Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, a pseudo-handheld, pseudo-3D game console released in 1995, was the company’s biggest ever flop. Under-supplied with games, prone to causing headaches in players, and awkward to use, it was a disastrous failure, and led to its creator, Gunpei Yokoi (now sadly deceased) leaving the company under a cloud. It does, however, have at least two things going for it. Firstly, it has the most excellent instruction-manual troubleshooting page in the history of mankind (see the picture bottom right). And secondly, there are a few gems among the handful of software titles that were released for it.
Of course, there’d be no reason for alert viewers of Emu Zone to give a monkey’s nuts about that, were it not for the fact that the PC’s first playable Virtual Boy emulator has finally been released. There have been VB emus around for years, but all of them were so unplayably slow as to be useless (also, none of them had any sound and most of them only ran in DOS). With the release of Red Dragon 0.38, however, it’s finally possible to enjoy VB games at the speed they were meant to be played, with sound (in some cases, and see the warning boxout) and without having to destroy your spine and eyesight by hunching up and gazing into a tiny little screen set inside a giant pair of binoculars on a tripod.
Get it working and you’ll be rewarded with the likes of VB Wario Land, a classic Nintendo platformer very much like the Game Boy’s hugely successful Wario titles, but with a new 3D element (Wario can leap “into” the screen to walk on platforms in the distance) that adds an enormous feeling of depth and believability to the environment. Or there’s Mario Clash - an intriguing meld of the original Mario Bros game with the Frisbee-flinging coin-op Discs Of Tron – or the action-packed shooter Vertical Force.
Red Dragon is a bit of a pain in the arse to use – the VB had a hideously complicated joypad, and while you can redefine the emulator’s awkward keyset, it doesn’t save it, so you have to do it every time you load the emu. The video drivers are somewhat temperamental too. But all that said, this is a pioneering release of one of the most technically-demanding consoles to emulate ever, and with a little persistence you’ll get it running sweetly. It’s certainly fascinating enough to be worth the effort.