After years of false starts and broken promises, it looks like the time for virtual reality gaming is finally here with the introductions of the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, and HTC Vive. But 21 years ago, Nintendo tried to jumpstart the VR gaming revolution with the release of the highly anticipated Virtual Boy.
Nintendo spent untold millions advertising what the company hoped would be the next great gaming system, but no publicity for the Virtual Boy was more important than the articles running in Nintendo Power, the company's official magazine. Now that the magazine has become available on Archive.org, gamers can see just how high the company's hopes were for the Virtual Boy before its inevitable failure.
"It's in your face. It's in your eyes. It's in your blood." That's how Nintendo Power's August 1995 issue begins a 20-page feature article on the Virtual Boy. The article goes into detail on the system's specs, like its "two RTI mirror-scanning LED arrays," which promises an "immersive 3D experience" for gamers. It even explains how the system's monochrome red screen cut costs down for consumers, despite the Virtual Boy still retailing for $179. For comparison, the SNES launched at $200, with higher quality graphics and far superior games.
Still, Nintendo Power made the arrival of the system seem like the next big step in gaming. But an immersive 3D experience isn't worth much without the games to back it up, and the magazine did its best to ensure fans that there would be a treasure trove of great titles waiting for them upon the system's release.
Four pages of the magazine are spent building up Mario's Tennis, which was bundled with every Virtual Boy sold. Another four are spent on Galactic Pinball; this game would later go on to be one of Virtual Boy's best reviewed games, because it didn't make complete use of the system's clunky VR features.
But no title encapsulates the plight of the Virtual Boy better than the game tie-in to Waterworld. With similar narratives between the movie's troubled production and the Virtual Boy's development, the notoriously over-budget Kevin Costner bomb wound up becoming one of the worst reviewed games on the system, despite the promise of awesome battles against evil jetskiers.
While the magazine promised cutting-edge virtual reality tech and a 3D experience unlike anything on the shelf, what gamers got was a red, monochromatic image on the screen, with some clunky gameplay that many complained resulted in headaches and nausea if the headpiece was on for too long.
The system only sold an estimated 770,000 units, compared to the 40 million Game Boys and the 61.9 million NES units sold. The games were another problem, as only a handful were ever actually released. With no great titles to write about, Nintendo Power was left to try and make games like Virtual Fishing sound appealing.
Though the system debuted in North America in August 1995, it was discontinued by Nintendo in March 1996. By then Nintendo Power had moved on to the company's next innovation, one that would leave a much better lineage: the Nintendo 64.