (JP)
  • Virtual Bowling - Dec 22 95 (JP)
  • Nester's Funky Bowling - Feb 26 96 (US)
  • 3D Tetris - Mar 22 96 (US)