Why, Though? Nintendo’s achy attempt at 3D gaming

Nintendo’s Virtual Boy was underwhelming and also pretty uncomfortable.

Virtual reality has come a long way since the ‘90s, with some pretty stellar experiences available across headsets and at in-person arcades.

A Nintendo Virtual Boy device against a gray background.

But in 1995, Nintendo flopped with Virtual Boy, a 3D-gaming console that was underwhelming and gave people neck pain.

The idea…

… was that Virtual Boy’s wearable headset would display stereoscopic 3D graphics, giving games the illusion of depth and, thus, greater immersion.

But when production wrapped, what gamers got was a clunky red headset that had to be sat on a table and leaned into. And because it wasn’t really VR, it had no motion tracking and instead used a controller.


Nobody liked it.

To make production costs more affordable, Virtual Boy only used red LEDs, meaning games came in an underwhelming red and black.


  • Leaning into the headset was uncomfortable.
  • Some complained of eye pain, nausea, and headaches, while warning labels about those possible side effects fueled bad press.
  • Compared to other gaming consoles, it was expensive at $180 (~$357 today).
  • There were 22 lackluster games, far fewer than other systems and none from lead game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, who created hits including “Mario” and “The Legend of Zelda.” (He was busy with Nintendo 64.)

Nintendo discontinued Virtual Boy in Japan just five months after its release and in the US in the summer of 1996. It only sold a reported 770k units, making it Nintendo’s biggest hardware flop.

Nintendo 64, in comparison, has sold 32.9m+ units worldwide.


… Virtual Boy lives on among fans who collect and even develop new software for the gaming system.

If you’d like to see some gameplay, check out this video — which includes a favorable review of the platformer game “Wario Land.”

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