Let us consider the enigma that is Galactic Pinball.
To start at the beginning, Galactic Pinball is a game for the Nintendo Virtual Boy, aka Nintendo’s least portable portable, aka Nintendo’s biggest failure, aka The Death Bringer. The Virtual Boy is, putting it mildly, infamous in gaming circles as maybe the single most ill-advised game console since that late edition Atari that was built into the mouth of an alligator. No, the Virtual Boy did not lead to any (known) accidental amputations, but it may have made a few eyeballs bleed with its red and black display smooshed right up against player’s skulls. Fun fact: my mother didn’t allow me to have a Virtual Boy when it was first released, as she was afraid of not only retinal damage, but also the potential brain cancer caused by strapping an electronic device to one’s head. Months later, when the Virtual Boy had the same MSRP as a can of cat food, my mother mysteriously rescinded her fears. Much the same thing would happen with cell phones a few years later.
The Virtual Boy didn’t even last a full year on this side of the pond, so its library of games is smaller than a malnourished pikmin. There are a grand total of 22 Virtual Boy games globally, with only fourteen total in North America (assuming I’m counting right, no promises). The VB release list includes some interesting anomalies, like a Bomberman puzzle game, a bowling game starring Nintendo of America star Nester, and the west’s first introduction to the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. There was also a licensed Water World game, which created a sort of flop singularity that closed in on itself and accidentally erased genuine unicorns from all of history. Yes, the Virtual Boy was such a terrible system that it damaged all of space and time.
But a weird thing happens when a system is a failure and you actually own said failing system: you get really attached to the games that you have. Many of you are familiar with this concept as “Dreamcast syndrome”, but for me, I will always remember my hours devoted to the Virtual Boy, both because of the games and my own rose-tinted outlook that optometrists tell me is going to clear up any day now.
Virtual Boy’s lineup, as I will always remember it:
- Mario Tennis was the pack-in Virtual Boy game, which is noteworthy because this is likely the least popular Mario and Sports title of all time, and the next time Nintendo would include a game with a system at launch, it would produce the most popular video game sports title of all time. Trivia aside, Mario Tennis was lame and half-baked: there was no competitive mode available for beating your imaginary friends on their imaginary Virtual Boys, and the single player mode was just playing Tennis with a CPU over and over again. At least it was the first time Princess Peach wore a skirt. Perhaps not coincidentally, I think that’s also the last anyone ever saw of Donkey Kong Jr.
- Mario Clash was a simultaneous attempt to feature different “plains” of vision in a 3-D environment and a return to Mario’s Mario Bros. plumbing/turtle extermination roots. This was absolutely not something anyone actually wanted. The Mario of Mario Bros is long dead, he got Super and never looked back, and this game guaranteed that Mario would stay entombed for a good long time. You don’t see Mario fighting irate crabs in Mario Maker, now do you?
- Teleroboxer was like Punch-Out, but, like, in the future, man. In the future, though, robots just beat you to death without a second thought. I actually took the time to git good at this game (see also: Bloodborne, Stockholm syndrome), but Punch-Out without the overwhelming charm of Super Macho Man and alike is just cold and sad. Like a robot.
- Red Alarm was an endurance simulator to see how long the player could last without throwing up. I was never any good at this game, as it made me vomit constantly. The final boss is just a guy (a guy shape) attempting to jab a sharp stick in your eye. Despite being a confusing mess of garbage, this game did actually feel like a game as opposed to just a tech demo.
- Virtual Boy Wario Land is actually a worthwhile game in every way. This makes it, for my money, the only game on the system that feels like it was actually well considered and thoughtfully constructed as a real video game to rival console releases. This game deserves a 3DS remake or similar, just as Kal-el was rocketed away from his dying world to bring hope to a new one.
And then there is Galactic Pinball. Galactic Pinball was a launch title, and I do mean day-of-the-system launch, as opposed to all the other Virtual Boy games that came out within the “launch window” by necessity. Galactic Pinball was, Wario Land aside, likely my most played Virtual Boy game.
Galactic Pinball was developed by Intelligent Systems. Immediately after Galactic Pinball, IS would go on to create Panel de Pon, repackaged in the west as Tetris Attack, and Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War, which I believe was some kind of historical husbandry simulator. And before Galactic Pinball, IS worked with Nintendo R&D1 on a little known title called Super Metroid. So I think these Intelligent Systems guys might have had a clue about making a video game.
And Galactic Pinball really does show a loving attention to design. Four boards (levels?) all feature wildly varied goals and bonuses, and even some pleasant (for the Virtual Boy) graphics to boot. Heck, one board, Cosmic, seems to deliberately evoke Nintendo Pinball, which was a lovely surprise for those of us that were already sinking into the quicksand of Nintendo nostalgia. There may even may a sort of “plot” to the various pinball boards, as the Alien and UFO tables feature “boss fights” against a series of aliens and the evil… Skeleton. Really? All of space, and we decide to hit an enemy out of Castlevania? Alright, guess you can’t be creative all the time. Just saying? Could have been Ridley.
In the end, though, it’s a pinball game. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against pinball games, but they’re intended for arcades and distractions, not really the kind of thing to which you devote your entire attention. Yes, I know there are pinball wizards, I’ve heard their praises in song, but the average person sees a pinball game as a diversion, like solitaire or Tetris. The problem here is that it’s a pinball game on the Virtual Boy, which requires you to stick your entire melon in there and enter a virtual sensory deprivation chamber devoted to the game you’re playing. The Virtual Boy would be ideal for a long form experience, like Wario Land, that demanded the player’s attention… except it might wind up frying the player’s eyeballs. Okay, maybe it would be best for pinball games and alike that could be played for short stints during a car trip or something… except the Virtual Boy is about as portable as a refrigerator.
Okay, maybe the Virtual Boy wasn’t really intended for video games. Those magic eye books were popular at the time, right? Maybe it’d be good for those.
But, imaginary intended audience aside, I played Galactic Pinball quite a bit, veritable hours over the course of about six months. Virtual Boy Wario Land and Galactic Pinball will always be the Virtual Boy games to me, even as the system and its library fade into the forgotten sands of time. Ozymandias excellent. Maybe it was an obligation to love a system Nintendo Power told me was so great, maybe it was a lack of other games toward the end of the SNES’s life, maybe it was just a peculiar fondness for the color red; but whatever the case, whatever the reason, Galactic Pinball was a great game, horrible platform or no.
FGC #21 Galactic Pinball
- System: Virtual Boy. Did you get that?
- Number of Players: I can’t even imagine how this could be anything other than one player.
- So, was your mother right about the Virtual Boy scarring you for life? I can’t see how it has had an impact on me in any way. I would say those fears… No!
ROB! Get away from that! It’ll give you poor interior decorating skills!
- Favorite Table: Just looking at the Cosmic board makes me happy, though I do enjoy attacking the alien of Alien.
- Is the entire name a lie? Actually, at no point is a pinball involved in these games. It’s a puck, like air hockey. Also, I think the title should be expanded, so I suggest Intergalactic Puck.
- Best score? I have no idea, because some idiot decided to skimp on a save battery and all scores are lost the minute you power down. Bad form, guys.
- Did you know? Every table has a story, there are “bosses” to defeat, and many boards include real celestial bodies. For whatever reason, the designers really went out of their way to put you in the mind of being a real, I don’t know, “space puck” accomplishing things as opposed to just a pinball table being played in an arcade… Except you can “shake” the table at the push of a button, and cause a TILT state. Odd choice.
- Would I play again? I was actually fascinated by the fact that I picked this game up to play for like ten minutes to refresh my memory, and then wound up playing for over an hour, even scoring what I assume to be a personal best on the Colony table. It’s a really good game, guys! So, yeah, on the rare occasions I feel like wiring up ol’ Virtual Boy, this is the first game in the slot.
What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen…. WAIT! In honor of Rare Replay being released next week, I’m limiting ROB to Rare games featured on the collection. Get Ready for Rare Week! So, from that limited pool, Random ROB has chosen… Solar Jetman. Woo, let’s get our thrusters on. Please look forward to it!