Tag Archives: virtual boy

FGC #543 Mario’s Tennis

Mario!Nintendo feared that the recent collapse of the videogame market would mar the launch of its first videogame device in North America, so the Nintendo Entertainment System was marketed primarily as a toy. It came with a videogame, yes, but that game also came with a home shooting gallery and a robot that would haunt your dreams. As videogames as a concept regained its footing, the NES dropped the robot (forever), but kept the gun and the plumber. The intention here seemed obvious: Super Mario Bros. is a videogame’s videogame, with abstract monsters and gameplay where you literally have to learn to walk. But Duck Hunt? That’s just aim and shoot. So whether it’s Wee Bobby or grandpa at the console, you’ve got at least one game that is going to sate your very real need to kill chestnuts and/or ducks. But videogames were much more established by the time we saw the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, so that console was bundled with only (“only”) Super Mario World. Besides, why did you need to bother with the “casual” crowd at that point? Nintendo had already conquered that market in the portable sphere by bundling Tetris with the Gameboy. Going into 1995, Nintendo had a perfect record in America with bundling carefully selected games with their featured systems.

And then there was the Virtual Boy. Then there was a new Mario game, and it was… Tennis?

It is illegal to pen an article about a Virtual Boy game without noting that the Virtual Boy is the product of bad decisions. It may be hard to believe today, but, when the Virtual Boy was being developed, many industry analysts believed that iterative videogame systems were a dead end. Sure, the Super Nintendo was a success after the “regular” Nintendo, but Sega Genesis tried to solder all sorts of upgrades unto its base, and it got nowhere. Hell, you could make the argument that Sega never had a successful console again (you’d be wrong, though, because we can’t discount any hardware that hosted cannon spiking). Then there was the parade of “other” systems that barely put a dent in the market. The Atari Jaguar? 3DO? Playdia? The prevailing thinking of the time was essentially that there was nothing wrong with these new consoles (like their complete lack of decent games or omnipresence of Primal Rage), and people simply didn’t want new home consoles at all. In such an environment, Nintendo had to do something wholly different. Sony was obviously going to send its new Playstation straight to the junk heap like all the others, but Nintendo was going to try to do something absolutely new. Nintendo was going to launch a portable virtual reality machine.

… And then they released something that was neither.

Now servingThe Virtual Boy has so many problems. Right off the bat, the controller is theoretically a shining step between the perennial SNES controller and its important N64 descendant… but it is absolutely terrible for a system that 100% precludes the player from actually seeing the controller. Sure, you’re going to be able to easily find that second crosspad on the right, but the players of 1995 were still getting used to shoulder buttons, and now you’re going to toss a pair of buttons behind the controller? It’s a controller that probably worked really well for the designers that had been tinkering with the thing for a year, but it was terrible for a kid that has to shove their attention up the system’s virtual ass. And speaking of which, the Virtual Boy was a big ol’ beast, and about as portable as a St. Bernard duct taped to a cow (look, I don’t know where you grew up, but I’ll never forget my junior homecoming dance). It didn’t require a TV hookup, but it was a bulky battery beast, so you were more likely to be tethered to an outlet than the Gameboy’s “play it anywhere” access. And we have to address “the red thing”, right? How it was so eye-searing, there was literally a warning every twenty minutes that you were supposed to stop? Could you imagine playing Final Fantasy 6 on the Virtual Boy? You’d be incapable of seeing blue before you saw your first moogle!

But, most of all, the Virtual Boy was damned by the fact that it was all based on a lie. The Virtual Boy looked like what we all imagined a Virtual Reality head seat was going to look like, and it was, ya know, named Virtual Boy. But was this humble videogame system from 1995 a “Virtual Reality Machine”? Hell no. It was a Gameboy with modestly 3-D graphics. There were no sprawling polygons or intricate worlds contained within the Virtual Boy, there was only… red. There was not a single game on the Virtual Boy that couldn’t have been easily adapted for any other system of the time. We understand how three dimensions work, Nintendo! We didn’t need new hardware to figure out Mario Clash!

But was Mario’s Tennis, the Virtual Boy’s own/only pack-in title, yet another Virtual Boy mistake?

Look at these losersIt is… difficult to say Mario’s Tennis was a good choice for launching a system. For one thing, this is a Mario game, but it’s not a Mario game. This is not an experience like Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario World. This is a sports game that happens to have a Mario veneer. Were there “real” Mario games available? Well, Mario’s Tennis launched right alongside Mario Clash, which was at least closer to Mario Bros. if not Super Mario Bros. And, during the Virtual Boy’s abbreviated lifespan, Wario eventually offered a more traditional platforming adventure, so there could have been a Virtual Super Mario Land. But once you get past the “I wanna Mario” factor, Mario’s Tennis doesn’t fare all that well as a Mario sports title. The characters are varied, but not in any interesting or exaggerated ways. Put it another way: this is the same cast as OG Mario Kart (minus Bowser, as no one wanted to figure out how that shell works in 3-D), but there isn’t a red shell or turbo mushroom to be found. And the most egregious issue: this is a competitive sports game on a system that never got around to having a 2-player option. There was eventually supposed to be a link cable, but it never materialized, and it certainly wasn’t available at launch. Sorry, Mario’s Tennis players, you’re stuck fighting against the AI from now until Mario’s Tennis 2: Red Racket Boogaloo.

Double troubleBut while Mario’s Tennis may be limited from a Mario perspective, it is a good sports game. While we would have to wait decades to see a chain chomp wielding a racket, the actual “tennis” part of the equation knocks it out of the park (that’s a good thing in tennis, right?). Matches are quick and simple, but also include all the tennis moves you’d expect, like…. Uh… that lungey one? And the overhead… smash? I’m not thinking of another game, right? Smashes are a thing? Whatever! Look, I don’t know from tennis, but this feels like tennis, and that’s what a good tennis game needs to do. And, what’s more, at a time when the majority of sports games felt vaguely slow for following the rules and encouraging play selection and alike, Mario’s Tennis moves at an exciting clip, and you’ll be done with a match within minutes (as opposed to nine innings of agony). And, ultimately, that is a great way to make videogame sports fun for people who don’t like sports. The other uncontested best sports game of the era took a similar approach to making a digital recreation of physical activity actually fun, and, while we might not have any flaming hoops in Mario’s Tennis, it is an exceptional, zippy tennis experience.

But does that make it a good launch title? Is a game that is best described as “doesn’t overstay its welcome” the right choice for trying to sell an entirely new, untested videogame console? Could friggin’ tennis ever be a killer app?

Well, there was that time that tennis kicked off the entire industry…

TENNIS!

And that time when, about a decade after Mario’s Tennis, when it was part of the biggest pack-in game of all time…

TENNIS!

And I want to say that Mario has had a few good runs with Tennis of late…

TENNIS!

So could have Mario’s Tennis been a success? It certainly seems that history has been kind to tennis titles, so that’s a yes. It might not be flashy or extravagant, but Mario’s Tennis could have simply been a good tennis game launching with a good videogame system. Unfortunately, the Virtual Boy’s other crimes are numerous, so Mario’s Tennis was damned to be another one of its parent system’s failures.

Sorry, Mario, you can’t always have a smash hit, but it’s not always your fault (oh God please tell me I got that pun right. I can’t think of any other way to end this article).

FGC #543 Mario’s Tennis

  • System: Oh man I forgot what system this game was on. Was it the Turbo Grafix-3DO? No, that doesn’t sound right.
  • Number of players: Successful tennis titles are two players. This was not a successful tennis title.
  • Wee ToadMario’s Face: It doesn’t impact the gameplay one iota, but Mario’s Tennis doesn’t get enough credit for having the most expressive versions of the Mario cast until approximately the Gamecube era. This seems like the logical progression of the canned animations in Super Mario Kart, but before the polygons of the N64 forced everyone back to being animated like white boards for a generation. You really feel Toad’s disappointment when he screws up a serve, and that is not something you would see again for about a decade.
  • Favorite Character: Princess Peach is adorable in this title, but Donkey Kong Jr. has the badunkadunk to end all dunks. And he’s such an expressive ape! It’s a shame he was either never seen again, or usurped his father’s throne, as he really did know how to rock a onesie.
  • Did you know? This is technically the first “Mario Sports” title, so all future times Mario picked up a baseball bat or kicked a soccer ball can trace back to Mario’s Tennis. This also means that, without Virtual Boy and Mario playing tennis, there would never be a need for the one and only Waluigi. Imagine a world without our greatest hero…
  • Would I play again: No. What? This was a great game for its time, but it has fallen behind practically every other game that involves both Mario and a ball of some kind. And it doesn’t help that the whole damn system gives me a headache…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Combat for the Atari 2600! Pew pew, we’re gonna fight some stuff! Please look forward to it!

Bad monkey

FGC #290 Virtual Boy Wario Land

WARIO!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?

ToastyThe 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.

VRM VRM

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.
  • It's saferNumber 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!

Weeee

FGC #021 Galactic Pinball

Desperate SaveLet 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.

Desperate SaveBut 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.

Such varietyAnd 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.

SpookyIn 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!
    Yes, this is my living room

    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.

Wooo

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!