I don't always reminisce, but when I do, it's right before a future-centric mega-conference.
As we close in on E3 and focus our attention on the future, I'm brought to fond recollections of the past. The PS Vita, likely to be one of the show's biggest stars, has stirred up a strange feeling: I find myself wanting every game on this thing. Since I got mine at the Japanese launch in December, I've loved it, and I keep thinking of more games I want for it. When a new game is announced that isn't already on PSV, I immediately think "Sweet, I hope they release it for Vita". I've had this feeling once before, with a Nintendo product called the Virtual Boy. I loved that little black and red quasi-portable and would always find myself dreaming of other big games making the jump to its 3D goggley goodness.
I got my Virtual Boy on a whim when Christmas shopping in '96. Of course, as a mere teenager, it was my mom doing the actual spending, but hey, I was there influencing the decisions. With systems only being $30 instead of the $170 launch price of a year and a half earlier, she got one for me and my little brother. We snagged the games Red Alarm, Wario Land, Galactic Pinball, Mario's Tennis, and Teleroboxer. We got multiple copies of some of these and hoped for some multiplayer opportunities, as there was clearly an outlet for a cable similar to the Game Boy's.
But apparently, my brother and I combine to make up roughly 40% of all Virtual Boys sold worldwide.
Nintendo Guy 1: "What are our Virtual Boy Sales to date?"
Nintendo Guy 2: "Five."
Nintendo Guy 1: "Five Million is a little ahead of our projection so it seems like we can go ahead with the other–"
Nintendo Guy 2: "No, not five million. Five…just, just five."
Nintendo Guy 1: *Bails the fuck out*
I suppose the above conversation contains the reason we were never able to locate that multiplayer cord: the system was never popular enough to warrant production. Yeah, for the longest time, my brother and I checked any store we went into looking for the magic cable that would plug into that big output thing on the bottom of machine. We were hoping for head-to-head battles in Teleroboxer and Mario Tennis, and I might be pulling this out of my ass, but I feel like Red Alarm was listed as being for two players. I'm not gonna fact check that though, let's just say that's officially the way it was.
OK I cracked and looked it up just now and no, it was single player. This is another great example of teenagers believing stuff they have no reason to believe. I can't tell you how many internet posts I used to see and swat down about top secret .hack games, especially an MMORPG. Someone would always have some kind of inside source or "know a friend who tried the beta" and something dumb like that. Hope is one thing, but people would like, seriously get into arguments about its existence, so firmly believing in something with no substance at all.
What the hell was I talking about again? Oh yeah, Virtual Boy games and their lack of multiplayer. Without it, I had to actually punch my brother in the face, since I couldn't have a Teleroboxer rumble with him. See what you did, Nintendo? You basically punched a kid in the face.
Hell of a game though, that Teleroboxer. It was light on content by today's standards, but for a quasi-portable tournament fighter, it provided some good thrills. It used the R and L buttons to punch, and pressing them in time with the proper direction on either of the two d-pads would cause you to throw your jabs, hooks, uppercuts, and body shots. Though it was a first-person camera angle from the POV of a boxing robot, you were supposedly controlling a human whose robot mimicked his movements. Now that I type that out loud, it kind of seems like that movie Real Steel, though I haven't seen it, so that comparison might suck. Let's continue with our theme of no fact checking and not look into that, though. I remember this one boss who'd lose about half his health and duck his head down to his gut, and the way you then had to damage him was by landing a jab to the body to pop his head up into the air and — wait for it while it fell, wait for iiiit — then time a solid hook with the landing of his head. He's the second guy in the video above. The guy playing it doesn't know what's up; it must be his first time.
Galactic Pinball was similarly light on content, but for some reason, playable for hours and hours — at least to someone who can be amused by pinball for that long. There were only four stages, but I could just zone out, relax and play the heck out of that thing. The stages were well-designed and once you got a few things going for you, they'd change up a little bit. Simple fun, and more than one ought to expect out of a pinball game.
I had a love-hate relationship with air combat shooter Red Alarm. It was decent overall, but the wireframe appearance of everything led to more disorientation than I was cool with. Still, being on the Virtual Boy, it was an experience like no other. To this day I can't name another game where you stick your head in a box and see a fully 3D battlefield, so…points for originality?
Wario Land was, by all consensus, the best game for the system. Sure, when there are only like 20 games to compete with, being the best among them might not take much, but don't let the math fool you; the Virtual Boy's take on Wario Land made for a truly great platformer. It was constantly fun to play, with non-gimmicky use of the 3D effects that really added to the gameplay experience — something developers still struggle with today, over a decade and a half after its release. Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 for Game Boy had been a big hit with me and my bro, and this Virtual Boy follow-up was no disappointment. That game was loaded with character and had the gameplay to back it up.
I always wanted to play Mario Clash; it's my "one that got away". With my income being limited to my $5-per-week allowance at the time, I never quite got up the dough to buy it. Well, that, and I had the attention span and frugality of a teenager. I always delayed until "one of these days" or "next time", but copies of a low-print game on a dead system understandably sold out by the time I was done procrastinating. One of these days I'll get on eBay and buy it. But then, that sounds familiar….