3. Throwback Thursday: Nintendo Virtual Boy
The Nintendo Virtual Boy is widely considered one of Nintendo's greatest failures, but at the same time it has become a cult object, and learning a bit more about it also provides us with useful context on how the company has approached its latest (much better received) efforts with the Nintendo Labo VR.
The Virtual Boy was is a 32-bit table-top video game console touted as the first of its kind to offer stereoscopic 3D graphics that promised to totally immerse the players in their own private universe. Content fell well short of expectations, however, with only 22 games ever being released for the system (a problem arguably still plaguing VR today)
At the time of its release in 1995, Nintendo of America projected hardware sales of 1.5 million units and software sales numbering 2.5 million by the end of the year. Nintendo had shipped 350,000 units of the Virtual Boy by December 1995, around three and a half months after its North American release. Panned by critics and plagued by health and safety concerns, sales fell well short of expectations and production ceased by early 1996.
The Virtual Boy created an illusion of depth through the effect known as parallax. In a manner similar to using a head-mounted display, the user looks into an eyepiece made of neoprene on the front of the machine, and then an eyeglass-style projector allows viewing of the monochromatic (in this case, red) image. Nintendo claimed that a color display would have made the system too expensive and resulted in "jumpy" images, so the company opted for a monochrome display.
Many reviewers complained of painful and frustrating physiological symptoms, and its controller was awkward, meant to be used sitting down at a table, which really hampered the freedom of movement required for immersive experiences. But while the console itself has been a failure, it was also ahead of its time in many respects, and the technology developed by Nintendo has since been incorporated into many of its products to this day. Also, if you come across one in a yard sale somewhere, you should probably snap it up. Fewer than 800,000 units were made worldwide, making it a valuable collector's item.