Nintendo Virtual Boy 101: A Beginner’s Guide

Presented by Ack, Racketboy, and Tom Bordelon

The RetroGaming 101 series is aimed at gamers who are just starting out in the classic gaming scene or are curious about an older console that they don’t know much about yet.

Nintendo obviously has had many successes in the company’s lengthy history, but of all the mis-steps Nintendo took in the 1990s, Virtual Boy was perhaps one of the biggest disappointments.

While the technology was interesting and the industrial and graphic design for the product were excellent, the Virtual Boy was a rather rushed product in certain standpoints. Some of this may be due to the pressure to release something to appease a market that was demanding a 64-bit console while both Sega and Sony waited in the wings with CD-based technology.

The frustrations with the lack of success with the Virtual Boy was just a part of a string of problems that Nintendo began facing in the decade, but it was perhaps the most obvious example to the gaming public. Eventually Nintendo would recover, but not before losing one of the company’s most important designers amongst a slew of other defections from various supporting companies.

Now that the gaming world has moved on, the Nintendo Virtual Boy now is an interesting curiosity that has some dedicated fans. Nobody will chose the Virtual Boy on a shortlist of essential consoles, but it has become an interesting option to list to a larger retro collection, serving as a conversation piece and an exploration of interesting technology — perhaps in the same place of gaming devices like a Vectrex, Atari Jaguar or an Entex Adventure Vision.

Even if you don’t want to invest in the Virtual Boy hardware, we will dig into ways to experience the Virtual Boy games in emulation — which is a bit more unusual than your typical retro game emulation.

Background Information

  • Originally known as the VR-32 while in development (or the “Virtual Utopia Experience” at the earliest concept stages), the Virtual Boy was rushed through development, against chief designer Gunpei Yokoi’s wishes, to make up for the slowing development of the Nintendo 64.
  • The core technology was not actually developed by Nintendo internally, but by Allen Becker and his firm, Reflection Technology.  Becker had shopped around the technology, which he called “Private Eye”, to numerous firms (including Sega, Mattel, and Hasbro) for different possible uses. Gunpei Yokoi saw the potential of the Private Eye system as a possible solution for the declining innovation he saw at Nintendo.  You can read more about the development of the technology in this FastCompany piece by Benj Edwards.
  • At the time of development, low-costing green and blue LEDs had not appeared on the market yet (they would in 1996 from Nichia Corp.), and LCDs were not advanced enough for what Nintendo required and proved to be too expensive, so red LEDs were chosen for Virtual Boy’s screen, hence why everything is in red.
  • As development for the VR-32 / Virtual Boy progressed, Gunpei Yokoi and other Nintendo managment started to doubt if the technology would be good fit.
  • At the same time, Shigeru Miyamoto and his team were working intensely on projects for the Ultra 64/N64, which drew a lot of internal resources away from the Virtual Boy.
  • Virtual Boy was released in Japan on July 21, 1995, and North America August 14, 1995, a few months after the release of the Sega Saturn.
  • The console, claimed to be a new 3D portable gaming device, unveiled at $180.00 on release, with games coming in at $40.00. Despite distribution deals with Blockbuster Video and numerous price drops, it was a massive commercial disappointment.
  • Nintendo pulled Virtual Boy off the market in 1996, just a year after its release. Only 770,000 units had sold worldwide, and only 800,000 had been shipped.

Historical Impact

  • This would serve as Nintendo’s only true failure as a hardware developer since they entered the video game business, though it would be a major one. The console is often named as one of the worst in history.
  • The father of the Game & Watch and Game Boy, Gunpei Yokoi, was blamed for the failure by Nintendo and left the company shortly afterward. He would go on to begin developing the WonderSwan handheld for Bandai, but would die in an automobile accident several years before its release.
  • Due to its limited release and interesting visual appeal, the machine has become a hot collector’s item.

Strengths

  • Focused Experience: The console shields the eyes, so external visual distractions are nil, allowing the viewer a better experience.
  • Comfortable and Innovative Controller: In typical Nintendo fashion, the Virtual Boy sported a comfortable and effective controller. The symmetrical design was also intriguing and innovative (we’ll talk about that more later)
  • Adaptable Controls: Most games featured controls that were reversible, allowing ease-of-use for left-handed gamers.
  • Compelling Industrial Design: It received a lot of flak back in the day (and still does from some), but I will contend that the Nintendo Virtual Boy’s hardware design (aside from the posture implications) is quite ambitious and compelling. The bold color and its curves make it a piece of hardware that is an eye catching piece of any collection.
  • Early Look Into Nintendo’s Ambitious Innovation: We eventually saw Nintendo hit full stride of their innovative hardware takes with the Wii, DS/3DS, and the Switch, but the Virtual Boy gives us an earlier look into taking a risky bet on something. Sure, it was done under more time pressure, but this lesson made them stronger in the end. Also, having the Virtual Boy make it to retail, in a way, is a gift to the retro community. More of us are able to have a unit in our possession (and some decent games to run on it) as opposed to being some rare prototype.
  • Strong Homebrew Community: There is an active homebrew community interested in manufacturing new games and peripherals for the console.
  • Relatively Easy to Collect: Game selection is limited, so building a complete set isn’t too difficult to do.
  • Encourages Breaks from Gaming: The Virtual Boy came with a built in feature to tell the player to take a rest break every 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Power Flexibility: Uses the same 9V AC Adapter as the NES and SNES, so finding replacements can be easy, though a special tap is required to plug in the Adapter. Also operates on six AA batteries, housed in the controller.
  • Replacement Part Availability: Getting replacement parts for Virtual Boy is now fairly easy thanks to eBay or Castlemania Games, though cheap parts are 3rd party and not official.

Virtual Boy Controller – Photo by SuperSparkster on IG

Weaknesses

  • Known to Cause Headaches: The Virtual Boy is known to cause headaches in people using it, due to the heavy use of reds and blacks and the limiting of external light. Other symptoms include eye strain, nausea, dizziness, and blurred vision. Be sure to take breaks while playing.
  • Potentially Harmful for Young Children: It is unwise to allow children age 7 or less to play the Virtual Boy, as it may limit the growth of their eyes and lead to permanent damage.
  • Multiplayer is Practically Nonexistent: Though an extension port was built in, no connecting cable was ever produced. It is possible to modify other cables to work in a Virtual Boy, though only a couple of games were built in the possible eventuality of multiplayer, and only one homebrew game currently utilizes it. Because of the eye-shield, it is also not possible for any kind of audience to watch games.
  • Anti-Social Gaming Experience: Since you had to have your face planted in the device, you couldn’t have a friend or family member enjoy watching gameplay either. Decades later, you can remedy that with video output or emulation (we’ll get to that later), but it’s worth mentioning.
  • Pitched as Portable, But Note Really: The console wasn’t really portable, since it requires the total usage of one’s eyes and needs a level surface. A shoulder harness was being designed by Nintendo, but never made it to market. Comedian Nathan Barnatt (of Keith Apicary fame) has designed a head strap for the Virtual Boy, though with mixed results.
  • Primitive 3D Effects: The Virtual Boy uses red LEDs to trick the eye into seeing a three-dimensional object on a 2D screen. Some were disappointed that this wasn’t “true” 3D. We will dig into that more below.
  • Game Library is Relatively Expensive: Not only is the game library small, it can also be expensive, with prices ranging from $15.00 to nearly $600.00. To make matters worse, some of the games are considered quite poor, especially Waterworld, which is thought to be a contender for the worst game ever made.
  • Controller Is Out of Sight: Since the player can’t see the controller, locating buttons can be difficult. The controller can also be heavy since its housing multiple batteries.
  • Hardware Makes More Noise Than Most Retro Consoles: The console also makes a noticeable humming sound when turned on, due to the oscillating mirrors inside rapidly vibrating.

Clarifications & Misconceptions

The “Not True 3D” Debate

Many have said that the Virtual Boy doe not offer true 3D. However, the Virtual Boy DOES show “true 3D.” That is, if you consider stereoscopic 3D to be “true 3D”. Two separate images are generated, one for each eye, and the combination of them by your brain produces a stereoscopic 3D image, the same thing you would find on modern-day shutter glasses like Nvidia’s 3D Vision or even passive polarization technology like RealD 3D in theaters.

Yes, the images were entirely in shades of red, but that doesn’t say anything about the 3D capabilities of the system. Games on the Virtual Boy truly have a sense of depth to them, even though some games do a better job at showing off the 3D effects than others. Please edit your description because what you said is simply not true. Thanks.

Adjusting Hardware to Reduce Eye Strain

As far as eye strains and headaches, this is often caused (or at least exacerbated) due to users not properly adjusting the IPD (Inter-Pupillary Distance) and Focus on the unit.  Yes, Nintendo still has info for the Virtual Boy on its site.

Children’s Eye Health

We mentioned above that the Virtual Boy’s native display setup could be potentially harmful for children.  To go more in-depth about this topic, we will refer to Benj Edward’s research on Fast Company:

“Children whose optic system had not yet fully developed (which happens around ages 5-7) could develop lazy eye if the two displays were misaligned vertically. So Reflection encased the Virtual Boy’s displays into a rigid plastic case and precision steel frame. That way, there was no chance of that occurring.”

To be extra cautious, Nintendo’s legal department wanted to still include warnings to avoid having children under the age of 7 use a Virtual Boy system.

Gunpei Yokoi’s Hesitations About System

It’s worth mentioning that Gunpei Yokoi had reservations about the system and didn’t want it to be released when it was. Nintendo, however, wanted a holdover before Nintendo 64 was released and ushered it to the market. The system was Yokoi’s idea, of course, but where it was poor in delivery, it was sound in concept. Issue 64 of the UK magazine Retro Gamer had a good article on Virtual Boy.

Another piece of trivia: At the Shoshinkai trade show during the grand showing of the N64, Gumpei Yokoi was placed out of the way in a small corner booth, punished to demonstrate the embarrassing Virtua Boy. After his death, one of the first games on the Bandai Wonderswan was called Gunpei.

Thanks to RB readers, Crux, Brennan and CRTGamer for these notes

Virtual Boy Game Cartridges – photo by candis_classic_game_shrine on IG

Game Library

  • Because of its short lifespan and limited practicality, the Virtual Boy’s game library was quite small. To learn about some of the more popular games for the device check out our guide to the Games That Defined the Nintendo Virtual Boy
  • With 14 games, becoming a Virtual Boy collector is extremely easy (aside from price tags associated with some of the more expensive games). You can buy a lot that includes the console and some games and end up owning 1/4 of the system’s library without even trying.
  • While there is a solid platforming game in the form of Wario Land, you’ll see more of the library leaning towards sports (more bowling, tennis, and boxing vs the basketball, football, baseball), puzzle, pinball and arcade-style games.
  • Since print runs were so low on many games, there are a handful of Rare and Valuable Virtual Boy Games.

Homebrew / Community

  • The Virtual Boy still has a small, but extremely dedicated group of fans, still creating new homebrew and mods for the system.
  • Street Fighter 2: Hyper Fighting was ported to the Virtual Boy, and even given an extremely limited physical release. This homebrew cart is now extremely rare and sought after, making it extremely expensive (Jenovi’s Unreleased Virtual Boy Games video gives a solid backstory). Several other homebrew games have been given extremely limited releases, and some reproduction carts for unreleased games have also been produced. If you are interested in learning more about homebrew Virtual Boy games head to Planet Virtual Boy.
  • Various files for 3D printed parts, storage containers, etc are available for free on sites like yeggi.com.
  • Planet Virtual Boy is a great starting tool for looking for information on the Virtual Boy, from history to game reviews.
  • Planet Virtual Boy also has a forum, and a discord. There is also the /r/VirtualBoy subreddit on Reddit.

Hardware Specifications

  • The Virtual Boy’s CPU was a NEC V810, with a 32-bit RISC Processor clocking at 20 MHz, and 1 KB cache. The console featured 128 KB DRAM and 512 KB P-SRAM, according to Planet Virtual Boy.
  • It features Reflection Technology Inc. SLA dual-mirror scan, and uses a red LED display. The display is 332 x 224 resolution, with a 50 Hz horizontal scan rate. LEDs are reflected off the oscillating mirrors, one for each eye, to produce the 3D illusion.
  • Sound is handled via a built-in 16-bit digital stereo speaker.
  • The console required six AA batteries for 4 hours of playtime. A separate tap for a 9V power supply was also released.

Standard Virtual Boy Hardware

Despite its limitations on the display technology and the posture concerns with its default configuration, the industrial design of the Virtual Boy hardware is quite impressive and can easily be viewed as a work of modern art.

With that being said, the Virtual Boy did not last long enough for major hardware changes, so the primary difference in hardware is based on region. Region-locking is nonexistent beyond the language barrier.
Shop for Virtual Boy Console Units on eBay

Virtual Boy Retail Display/Kiosk Units

Since there aren’t other hardware variations, I thought it would be interesting to dig into the retail display units for the Virtual Boy. These are, of course, highly-desirable collectables and command a few thousands a piece depending on condition.

There are three different configurations for Virtual Boy retail kiosks developed by Design Phase for Nintendo. Both at the time of their 1995 release and in retrospect, these Virtual Boy retail kiosks were some of the most impressive in terms of both design and promotion. Design Phase actually was awarded with the 1996 Design of the Times Display of the Year Award for their work these units.

Design Phase commented on their work, “The display allows customers of any age and size to demo the game by adjusting the displays headset to the proper height. The high tech appearance compliments the virtual reality concept of the game and the contemporary graphics explain how to operate it. The lighted logo features an infinity-mirror technique that emphasizes the 3-D quality of the game.”

There were three different display sizes used in America: the “floor model,” “counter model,” and “platform display.” The floor models and counter models were also used in Japan. Functionally they are no different from commercially released Virtual Boys in those regions.
Shop for Virtual Boy Store Displays on eBay

Floor Model

Tall floor models weren’t uncommon for systems in the 90s, but the Virtual Boy one was especially cool considering you usually had to hunch over to play the system in real life.  With this tall, floor-standing model, you could treat it almost like some interesting arcade machine.  In a way, despite using real Virtual Boy hardware, it gave a false impression of what prospective buyers would experience once they got it home.

Regardless, this setup was quite impressive with its lighted logo marque, attractive advertising panels and the slightly futuristic and well-built stand construction that still looks elegant to this day. In fact, some may argue that this Virtual Boy Floor Model might actually be one of the coolest console retail kiosk units ever.

In addition to the adjustable-height headset, this floor unit had an elegant tray of sorts to rest the controller on when not in use.

As cool as the Floor Model is, you could also taking things into your own hands and make an epic arcade-style Virtual Boy setup like this.
Shop for Virtual Boy Store Displays on eBay

Platform Model

This unit is essentially the medium size of the lineup. Many elements of its design are very similar to the floor unit above — in fact, it seems that many of the parts and components are identical.

The main differences between this Platform model and the Floor unit are that that central support components are shorter, it has a textured/rubberized base/mat that sits on a countertop instead of large, strong legs, and the the controller hovers over the base mat instead of a separate tray.

It is still a very impressive piece to have in a Virtual Boy collection, but more manageable for most collectors than the holy grail Floor model.
See More Pictures of the Virtual Boy Platform Display Model
Shop for Virtual Boy Store Displays on eBay

Counter Model (Low-Profile)

The Counter Version has much less in common with the contraction to the other two models, but is still an impressive design considering its smaller size. It is less adjustable and you definitely get the more realistic hunched-over experience.

The unit is mounted on a big, nearly square metal-plate covered in textured rubber with the Nintendo and Virtual Boy branding printed/embossed on the edge (instead of the lighted sign above on the larger units).

The advertising panels are also positioned a bit differently at a near-flat position (just angled slightly up). The controller has a bit more of a loose cable setup (like a real unit) as opposed to having the cable encased in a flexible plastic arm in the other units.

This display was often used in some smaller retailers (I’m pretty sure we had this one in my local Meijer store in a small city), but they also used this unit in many Blockbuster stores that were renting out Virtual Boy units.
See More Pictures of the Virtual Boy Counter Display Model
Shop for Virtual Boy Store Displays on eBay

Consolized Virtual Boy

Whether you want to be able to play Virtual Boy games on a TV instead of hunching over the system or you want to make use of the system guts without worrying about repairing some problem parts, a Consolized Virtual Boy is a nice option.

And while some dis-assembly and assembly is required, the process is fully-reversible if you want to go back to a standard Virtual Boy setup.

Components of Current Consolized Design: Aside from taking some parts of your original Virtual Boy, you will need the following parts to turn it into a “console”:

Assembly: Here’s a Video that Covers Assembly of the Consolized Virtual Boy

Complete Consolizer Kit: When they have all the pieces in stock Castlemania Games also sells complete Consolizing Kits that just require you to plug in some of your original Virtual Boy parts.

Additional Consolized VB Designs in the Past:  In case you want to see some projects that were started in years past as a personal project, check these out.

Virtual Boy Controllers & Accessories

Official Controller

As you can expect from typical Nintendo work (and coming off the SNES controller — one of the greatest of all time), the Virtual Boy controller is quite solid and comfortable.

The Virtual Boy controller actually has two D-pads — one on each side. It also happens to have the select and start buttons in a similar design to the B and A buttons on the right. The result creates a symmetrical controller layout that is quite pleasant. In fact, most Virtual Boy games featured controls that were reversible, allowing ease-of-use for left-handed gamers.

Physically, it may also feel familiar to the Gamecube controller that Nintendo shared with the public years later — especially when you consider the handles that extend off the bottom of the controller.

The Virtual Boy controller also houses that six AA batteries that power the full system.
Shop for Virtual Boy Controller on eBay

BX Foundry Joystick

Even though the Virtual Boy controller is quite nice, sometimes you just want an arcade-style joystick to give yourself an edge on certain types of games. BX Foundry, a shop that does a handful of carefully crafted retro joysticks has a model BX-250 that is meant to be a general purpose Virtual Boy joystick.

Creator, Benj Edwards shared in our 2019 interview, “I tinkered around with layouts a bit, and now I am down to the two best designs, both dual joystick. They have ‘shoulder’ buttons on the back for Teleroboxer and also support platformer play well (like Wario Land). They also have power switches and AC adapter passthrough to power the VB system.”

Shop for BX Foundry BX-250 Virtual Boy Joystick

Video Output Modifications – Virtual Tap

Even if you don’t want a full consolized Virtual Boy, you may find a lot of value in being able to output the video from the system to a more traditional display. The Virtual Tap is an embedded video-out mod board that comes in both VGA and NTSC flavors.

  • VGA 800×600 at 60fps; upscaled x2 768×448
  • NTSC 240p at 60fps; No upscale, slightly squished horizontally

In addition to not having to hunch over a Virtual Boy system and avoid headaches, you can play in a color other than red or even use for streaming or sharing with friends in the same room.

Shop for Virtual Tap – Video Out Mod Board at Castlemania

Replacement Stands

The stand that came with the Virtual Boy wasn’t exactly the sturdiest device to handle the rather top-heavy game hardware.

Decades after the release of the Virtual Boy, both Hyperkin and Repairbox came out with new stand design that not only serves as a good replacement unit for those that are either missing a stand or have one of the many that broke.
Check for Virtual Boy Replacement Stands on eBay
Check for Repairbox Replacement Stand on Amazon
Check for Repairbox Replacement Stand on Castlemania

Official Blockbuster Hardshell Carrying Case

While not everyone was in the market to buy a Virtual Boy back in 1995, but you couldn’t help but want to spend some time with one. Blockbuster stores accommodated gamers with rentals of a Virtual Boy system in addition to games. Since the Virtual Boy system can be rather fragile and unwieldy to walk around with (despite being marketed as a “portable” system”, Blockbuster offered a pretty solid hardshell carrying case with custom-fitted foam to hold the hardware pieces plus a few game cartridges.

Check for Blockbuster Hardshell Carrying Case on eBay

Repairs and Replacements

  • When purchasing a Virtual Boy, it is important first to test the unit and guarantee that both screens are working properly. The most likely spot for trouble is in the oscillating mirrors, since they can break easily if the machine is mistreated. These produce a mechanical hum when the machine is powered on.
  • Another problem with the Virtual Boy is the weak adhesive used to connect the PCB to the LED array board. This has a bad tendency to rot away or fail with age, loosening the connection and causing one of the screens to suffer problems when in play. It can be fixed at least temporarily with some well-placed scotch tape.
  • Certain replacement parts did make it to market, such as replacement eyeshades, though these accessories were mostly limited to Japan. Unfortunately many of them never came out at all, such as Nintendo’s planned adjustable stand made out of steel.
  • While Nintendo did originally include information on getting replacement parts, they no longer sell them or offer repairs. However, Nintendo does include some basic troubleshooting information on their website

Flash Carts

Even though there aren’t a lot of Virtual Boy games, some of them can get quite pricey. Also, Flash cartridges can make switching between games much more convenient.

There was a FlashBoy Plus cartridge that was making the rounds in 2010, but the production run was rather small and then halted. You’re free to check eBay for a FlashBoy Plus to see if you can score one.

As of 2019, there is also the MultiBoy 32 cartridge, but you need to Private Message the developer to arrange for a purchase.

Importing?

  • Much like past Nintendo handhelds, the Virtual Boy is region free, meaning you can play cartridges from any region on them.
  • Not only does this let you play Japanese exclusives, but it also lets you play the Japanese versions of games, which are cheaper than their North American counterparts.
  • There are several Japanese exclusive games, with most of them still being fairly affordable. The three notable rare Japanese exclusive game that are quite expensive: SD Gundam Wars, Virtual Lab, and Insmouse no Yakata.

Emulation via VR Headsets

Even though a lot of people gave the Virtual Boy a hard time over the decades after its release, it is an interesting experience that can’t fully be appreciated in a typical video output experience (via video out or traditional PC-based emulation). Because of this, we wanted to highlight one special option that modern VR enthusiasts have — emulating Virtual Boy on a modern VR headset such as Oculus Quest.

Virtual Reality headsets not only recreate the closed-off eye presentation that an original Virtual Boy gave (but without the hunching over), but it also tried to replicate the Virtual Boy’s 3D depth effects as well.

Some have said that playing Virtual Boy emulated on VR is the best overall experience

From a post on Reddit by u/ianelgreenleaf:

“For those days when I don’t want some neck pain I like to play the emulator on the Oculus Quest. It is so nice that it actually is an emulator with the 3D aspect intact. I just wish the quest accepted Wired controller input that could be customized so I can use my VB controller on it.”

I’m not a VR user personally, so I can’t comment on this too much, but we will share some Youtube videos and Emulator links to get a feel for it and send you down that path if you are interested.

Emulation on PCs

Of course, the Virtual Boy is a rather unique experience that isn’t easily replicated without the original hardware. However, if you want to play the games on your computer or other devices without getting headaches, here are some emulators to check out.

  • VBJin is a Windows (and VR) based emulator created by Paul_t. It boasts 100% compatibility and VR headset support, making it the best Virtual Boy emulator around. The Windows version was completed in 2010 and the VR version was completed in 2016.
  • Mednafen is a multiplatform, multi-system emulator, created by the Mednafen team. This emulator is used as a core in RetroArch, under the name BeetleVB. Mednafen also is 100% compatible with the Virtual Boy library, so it may be an option to keep in mind if you’re considering a RetroArch set up.

Virtual Boy Emulation – Photo by candis_classic_game_shrine

As of 2020, the above two emulators are going to be your best bet when looking to emulate the Virtual Boy, though there are still other options available.

  • Virtual-E is a Windows based emulator of the Virtual Boy that has been in development since 1999 by Alberto Covarrubias. While in constant development for the first few years, it unfortunately appeared to have been put on hiatus after its initial release. The development site did not update from 2003 to 2008, and hasn’t updated since. However, the project also included discovering a method to hook a Virtual Boy to a PC via the IO port to generate a 3D image on a computer screen. The project website can be found at http://www.emuunlim.com/VirtualE/.
  • Reality Boy is a DOS, Windows, and Linux based emulator, developed by David Tucker. It started development as early as 1997. It features a decent front end and quality emulation. Unfortunately for various reasons the project falls in and out of development from time to time, though the creator has been busy attempting to port it to the Xbox and other locations. The source code is also available freely on the web. At 86% compatibility, it’s supposed to have the highest rate. The project website is http://www.goliathindustries.com/vb/. It was originally known as VB-98.
  • Red Dragon, besides being the best-named emulator, is also the most prolific, with versions for DOS, Windows, Linux, and PSP. A spin off from Reality Boy, it’s not as compatible(around 82%), but does include features like save states, some sound emulation, and a debug menu. At one point this was the best Virtual Boy emulator, though it appears to not have updated since 2004.
  • ViBE was unveiled in 2008 by Gil Pedersen and Richard Bannister. It is currently the only Mac emulator for the Virtual Boy. While it emulates quite well, it’s not fully compatible with all the games(around 59% of the library is playable). With any luck the project will continue and there will be future updates.
  • Additional emulators are VirtualBoyX, an Xbox emulator released in 2007, XVBoy, another Xbox emulator currently in beta, and VUE32, a project that was being developed by Parasyte, one of the creators of Red Dragon. Unfortunately it appears to have fallen by the wayside and its project website no longer exists.

Virtual Boy Controller on a PC

To take your Virtual Boy emulation to the next level, you could also get a USB Adapter for your Virtual Boy controller

Emulation on a 3D TV

I actually just came across this cool little setup from Mike Mika, the studio head of DigtalEclipse. He is running an emulation box running Mednafen connected to an LG 3D TV with polarized glasses. He used SBS mode setting and he mentioned that you can tune the distance for depth adjustment.

Affordability

  • Up until about 2014, Virtual Boy hardware and games were relatively affordable, but we’ve seen some significant increases over the last few years.
  • Systems in complete and excellent condition can go for $300-900. Prices are weird right now, and have been varying wildly. To give you a bit more detail, here’s a more detailed breakdown of what we have seen successfully sell on eBay over the last few months:
    • Unopened / Brand New Systems: $1,000 – $2,200
    • Complete in Box (Depends on box quality): $400 – $900
    • Full Unit w/ No Box: $300 – $400
    • Missing Stand or other parts: $140 – $250
    • “Needs Repair” Units: $80 – $130
    • Check to See What eBay has listed currently
  • As you can see above, if you want to save a little money you can one with that might be missing the stand or have some minor issues for $80 to $250. (and you can pick up replacement stands and eye shades/visors on eBay, Amazon, or Castlemania Games
  • Moving onto games, most of the more popular games will run you between $15 and $60 on eBay, with 11/14 NTSC games being under $100.
  • However, there are a handful of Virtual Boy games that are quite expensive/valuable. As a result, the “average” Virtual Boy game is inching toward the $100 price point.

Additional Resources

We tried to summarize the most important and relevant information above, but we also want to point you to some extra resources to dive deeper.

Gaming Historian

As much as we value a text resource to reference, skim, or fully dig into, a quality video overview also is quite valuable. For a quality Virtual Boy retrospective I strongly suggest Gaming Historian’s Virtual Boy episode from a number of years back.

Detailed Written History of Virtual Boy on FastCompany by Benj Edwards

If you would like to site down with a long read retelling the development of the Virtual Boy’s technology before it made it to Nintendo and much of the internal discussions during the system’s development, launch, and marketing, Benj Edwards shared one of the best articles on the topic.

Planet Virtual Boy

If you are looking to really make the Virtual Boy a bigger focus of your retro gaming journey, Planet Virtual Boy can be a a solid resource. They have a long-running forum that is dedicated to this single device, cover homebrew development in detail, and have a nice database of all sorts of Virtual Boy items.

Still Have Questions? Or Have Tips to Share?

We don’t expect this to be a comprehensive guide, but if there are any beginner level questions we left unanswered or you have additional tips and advice to share that beginners would find useful, please share them in the comments below!

I hope you found this guide useful!


7 Comments

Grooveraider says:

I just got done contributing to
Planet Virtual Boy:
http://www.vr32.de/modules/news/article.php?storyid=290

I was there during the North American unveiling of Virtual Boy at the 1995 Winter Consumer Electronic Show (WCES)in Las Vegas. For the first-time online I reveal footage of what could’ve been a Super Mario VB and Starfox game. The footage is kinda rough because photography wasn’t allowed inside the mini-theatre Nintendo built for the VB Demo presentation.

The Pharmaceutical Cowboy says:

Wow, glad I picked one of these up on ebay back in early ’07. Got it complete with Blockbuster case for $30! I love the system for its quirkiness, and WTF factor when friends come over. Most of the games are meh, but I have had real fun with both Wario Land and 3D Tetris.

Alienjesus says:

I think it may be important to state that battery packs can be hard to come by and especially pricy for the VB controller. The Plug attachment isnt especially easy to come by either from my experience.

Eddie says:

Did anybody know anyone who owned one of these? Everyone I knew growing up had Nintendo consoles and nobody had a Virtual Boy. I know I wanted one though.

Steve says:

I loathe the VirtualBoy — my brother actually got one second-hand back in ’98, and I tried it out. The VirtualBoy gave me massive headaches, and I promptly made my brother throw out the damned thing. When an older brother (and lifelong Nintendo gamer up until that point), makes his lil’ bro chuck a Nintendo system to save him from permanent eye damage, it’s very telling. Flat-out, the VirtualBoy was and still is dangerous, and the 3DS is following in the VB’s footsteps. I find it hilarious the SAME exact warning of ‘Not for kids under 7 and/or people with weak eye muscles’ is being used for the 3DS. Anybody else seen the 3DS startup screen with the 3DS logo? It has that nasty, stereotypical offset red-on-blue 3D layering goin’ on (even the 3DS startup screen is dangerous). Wasn’t the loss of disgraced NOJ-ousted Gunpei Yokoi enough? The dude responsible for the Gameboy and Metroid series died for the VirtualBoy system.

STILL want a chance to experience the Gunpei Yokoi-killer and ruin your eyes? Try out some VB roms on your computer. It’s just as damaging, with no Ebay bullsh*t involved!

Matt says:

I just pulled mine out of the attic where it was for a few years.

The right display is fuzzy, grainy and has some lines going through it.
I looked over some FAQs but couldn’t find anything concrete.

Anyone familiar with this issue?

VmprHntrD says:

You really need to update this as your scotch tape idea for the ribbon cable fix is laughably wrong and the values of the games have widely changed in the last near decade since this was put together. $10-25 will get you a few of the games, but not that many anymore. The most expensive games now can set you back in the US games alone $100-500 just for the cartridge itself between the likes of 3D-Tetris, Water World, and Jack Bros.

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