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'Boy,' Oh, Boy!

A look at Nintendo's Virtual Boy -- Play ''Mario"s Dream Tennis,'' ''Galactic Pinball,'' or ''Red Alarm'' on the virtual reality system

A look at Nintendo's Virtual Boy

By most definitions of virtual reality, Nintendo's new Virtual Boy comes up short. You don't get to strap on a cool-looking visor and make like Star Trek's Geordi La Forge; you aren't immersed in color-saturated landscapes, á la The Lawnmower Man; and — unless Nintendo happens to be taken over by Bob Guccione — you certainly shouldn't expect anything in the way of cybersex. Rather, Virtual Boy is stationary (you stick your head into a table-mounted pair of goggles), its display is limited to a single color (red, against a black background), and the first batch of games would rate no steamier than PG.

All that said, the $180 device is also a triumph — the most striking innovation in mass-market electronic gaming since Nintendo introduced NES. Using light and mirrors, Boy adds visual depth to the videogame experience, an illusion so strong as to make a sham of those cellophane glasses most people associate with 3-D. And its sharp design — blinders on the side to block out light, comfortable pad ding, and stereo sound — creates as immersive an experience as anything you'd find in a VR arcade.

Like the cheesy effects in '50s 3-D movies, the first Virtual Boy games have been designed to take advantage of this new dimension. The pack-in title, Marios's Dream Tennis, is a natural, giving players a behind-the-net, TV-style perspective; unfortunately, your roly-poly alter ego isn't quite as realistic. Similarly, while Galactic Pinball is fun, it's still...pinball. More intriguing are Red Alarm, a creepy, sinuous space-combat game that's akin to playing Asteroids from the inside out, and what I suspect will be Virtual Boy's first breakout title, Teleboxer, a one-on-one fighting game in which you face your opponents head-on.

Virtual Boy, which is not intended for kids under 7, is only dubiously portable; it's nearly impossible to play in a car, though I suppose you could unfold it on an airplane tray. No matter; Boy's a blast — and even when you're not using it, it's a heck of a conversation starter.

Virtual Boy: A
Mario's Dream Tennis: B+
Galactic Pinball: B
Red Alarm: A-
Teleroboxer: A

Originally posted Aug 18, 1995 Published in issue #288 Aug 18, 1995 Order article reprints