Nintendo Virtual Boy

Nintendo Virtual Boy

5th Generation Competitors
3DO Jaguar Nintendo 64 Playstation CD32 FM Towns Marty PC-FX Pippin Playdia Loopy
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 21st July 1995  22nd Dec 1995  770,000 (total)
North America 16th Aug 1995 2nd March 1996  –
Europe  –


Nintendo had already played with the idea of 3D on it’s Famicom platform with the 3D System addon.  It wasn’t especially popular and only a few games ever support it so Nintendo quietly shelved it’s 3D plans.

Fast forward to 1985, an american company called Reflection Technology Inc were trying to sell their red lens based 3D headset.  Initially they approached Sega but the house of Sonic were put off by the single colour display and problems with motion sickness.

Then they came to the attention of the father of the GameBoy, Gunpei Yokoi.  Gunpei saw a huge potential in 3D and was looking for a revolutionary offshoot from Nintendo’s current handheld offerings.  He approached the board with the project, now codenamed VR32.  Gunpei’s reputation and his sales pitch that saw the project as pushing Nintendo to the front of the technology race again sold the idea and he was allowed to continue development.

During the development process the team experimented with colour displays, but eventually returned to RTI’s red lens setup.  Gunpei said a number of factors drove that decision, the sheer expense of colour LCDs at the time, the difficulty of getting enough colour LCDs at that time and the fact that using colour LCDs seemed to increase the problem of motion sickness that the device already suffered from.

The Virtual Boy was a failure, both commercially and functionally.  Sold as a portable device it could not be used away from a table (although Nintendo did intend to release a headstrap).  Customers were not impressed, it was more expensive that the GameBoy, but the single colour graphics looked primitive compared to the older machine.  Despite being more powerful it looked weaker.

Journalists were unimpressed, hating the single colour, the lack of motion detection, the fairly unimpressive 3D effect and the rumours of motion sickness and headaches.

Nintendo had projected sales of 2.5million in North America alone, but actually sold around 770,000 in both North America and Japan.

The Virtual Boy has a couple of legacies (other than being Nintendo’s biggest failure).  It was Nintendo’s first 32 bit system and it directly caused the departure of Gunpei Yokoi from Nintendo and his eventual design of the Bandai Wonderswan.


Processor NEC V810 32bit RISC Chip @ 20Mhz
RAM 320k (128k VRAM, 128k DRAM, 64k SRAM)
ROM 128K
Custom Chips Reflection Technologies Inc Video Processor
Video 384 x 224, 4 colours (black and 3 shades of red)
Audio Virtual Sound Unit, 10 bit, 5 Wave channels, 1 Noise
Removable storage