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The 5 best Virtual Boy games

Red Alarm

Now we’re getting somewhere. Out of the Virtual Boy’s launch library, only Red Alarm looked even vaguely like the public’s concept of how VR games should look. It used wireframe graphics instead of polygons, sure, and its 3D space-shooting action wasn’t exactly Star Fox, but Red Alarm was as close as the Virtual Boy ever got. And if you can get over the short draw distance, the weird controls and the occasional confusion over which objects are solid and where things are in relation to each other, it’s still pretty fantastic.

The illusion of depth helps a lot, obviously, but underneath the technical flaws is a great 3D action game struggling to get out. The straightforward rail-shooter levels were interspersed with more open, arena-like levels (a fight against a giant wireframe robot was an early highlight), which kept things from getting monotonous, and the designers packed a surprising amount of detail into the environments, including little wireframe people and hidden Easter eggs. As a launch game, it was a flawed glimpse at what the Virtual Boy could have delivered down the road, and if any game makes us a little sad about the system’s demise, it’s this.

Jack Bros.

Another 2D game that looked out of place on a 3D system, Jack Bros. was a dungeon crawler/twin-stick shooter hybrid that tasked players with guiding one of three “fairies” –Jack Lantern, Jack Skelton or Jack Frost (later of the Shin Megami Tensei series) – home after Halloween. This meant navigating a series of floating, multi-floored mazes, with the 3D effects limited to displaying the next floor deep in the background.

It wasn’t anything jaw-dropping, but it was an excellent, solidly designed maze-crawl, and it was (and still is) substantial enough to keep us playing long enough to develop red-tinted eyestrain. And really, what more can you ask from a Virtual Boy game? It also featured what’s probably the best soundtrack on the Virtual Boy, with memorably chirpy tunes that made the eyestrain even easier to ignore. Here’s my favorite, from the Grim Reaper’s Cavern level:

Virtual Boy Wario Land

Virtual Boy Wario Land may be the least “3D” of all the games in the Virtual Boy’s library, which may or may not have something to do with it being the best. Whatever the case, Virtual Boy Wario Land is a legitimately awesome platformer – so awesome, in fact, that it’s the topic of all 100 entries in this list. If you’ve ever played a Wario Land game before, you already have an idea of what it’s like: fat, greedy Wario dons an assortment of power-granting hats as he beats up little monsters and hunts for treasure.

The “virtual” hook here came mainly in the form of little-used 3D effects that sent hazards careening from the background to the foreground, as well as areas in the far background that Wario could leap to by uncovering hidden jump pads. Otherwise, it was a long, involving platformer – the kind unwary fans might have expected Mario Clash to be – with lots of unique graphical touches and cool secrets to uncover. That it was on a system completely unsuited to long bouts of play was unfortunate, but that didn’t keep smashing through walls, bowling over enemies and ferreting out secrets from being the best experiences the Virtual Boy had to offer.

Mar 21, 2011

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After graduating from college in 2000 with a BA in journalism, I worked for five years as a copy editor, page designer and videogame-review columnist at a couple of mid-sized newspapers you've never heard of. My column eventually got me a freelancing gig with GMR magazine, which folded a few months later. I was hired on full-time by GamesRadar in late 2005, and have since been paid actual money to write silly articles about lovable blobs.