This week, we leave the early 80’s behind and travel forward in time to the mid 90’s, 1995 to be exact. Ah yes, 1995, the O.J. Simpson trial, The Soup Nazi, TLC warning us about chasing waterfalls, and of course, The Virtual Boy. Who could forget that big red head gear that Nintendo had gamers pushing their faces into back in ’95? It looked like it was right out of the movie “The Lawnmower Man” with it resembling a bulky Virtual Reality head set. Gamers around the world uncomfortably sat with their heads glued to these things playing video games until their eyes bled.
Ok, Ok, so maybe it didn’t make your eyes bleed but it was able to damage the still developing eyes of young children. The fragile eyes of children 7 years old and younger were susceptible to potential permanent eye damage if they played the Virtual Boy. That’s a shame since all of Nintendo’s Mario games are kind of meant for young kids…around the age of 7. Kids took the warnings about eye damage and ran with them. When I was a kid, I never heard a friend or fellow gamer thoroughly explain the warnings, it was always just some kid saying “Don’t play the Virtual Boy, it’ll make you go fuckin’ blind!” Of course, hearing the blindness rumors only made me want to play it more.
I remember sneaking off in the shopping mall as a kid so I could go to Software Etc. or Sears to play the Virtual Boy. When I first played it, I didn’t take it seriously. “All red and black graphics?! That’s not a fucking video game system!” I considered the Virtual Boy to be on the same level that the 3-D viewmaster was on, I wasn’t impressed. After a few months though, the system started to grow on me. The 3-D graphics are good, certainly not great, but passable. It really came down to which game you were playing. Mario Tennis is definitely one of the better games with pretty good 3-D effects. Red Alarm on the other hand, well, the 3-D graphics of that game are slightly better than the doodles of 3-D boxes I used to draw on my notebooks in Junior High.
Mario Tennis Game Play – This is from an emulator so the sound isn’t quite right
Sure, every game console is going to have its bad games and with a system like the Virtual Boy, that was striving to do something so different and new at the time, bad games happened. It wasn’t all bad games and eye damage though. Like I said before, Mario Tennis is a pretty good game but that’s not the only game Nintendo got right on the Virtual Boy. Wario Land has to be the best game on the system. It’s the only Mario related 2-D side scroller on the Virtual Boy so by Nintendo’s rules, that makes it the best game on the system. Hang on, a 2-D side scroller on a dedicated 3-D console? How does that work? Oh it works baby and I will tell you how.
Wario Land Game Play
Wario Land looks and plays the same as any other Mario game you’ve ever played. What it does differently though, is creatively use the 3-D abilities of the Virtual Boy to add to the game play experience. I feel some games for the Virtual Boy did things with the 3-D effects just because they had to because, well, it was a 3-D game system. Wario Land on the other hand, sticks to the 2-D side scroller game play and seems to use the 3-D only when the game feels it needs that extra dimension to continue the game. By doing that, the game keeps the 3-D experience from getting old and helps it maintain its wow factor when it shows up.
Red Alarm Game Play – An example of a bad Virtual Boy game
The story of Wario Land follows Wario as he tries to escape from an underground labyrinth that he gets trapped in after he tries to steal some treasure from some jungle folk. The game does have 3-D backgrounds but the 2-D side scrolling takes place in the foreground. During the game, there’s places where Wario can launch himself into the background to collect power ups. Sometimes, launching into the background to go around obstacles in the foreground is the only way to advance in a level. I really liked the use of the 3-D for this reason as it makes you think outside the box when it comes to obstacles. “Hmmmm, I can’t smash this thing, I can’t jump over it, oh, can I just go around it? Fuck yes I can!”
Since the game play in Wario Land is the same as any other Mario game, the controls stick to the standard 2-D side scroller format. You can run, run faster, jump, and use special power ups when they’re collected. You can also smash things by charging at them and plowing through them with your shoulder. The ability to jump into the background and foreground are the only times the game deviates from the traditional side scrolling. Some enemies though including end bosses, do come at you from the background not just from the sides.
The graphics are pretty good except the fact everything is in red and black. If this game were in color, it would be one of the better Mario titles out there. Despite its two tone appearance, Wario Land looks pretty good for a game displayed in only two colors. After playing the game for a while, I didn’t even notice the red and black any more as my mind sort of painted everything for me. So, when you see fire for example, it looks like fire, not red and black mush.
The controls of Wario Land are pretty good as well. It’s a Mario game so the controls don’t need to necessarily hit a home run to pull this game off. One fun thing about the controls though is that you get to use the Virtual Boy controller. This controller is very similar to the Nintendo 64 controller. It even features triggers on the backside which, when held down, make you run faster. It’s a comfortable controller to use with its only problem being that its cord is very short measuring just over 2 feet long. It plugs into the bottom of the Virtual Boy headset and since you have to have your face against the headset to play the games, it’s not like you need lots of cable anyways. But, when you compare the cord to that of the Nintendo 64 controller which is over 6 feet long, the Virtual Boy controller cord seems like it’s as long a number 2 pencil.
The sound of Wario Land is pretty standard stuff. Pretty much everything you’ve ever heard in a Mario game can be heard in this game. Again, since the Virtual Boy is a contained console with its own display and sound built in, you can’t hook up larger speakers to it. Sure, you could rig something up if you utilized the headphone jack on the bottom of the console but beyond that, forget about hooking this thing up to your surround sound at home. You will have to make due with the built in speakers on the system which are a step above the built in speaker on the original Game Boy.
I know a lot of gamers out there that fucking hate the Virtual Boy and I’ll admit, they have a valid argument against the system. It can be awkward and uncomfortable to play and it has an extremely small game catalog. There’s only 22 games available for the system and only 14 of those were released in the US. Also, the Virtual Boy is extremely fragile as the built in displays in the head set were easy to damage. Despite everything it has going against it there’s no denying the uniqueness of it. It was doing things 16 years ago that game developers are trying to do now. Little kids may think the 3DS in their pocket is the first of its kind in 3-D gaming technology but little do they know us older gamers were putting our goddamn eyesight on the line to enjoy 3-D gaming years ago. Happy Gaming!