This review is actually broken down into three sections. The first section is a technical section, dealing with various aspects of the system itself, things related to that, and other non-game-related things. The second section deals specifically with the games, descriptions of the games available and other things like that. The third is just kind of bringing everything together, and covering some other related points.
First of all, the Virtual Boy will not make you blind. Where that rumor started is beyond me. If you're under like 7 years of age (I think it is) and your eyes haven't fully developed, yes, it can cause problems with that, that's covered more in detail in the manual. So, if you're under the age of 7, yeah, the Virtual Boy probably isn't for you. If you have people under the age of 7, ok, so hide your Virtual Boy with all the other items you don't want your 6-year-old to get at. If you're really young, you may want to check into that in more detail. If you're older than that, however, you don't have anything to worry about. Playing a Virtual Boy is no worse for your eyes than playing a normal video game, watching TV, or reading this review (oh no, reading this review is ruining your eyesight!). Also, yes, after playing the Virtual Boy for a while, when you stop your eyes will take a bit of time to get adjusted again, this isn't any different than walking out of a dark movie theater and having to shield your eyes for a minute because of the brightness outside. Nothing out of the ordinary there. So, hopefully we've gotten all of this out of the way, and you can rest assured that playing a Virtual Boy isn't going to cause you to go blind or something silly like that. Kind of an odd place to start a review off, but, probably good to just get that out of the way so it isn't a factor in the rest of the review. If you aren't convinced of this, if you still think the Virtual Boy will make you blind, you may as well stop reading now. Assuming we've gotten that part squared away though, read on.
As far as the system itself, it consists of two core parts, the visor/unit and a controller that attaches. In order to play the system, your eyes need to be in front of the visor (covered by a shield), and at face level. The system comes with a metal stand to support the system, although you're free to support it any way you desire (find a good surface to put it on that's in front of your eyes, on top of some books, lying down with it resting on your face, whatever). The stand really is the best way to go about it however. The other key part is either a battery pack or an AC adapter/tap. The Virtual Boy can be powered by batteries, 6 AA batteries, however it drains batteries very quickly, so getting an AC adapter/tap is in your best interest. The AC adapter itself is actually the same one used for the SNES, that's not a big deal. The Adapter Tap is the harder part to track down, it's the part that actually connects to the controller, and the AC Adapter plugs inside of that. That said, it's not all that hard to track down online, and if you plan on spending any significant amount of time with the system, you'd be best served to get one.
On the topic of the Battery Pack, as mentioned, the Virtual Boy can be powered by batteries. This does mean that the Virtual Boy is "portable." It's not very much so in the conventional sense however. First of all, there's a warning that you shouldn't play it in a car (which makes sense. Having something in front of your face, if the car stops short or gets in an accident or something, and you have an airbag or the front of a seat pressing the system into your face, that's not a very good thing). So, unfortunately, that's out. As well, you're probably going to need some sort of surface (table or whatnot) to put it on, so, playing it in the waiting room of a dentist or something probably isn't going to happen either. So, odds are the "portable" aspect of it won't really be a significant factor to most people, unless you go camping all the time or something. So, if you're expecting a GameBoy replacement, this definitely isn't it.
Just to discuss the controller briefly. The controller consists of, on the front, two D-pads, a Start and Select button, an A and B button, and on the back an L and R button. Don't get too concerned about the two D-pads part, most games only use one. There are a few instances where both are used, but, it's not like you need to be concerned about some confusing dual-control scheme or something, that's not really used. Of course, the other thing about the controller is, if you're one of those people who needs to be looking down at the controller to see where buttons are, since your face is going to be covered by a shield, that really isn't going to work. So, you'd better get used to where everything is. That said, it's rather straightforward, and shouldn't give you any significant problems.
The only technical downside to the system is the lack of multiplayer. There is an "ext" port on the system, which was planned as a place to plug in a link cable. The port does actually function, as some programmers who know far more about these things than I do have actually gotten demos to work with home-made link cables. That's not going to be something the average user is going to encounter however, so, for all practical purposes there isn't multiplayer. This really is strikingly unfortunate, since there are quite a number of games which really would've been a blast to play multiplayer, and the complete lack of it is really unfortunate.
As far as the graphical aspect of the system, the Virtual Boy is sort of a pseudo-3D. That is, inside of the system, there are actually two separate planes where the graphics are displayed, one slightly in back and to the side of the other. So, together, these create the effect of 3D. It's not 3D in the sense of "Super Mario 64, Polygons and such" or the like. Still, it most certainly isn't flat obviously. The effect really is pulled off very well. The other thing to mention, is, yes, the Virtual Boy only displays the colors Red and Black. This really isn't anywhere near as bad as it sounds however, half the time you won't even notice it (or at least won't be dwelling on it where you feel it's significantly detracting from a game), most of the games work with it very well. Sound is actually very good. As the system knows exactly where your head is, directly between the speakers, the system pulls off an excellent "surround-sound" effect, with many games having directional clues from the sound and such. The sound is a largely unmentioned secret of the system, it really is very good.
That should be enough on the technical side of things. By now you should have a pretty good idea what to expect in that sense of things. By now, if you're still reading, you're probably interested to know about the games.
Alright, now that you know about the system itself, you'd like to know about the games. Well, the largest downside to the games is the sheer lack of them. There were only 14 games released for the Virtual Boy in the US, as well as an additional 8 games released in Japan, for a grand total of 22 different games (not counting Japanese versions of US games that were the same). The bright side is, the Virtual Boy has no territorial lock, so games from any region will work on any system, so you can play Japanese games just fine (except for the small problem of understanding what is going on). 22 games isn't very many of course, and that's rather disappointing. On the bright side, many of the games are very good.
For a quick list of games, here are the games released in the US:
Nester's Funky Bowling
Virtual League Baseball
Insmouse no Yakata
SD Gundam Dimension War
Space Invaders Virtual Collection
V-Tetris (different from 3D Tetris)
Virtual Bowling (different from Nester's Funky Bowling)
As well, Virtual League Baseball has different teams in the Japanese version, but is essentially the same core game.
Of course, you can read reviews for the individual games if you want to know more about them. The list was just included as a quick reference.
The nice thing about the games is, most of them are easy enough to track down (at least online), and most aren't particularly expensive. The only US-release games that's going to run you any more than around $10 are 3D Tetris and Jack Bros. As far as Japanese games, most of them are straightforward enough where you can understand them without much knowledge of Japanese (if you know how to play Tetris, you can do it whether it's English, Japanese, or anything else). Unfortunately, the problem is, some of the Japanese games can be expensive. Prices can range anywhere from around $60 for Insmouse no Yakata, to $300 for Space Squash and SD Gundam Dimsension War, to nearly $1000 for Virtual Bowling. Needless to say, unless you're a huge collector, odds are you probably won't be picking up most of these games. V-Tetris is relatively cheap and easy enough to get, but, aside from that, the main detractor from the Japanese games isn't the language barrier, but simply the price.
On the other hand, even though there were only a handful of US releases (which, again, is unfortunate), there still is a pretty good variety among them, and there really are some very fun games to pick up. Again, read some reviews for specifics, but, Wario Land is a spectacular game, easily worth the purchase of the system. As well, games like Galactic Pinball, Mario's Tennis and Red Alarm (and pretty much every game on the list) are all very entertaining, rather cheap, and definitely worth picking up.
When the system initially came out, it had been very hyped, and was very expensive. If you picked it up then, you probably ended up being rather disappointed, as the price dropped quickly, and the games soon stopped coming. At this point however, you can get the system for a very cheap price, and most of the games for next to nothing. So, at this point, price isn't too much of a factor. While the Virtual Boy's quick death, and the shortage of games, is very disappointing, it doesn't mean that there isn't anything of value to find here. Of the games that did come out, many of them are very entertaining. While the system's unique graphics might not wow you like they might've, it's still good, and many of the games work with it very well.
So, in the end, should you buy a Virtual Boy? Well, of course, that largely depends on whether or not the specific games interest you, and individual reviews of all the games would make this review well too long. So, if you're still interested at this point, go read through some game reviews and see if anything jumps out at you. Again, although there aren't very many games, there is a good variety among them, where it's quite likely you'll find at least a few that will interest you. While saying you should buy a Virtual Boy because "it's cheap, the games are cheap, why not buy it?" isn't really a very good argument on its own, it certainly doesn't hurt matters any. Assuming by this point you've gotten all your questions about the technical aspects of the system answered, it's just a matter of finding some games that will interest you, and it's quite likely you'll be able to do that.
So, if you've made it this far and are still interested, go read up on the games, check them out, and come join the Virtual Boy community.
System Design/Controller: 8/10
Game Library (Quantity): 3/10
Game Variety (Range/Quality): 8/10