When people think of failed Nintendo hardware, they jump to the Wii U. And they’re correct to do so— the system totally flopped. However, it rightfully developed a small but ardent fan base because its library was so strong. Many exclusive Wii U games are among Nintendo’s best of all time… but the same can’t be said for most Virtual Boy games.
Why do I bring up the Virtual Boy? Well, because that is failed hardware. It was nowhere near as deliberate as Wii U was, acting instead as a stopgap to tide fans over until N64 was released, selling less than one million units.
The paltry lineup of Virtual Boy games reflects that, failing to even secure a fraction of Nintendo’s familiar IP for the platform.
The few titles that did release for the system (22 to be exact) ran the gamut in quality. And, unlike Wii U’s library, were never ported elsewhere. Not even 3DS’ Virtual Console, equipped to present VB’s brain-melting and stark red pseudo-3D for a modern audience, received any ports. Many core Nintendo fans, myself included, have never even touched the system.
So, let’s do a bit of research and rank every official Virtual Boy game. We’ll be looking at three main factors: their reception (both at release and retrospectively), their loose cart price, and how unique they are.
After all, if you’re going to shell out the big bucks for this system second-hand, you want something more exciting than…
22. Golf: The Worst of All Virtual Boy Games
Yes, it’s hard to get very excited about Golf. The game is apparently solid, Nintendo Power even named it a top title of 1995 according to the game’s Wikipedia page. However, this old Electronic Playground review was a bit less kind.
The reviewer noted that it doesn’t take advantage of the hardware all that well. Nor does the game offer more than, well, Golf. Although Price Charting has the game going for about $50, there’s not much reason to pay out.
It lacks the personality of Nintendo’s premiere sports titles and is painfully rudimentary by today’s standards.
Kevin Costner’s Waterworld just couldn’t catch a break. Neither could its gaming adaptations. This got a 1/10 from Nintendo Life. It’s routinely trumpeted as one of the worst games ever conceived.
And it goes for north of $200. This is almost certainly worse than Golf, but that title’s inoffensive design still is less interesting than Waterworld’s offensively poor reputation.
If you could have only Waterworld or Golf in your collection, wouldn’t it be more interesting to have the one that totally sucks than the one that’s just… there? I think so.
20. Virtual League Baseball
Frankly, the bottom few Virtual Boy titles are fairly interchangeable. It’s hard to get much of a read on Virtual League Baseball though, as there is surprisingly little written about it online.
However, the few Wiki excerpts express largely negative sentiment toward the game.
With a loose cart price of about $30, this isn’t much of a hot-ticket item. It is, after all, just sim baseball from almost 30 years ago.
19. Virtual Lab
Yikes! This game is apparently really, really bad. Dave Frear was none too kind to this title, giving it an abysmal 2/10. Frear is far from the only critic to share these sentiments.
It also goes for a stunning, bone-aching $1,300 or more loose. Wow. So why isn’t this at the absolute bottom of the ranking? Well, I find its status somewhat interesting.
An absolutely horrible and deviously overvalued puzzle game from Taito is certainly more engaging conceptually than Golf or Baseball. Maybe it’s the collector’s novelty speaking, but there’s at least more of a story here than that of the games below it. It’s similar to Waterworld in that way.
18. SD Gundam Dimension War
This title makes me go cross-eyed. Apparently, the gameplay would also, as this is considered to be one of the worst games on the system. Jeremy Parish’s video on the title outlines its myriad flaws well.
Among those, on a meta-level, is its absurd loose cart price of about $600.
But at least it’s not a basic sports game. Yes, it might be terrible. Yes, it’s blatantly not worth $600. But, in a library so devoid of interesting ideas, a licensed SRPG holds unique value… even if it’s uniquely bad.
17. Virtual Fishing
In 2022, there just isn’t much reason to play Virtual Boy games that stick to the realm of simulation. If you want some cool Nintendo fishing, go check out Nintendo Labo. Virtual Fishing just isn’t it, nor is it an especially good game.
It didn’t review that well, with Nintendo Life’s Dave Frear (who’ll come up many times on this list) awarding it a 5/10. Perhaps its only claim to fame is its status as one of eight Japan-exclusive VB titles. At least the system is region-free!
So, if you’re willing to shell out about $50 for a cart, your hardware can play it.
16. Virtual Bowling: A Solid Virtual Boy Game
Now, apparently, this will be a bit controversial. Dave Frear enjoyed this one and isn’t even its strongest defender. This Japan-exclusive sim just seems like a solid time at the lanes.
But, ultimately, it’s just bowling. If you’re looking to dive into this library, there isn’t much reason to put your energy into a straightforward sports title… especially not one that goes for north of a whopping $400 loose.
I’ll likely never play this one.
15. Space Squash
Yet another Japan-exclusive sports title! Yet, this one is a bit more compelling. Attached to a sci-fi presentation and some sort of tennis interpolation, Space Squash is more than just Bowling or Golf.
But, it’s not much better. Nintendo Magazine System called it dull, and most critics seem to agree. The simple gameplay just isn’t that motivating. Unfortunately, it’s also a bit more expensive, clocking in at around $100 loose.
Its good use of the 3D effect and more distinct sports tenor make it somewhat appealing though.
14. Space Invaders Virtual Collection
Few big-name IPs (Nintendo or otherwise) made it to Virtual Boy. Space Invaders is one of them. Unfortunately, it arrived as a threadbare compilation that failed to motivate much excitement. Still, it stuck the landing well enough with publications like N64 Magazine reviewing the game positively.
Yet, that outlet aptly points out that this is just Space Invaders. It’s light on content, and outside of some 3D bonuses, fails to really justify its spot in the library. It’s ridiculously expensive too.
At about $150 loose, there’s really no point. We’ve all played Space Invaders. So, while it’s a neat novelty with some good modes, what’s here is about on par with the lesser Virtual Boy games.
Similar to Space Invaders, what we’re dealing with is a basic version of a beloved classic. Is it much more than that? Apparently not. As Dave Frear writes, “V-Tetris gains absolutely nothing from being on the Virtual Boy as the 3D effect is only really used for the backgrounds.”
That’s not a glowing recommendation, but Tetris is Tetris is Tetris. You can’t really go wrong. And, at about $30, this is a solid, playable Japanese exclusive to add to any Virtual Boy library.
12. 3D Tetris
Speaking of Tetris, how about some Tetris? Like V-Tetris, 3D Tetris is far from an exciting release. This IP, while just about perfect mechanically, is already ubiquitous. Whether you’re talking Tetris 99 or Tetris Effect, modern players have plenty to enjoy.
And it’s questionable whether they’d even enjoy 3D Tetris, to begin with. Jaz Rignall for USgamer said that the game is “about as much fun as getting pepper-sprayed in the face.” But, it does receive top marks from Nintendo Life, praising its riffs on an established formula.
Ultimately, its 3D gimmicks are more compelling than that of V-Tetris, even though 3D Tetris drew more ire. But it’s tiresome talking about Tetris. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s just not that interesting. At least 3D Tetris offers some new gameplay ideas atop an already iron-clad foundation.
Albeit, a Virtual Boy game that is dragged down a bit by the platform itself. I mean that both in terms of its effect on presentation and scarcity, as this rare title goes for about $150.
Still, most would rather have this than boring sports titles or broken licensed tie-ins.
11. Nester’s Funky Bowling
“A very average bowling title.” That’s all Official Nintendo Magazine had to say about this game in its VB retrospective. I’m not surprised to hear that, although I am a bit surprised that Nester received his own Virtual Boy game.
For those unaware, Nester is a Nintendo Power mascot — the face of a personal favorite magazine of mine. Seeing him receive his own title is quite special. But is that novelty worth the roughly $90 price of admission? Probably not.
10. Panic Bomber
Here I was hoping that Panic Bomber would be a proper Bomberman title. Instead, it’s one of many Virtual Boy games providing the bare minimum. It’s a puzzler that features just one mode and little to round out its package.
Underneath that thin exterior are solid mechanics as Dave Frear notes, but that’s not especially unique. Seeing the Bomberman IP on Virtual Boy has its charm, and it’s probably a bit more unique than another riff on Tetris. But that’s about it.
At about $60, it’s hard to motivate much excitement here.
9. Mario Tennis: Yes, It Started as a Virtual Boy Games Title
Most people think that the Mario Tennis series started on N64. That’s not the case. It began back on Virtual Boy with this pack-in title. Unfortunately, it’s as basic an affair as you can find.
As Dave Frear wrote for Nintendo Life, the game is just too barren. It really puts the lackluster content of modern Mario sports games into perspective—this one didn’t even have multiplayer! Mario Tennis’ middling reception was an unfortunate sign of things to come.
I’d love to have it in my hypothetical Virtual Boy game collection, being a Mario title after all. And, at about $15 loose, this is a very affordable pickup. Sadly though, it’s a mechanically uninteresting one.
8. Galactic Pinball
Like Mario Tennis, Galactic Pinball is a fascinating part of Nintendo history. It’s not only an Intelligent Systems game but one designed by Kenji Yamamoto and Gunpei Yokoi!
The latter is one of Nintendo’s most important people. Not only did Yokoi design the Virtual Boy, but he was pivotal in creating much more impressive and influential pieces of Nintendo hardware like the Game Boy. The company wouldn’t be the same without him.
As such, Galactic Pinball feels like a necessary curio for any VB collection. And, with solid mechanics, Metroid references, and a kicking soundtrack, this is a solid pickup. It’s not even that expensive, $35 or so loose.
If anything, it’s held back by just being, well, pinball. There’s no shortage of pinball games to go around. In this sense, its value may largely be in what it represents as opposed to how it plays.
Of the many sports Virtual Boy games, Teleroboxer is the most exciting. It’s a boxing game, which is nothing new. But, it’s a Nintendo boxing game with big, Rock-’em, Sock-’em robots of sorts.
It received plenty of comparisons to Punch-Out!! and plenty of remarks about its 3D usage and controls which utilized Virtual Boy’s strange two D-Pad configuration. Talk about weird Nintendo controllers!
However, it’s hard to determine where its quality lies. Like most Virtual Boy games, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Perhaps the aptest summation of the title comes from Dave Frear, whose score landed at 5/10.
At about $35 loose, Teleroboxer is worth checking out. Like many key pieces of Nintendo software, its ability to utilize the hardware gimmicks cleverly outweighs issues with the software itself. Perhaps it’s a bit like Pilotwings that way.
6. Jack Bros.
Can you believe that Atlus of all companies made a Virtual Boy game? It’s wild enough. What makes Jack Bros. even more remarkable, though, is that it was the first Megami Tensei game to release in North America.
Through this historical lens, it’s certainly one of the most sought-after Virtual Boy games. As an action-oriented spin-off from one of the most celebrated JRPG franchises, Jack Bros. certainly earns its spot high on the list.
Unfortunately, though, its placement is severely hampered by its price point, clocking in at a disappointing $900 loose.
5. Vertical Force
From one classic genre archetype to the next, Virtual Boy succeeded in courting arcade experiences. Sports, pinball, and of course, Shoot ’em-ups (Shmups). It’s a classic genre. And, Vertical Force is a genre entry from a classic developer, Hudson.
Unfortunately, its reception seems shaky. It’s been widely criticized online despite some publications like GameFan referring to it as one of the system’s best games. In short, sentiment is split, even on its central multi-layered gimmick that puts the system’s 3D to good use.
At roughly $60, the price tag makes it a bit of a hard sell. But, the promise of its core mechanics makes this a tantalizing pickup. But, it’s not the system’s most tantalizing Shmup.
4. Red Alarm
Red Alarm is that premiere Shmup. And, for Nintendo faithful, it’s the closest thing to Star Fox on the system. While Star Fox was allegedly one of the Virtual Boy games in development, it never materialized.
The similarly inspired Red Alarm did hit shelves and did so in a very polarizing manner. The aforementioned Official Nintendo Magazine calls it the best game on the system. Next Generation gave it one star. Who do you trust?
Me, well, if I ever get my hands on a Virtual Boy I’ll find out. The game is only about $30 loose, and its ambitious 3D wireframe structure is compelling.
3. Mario Clash
Perhaps the IP is doing a disproportionate amount of favors to Mario Clash here. After all, opinion is split on this 3D interpolation of Mario Bros. However, opinion is split on just about every Virtual Boy game.
Produced by Gunpei Yokoi and riffing upon one of Nintendo’s most foundational titles, it’s hard to put Clash much lower. The context of its release, regardless of quality, makes it a rather unique piece of software. Mario Bros., despite its importance, never had much done with it.
The Mario Advance games remade it, but only visually. Mario Clash takes its core tenets and translates them into a new gameplay structure. Arcade Mario in this reconsidered manner is worth experiencing.
And, at about $55, Mario Clash is fairly affordable.
2. Innsmouth No Yakata
Now that’s an (Inns)mouthful. I’m so sorry. What I’m not sorry about, though, is how high on the list this Japanese exclusive is placed.
It’s a first-person horror shooter and a compelling one at that. At least Virtual Boy expert Jeremy Parish thinks so.
I’m compelled by its genre fusion and would love to play this one myself. It stands out distinctly from an otherwise homogenized library, matching its concept to the hardware well. If only it were cheaper! The game goes for over $300 dollars online.
However, it’s a great candidate for (legal) emulation. After all, fans have been working on a translation patch for the title.
1. Virtual Boy Wario Land: The Most Impressive Title Among Virtual Boy Games
This game is the sole reason why many own a Virtual Boy. There’s almost no debate that this is the best title on the platform. It is, after all, a fully-fledged Wario platformer from the prestigious Land series.
More so than maybe any other title on the system, this game’s relegation to the Virtual Boy stings. The game is rightfully and widely praised both as an impressive example of the system’s 3D gimmick, and as a good platformer on its own merits.
Alas, it’s basically lost to time. Thankfully, its price is “reasonable,” going for around $70 online. Not ideal, but it’s no Jack Bros!
Making this list was a surprising exercise. In researching the Virtual Boy’s library it was demystified for me, as I learned that almost every game is some shade of polarizing. Save for Wario Land, the only titles with a critical consensus are ones that swung negatively.
It’s a shame. I expected to come away from this piece ready to track down a good ten titles. In reality, there’s barely a handful that I’d like to try. Nonetheless, there are a surprising number of people who love Virtual Boy.
More power to them. They see something in this device that I don’t and continue to evangelize it today. Given the number of repeated sources I’ve cited, that much should be clear.
Whether I’m impressed by the system or not though, Virtual Boy games offer a quirky pocket of Nintendo history to explore.