There were 22 games released worldwide for the Virtual Boy. Considering even the biggest “failures” of Nintendo hardware have at least a hundred games to their name, not even clearing 25 is kind of an accomplishment in itself. But, as ever, it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. Who cares if the Virtual Boy had a limited number of games? What’s important is that the Virtual Boy had good games, games that made you say, “Yes! Great! I am glad I bought this system!” And the Virtual Boy did have good games! Or… uh… game.
Virtual Boy Wario Land is the Virtual Boy’s one good game.
Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. Looking back, the Virtual Boy has a few games that at least qualify as “good”, like Mario Clash and Galactic Pinball. Even the pack-in game, Mario’s Tennis, is pretty alright. It was the last game with Donkey Kong Junior! I think! That has to count for something! Unfortunately, even the good ones from the VB lineup were mostly… what’s the word I’m looking for here… lame? No, “limited” would be a much better descriptor. Basically, most of the early Virtual Boy games come off as glorified system demos, like the kind of thing that today would be released on a compilation called Virtual Boy Play, or maybe a series of downloadable, $5 “microtitles”. Much though I love my pinball, it really is something more suited to randomly playing for ten minutes before moving onto something actually important, like reading your twitter feed. Basically, all of the Virtual Boy games were not videogames like Super Mario Bros. 3, they were just a way to kill time before the latest episode of Street Sharks. I got a high score! Jawsome! Moving on.
But when you look at the Virtual Boy, you realize pretty quickly that that is… terrible. Despite batteries to the contrary, the Virtual Boy is absolutely not a portable system. The Virtual Boy is large, cumbersome, and about as portable as a grizzly bear (and twice as like to damage to your eyes). The Virtual Boy is not something you whip out when you’ve got ten minutes to kill while standing in line, the Virtual Boy sits on your desk, waiting for you to insert your head into its waiting crevices. You must go to the mountain, Muhammad. And going to a mountain for only twenty minutes seems a tweak pointless. I just glued my forehead into this stupid thing, could you give me an experience that takes longer than a round of Tetris?
The Virtual Boy provided a number of games that would have been right at home in the early, limited days of the NES (or Gameboy, for that matter). The quick, forgettable experiences of most Virtual Boy games do seem to recall such early luminaries as Ice Climber and Urban Champion. However, gaming had come a long way (baby) since those early days, and, once you’ve played Super Mario World, there’s no going back. 96 exits in one gigantic game? After you’ve experienced that, pinball kind of loses its thrill. And while you usually had to rely on the big consoles to get those long, comprehensive games, the humble Gameboy had already produced Final Fantasy Adventure, Link’s Awakening, and whatever the hell was going on in that game where you could chainsaw God. Yes, the same system that hosted a compromised Pac-Man was also capable of showcasing games that had actual, ya know, levels, and it didn’t seem that crazy to expect similar from the Virtual Boy. And, unfortunately, you sure as hell weren’t going to find that in Mario Tennis.
Thus, Virtual Boy Wario Land wins the coveted “Best of the Virtual Boy” award for actually providing a for-real videogame experience.
Wario Land has some goddamn levels. It’s a Wario game from top to bottom: There are powerups! There are treasures to find! There’s an ending that is based on your total accumulated cash, and it (hopefully) changes every time you beat the game! There’s a reason to replay the game! You could spend hours bumping around Wario Land, or you could get really good at dumping nerds into clouds, and find a way to beat the game inside of an hour or two! This is a game’s game, and a damn fine excuse to plug yourself into an entirely crimson world.
And it’s not just the “videogame” factor that makes Virtual Boy Wario Land great. There is a surprising amount of creativity on display here, and, while I do appreciate the later, experimental Wario adventures, you just can’t beat a chainsaw shark.
Okay, you can beat the chainsaw shark, but only if you’re wearing a hat that is also a dragon that can breathe fire.
God, I enjoyed typing that sentence.
On any other system, Virtual Boy Wario Land might have been an interesting distraction. It’s unequivocally a good game, but it’s not quite up there with games that star a slightly less bulky fellow in overalls. However, on the Virtual Boy, Wario Land is indisputably the best game on the system. Is it or has it ever been a reason to go out and grab a Virtual Boy? Not really. But once you’ve already convinced your mom that The Death Bringer isn’t going to burn out your retinas after one play session and you’ve finally got that chunky piece of plastic home? Then, yes, Wario Land could justify your purchase.
Sometimes, it’s just enough to catch the biggest fish in the smallest pond… even if that fish is red for some reason.
FGC #290 Virtual Boy Wario Land
- System: Playstation 3. Wait, no. Virtual Boy. It’s Virtual Boy.
- Number of players: The Virtual Boy had a link cable! This will never cease to amuse me. Oh, but this game is only one player.
- What’s in a name: Apparently the chain-saw shark is named… Chain-Saw Fish. In Japan, he’s Chainsawn. Huh.
- Favorite Boss: The final encounter is Demon Head, who, for my money, is the first “big head and two dangly hands” boss that I ever recall fighting. That style became pretty popular in the Kirby series, but I always think of this jerk when I’m fighting later Bongo monsters. Also, “Demon Head”? Is this Ra’s Al Ghul?
- And he’s got a new hat: I really miss Wario’s hat powerups. Heck, I miss Wario’s shoulder dash and butt stomp. I miss movable Wario. Regardless, I hope someone makes mention of Wario’s previous hat adventures when New Donk City is open to the public.
- Did you know? Retro Studios claimed to have found inspiration in Virtual Boy Wario Land while developing Donkey Kong Country Returns. So the poor ol’ Virtual Old Man isn’t completely forgotten.
- Would I play again: No. What? I really like this game, but whipping out the Virtual Boy isn’t the easiest thing in the world. I’ll be playing you in spirit, Virtual Boy Wario Land.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call! This is appropriate, as there is Final Fantasy music on my playlist right now. Now let’s get some FF music on my 3DS. Please look forward to it!