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-