The Virtual Boy is a fifth generation video game console developed and released by Nintendo in 1995. The system used a monochromatic (red and black) visor that simulated a 3D view on its games. It is noteworthy for being one of the few financially failed products of Nintendo, as well as being the last product developed by Gunpei Yokoi.

The Virtual Boy was released early to keep fans occupied during the long wait for the Nintendo 64. It had an original retail price of about US$179.95 upon its release.[1] Due to its failure in the Japanese and American video game markets, the Virtual Boy was never released in Europe or Australia. The system was discontinued less than a year after its release, and third-party developers never produced any games for it. It shipped only 800,000 units and sold 770,000 of them during its lifetime,[2] 140,000 of which were sold in the United States, while 630,000 were sold in Japan.

Rental company Blockbuster was also renting the systems out, they came in a hard case and could be rented for $9.99, along with games. These rental systems have become collector's items. A promotional giveaway with Blockbuster and NBC in Nintendo Power included a free Virtual Boy, and trips to see the sets of NBC's most popular shows.

Technical information[]

Virtual Boy Color Palette

The four colors that the Virtual Boy can display

The 3D images produced are only hues of red and black instead of full color graphics. The system ran off of six AA batteries using a Battery Pak. The battery life was not strong, only lasting about four total hours of gameplay. An AC Tap was sold separately, and used the SNES adaptor. Only 14 games were released in the United States, and 22 in Japan.

The 3D effects are a result of two 1x224 linear arrays, each one directed to an eye that are presented to the player through oscillating mirrors that cause the Virtual Boy to emit a murmur. The 3D effect can cause trauma in the ocular area (in fact, Nintendo urged parents not to let children under the age of seven to play the system since it had the potential to damage their eyes). Knowing this, Nintendo inserted an option within each Virtual Boy game released that pauses the game every fifteen or thirty minutes.

The Virtual Boy has an EXT. port most likely intended for a two-player mode. Games such as Mario's Tennis support this mode, but the cable went unreleased since the system was discontinued so quickly.


Virtual Boy controller

A Virtual Boy controller

The Virtual Boy's controller features two D-Pads on opposite ends implemented for the player to play along a Z axis. This is the only Nintendo controller that features two D-Pads. Aside the D-Pads, there are four buttons. On the left are the START and SELECT buttons. On the right are the A and B buttons. The controller has the power switch for the unit, and is also where either the Battery Pak or the AC Tap is attached.


Processor NEC V810
32-Bit RISC Processor at 20 MHz clock speed
1MB of DRAM, 512 of KB P-Sram
1 KB Cache
Display Reflection Technology Inc SLA dual mirror-scan, high resolution LED displays
Resolution: 384 x 224 pixels
50.2 Hz Horizontal Scan Rate
4 colors with 32 levels of intensity
Power Supply Six AA batteries (lasts for approximately four hours) or an AC adapter
Sound 16-Bit Stereo
Built-in Stereo Speaker
Serial Port 8 Pin Cable
Bandwidth 50-100 KBit/second
Weight 760 g
Dimensions 8.5"H x 10"W x 4.3"D
Cartridge specifications
• 128 MBit addressable ROM space

  • 128 MBit addressable RAM space
  • 60-pin connector
  • Toshiba TC538299AFT and TC5316200AFT ROM chips in 16 bit mode.


Virtual Boy first concept drawings

The first concept drawings for the Virtual Reality project

When Gunpei Yokoi first had the idea of a Virtual Reality gaming console, he referred to it as "Virtual Utopia Experience".[3] However, Argonaut Games was working on an advanced virtual reality gaming system called the "Super Visor" for Nintendo, which Yokoi canceled in favor of his own idea.[4] Nintendo R&D1, the team Yokoi ran, contained around sixty people that all worked tirelessly on the Virtual Boy. The deal to work with Reflection Technologies Inc, a United States based company, was finalized around 1991 or 1992, though at the time neither company had a clear vision of what they wanted to do just yet.

The first concept drawings showed the possibilities of 3D images by displaying two slightly different images using mirrors. During development, the system was codenamed "VR32", meaning "Virtual Reality 32-bit". The early patents of VR32 were made public in 1994, with diagrams showing that the controller was originally going to have three buttons on the right, near the D-Pad. The system was officially announced at the Japan Shoshinkai event on November 15 and 16, 1994[5], where it was first known as "Virtual Boy". The prototype which was unveiled differed from the final version, as the system was colored blue and red, and the blue controller had multicolored buttons. It looked very similar to the future Nintendo GameCube controller. The public were shown how each lens displayed a different image, giving the impression of "True 3D".

Several different pre-production models were later created in Japan, sharing characteristics of both the first prototypes as well as the final design. The plastic was more smooth than the final, and without any writings engraved in it. The adjustment knobs on top are black instead of grey, and the controller reached its final design. North America soon got its own pre-production model. These had the Virtual Boy logo on the side of the system, and the logo on the controller is a bit thicker than on retail units. These pre-production models were given to Nintendo of America's game testers to review Virtual Boy games, and the testers were later allowed to take them home.[6]

Gunpei Yokoi admitted in 1994 that very few publishers outside of Nintendo were given development kits to create games for the system. When pressed to explain why this was the case, he stated that Hiroshi Yamauchi, the then president of Nintendo, had made this decision in order to control the quality that would be released for the Virtual Boy. In Gunpei's words, "we want to limit that danger and maintain as much control as possible." Nintendo of America in Redmond, Washington viewed the situation in a different way. Knowing that the Virtual Boy wasn't a success in Japan, Nintendo of America tried to enlist as much help as possible to launch the system in the states and Canada. Prior to the launch, they held a developer's conference in the Seattle area that lasted for two days.

David Sheff, the author of the popular video game history book Game Over, has stated that Gunpei was unsatisfied with the end product. Wanting to work on it further, Nintendo thought it was good enough and pushed the title out to retailers so that they could work almost exclusively on their Nintendo 64 console.


E3 1995

A woman playing the Virtual Boy at E3 1995.

The release was overall not what Nintendo expected. The normally long lines at stores for the newest system were nowhere to be found. President of Nintendo, Hiroshi Yamauchi, boasted that all units shipped out were sold, but stores said they received as many as two systems. Nintendo later admitted to not pushing very many systems, and said that sales were "not as good as they expected".

Some critics questioned Nintendo's use of only red and black for the Virtual Boy. This choice was both monetary and functional, though at the same time was not entirely appealing to the consumer. Nintendo claimed that they had a full color prototype, but the unit would be too expensive for consumers and production.

Nintendo and third parties developed advertising campaigns for the Virtual Boy and the games that were released for it. The ad campaigns each had relevant titles such as "A 3D game for a 3D world", "Turn it on Virtual Boy", and when the Virtual Boy's price was reduced to ninety-nine dollars, "New Low Fare to the Third Dimension". Unfortunately, Nintendo found it hard to market the Virtual Boy, as people would have to see it to be able to understand how the Virtual Boy works. The advertisements were considered mediocre and weren't really selling the system hardware-wise.


As a tribute to Nintendo's history, the Virtual Boy has had small references in games like Super Smash Bros. Melee and WarioWare, Inc. There also appeared one in Super Paper Mario, as a part of Francis's collection of video games.

Planet Virtual Boy is a community of both Virtual Boy owners and Virtual Boy enthusiasts dedicated to the preservation and homebrewing of the system.

The Virtual Boy was not Nintendo's first excursion into the 3D industry and was not their last. Nintendo had experimented with 3D all the way back to the Family Computer with the Famicom 3D System. While not released internationally, games with 3D functionality could be properly viewed with 3D glasses. Very few games were released on the 3D system, with the most noteworthy titles being Famicom Grand Prix II: 3D Hot Rally and Highway Star (Rad Racer outside of Japan).

Following the release of the Virtual Boy, Nintendo experimented with 3D for the Nintendo GameCube, with longtime Nintendo employee Hideki Konno saying that Luigi's Mansion in particular looked excellent. This idea was scrapped as the add-on would have been more expensive than the console itself. In June 2010, Nintendo revealed the Nintendo 3DS, a system that supported 3D graphics without the need for glasses. This console was released on February 26, 2011 in Japan.

In August 1995, the Virtual Boy was featured on the cover of Nintendo Power V75.



Early design[]


See also[]