Is It Time for Nintendo to Explore Virtual Reality Hardware Again?

    It might be time for Nintendo to make a return to VR.

    Virtual reality is a topic that invokes both wonder and fear. Back in the ’90s, there were worries advancing technology would lead to humanity’s downfall. We now know that the millennium bug hasn’t destroyed humanity and we’ve also been introduced to successful VR experiences that don’t make us go blind. This article looks at VR over the years and the potential for Nintendo to enter this market in the coming years. 

    Virtual Reality in 90’s films

    In the ’90s, the media was really excited with the concept of increasing computer power, more powerful graphical engines, and more general virtual reality. PCs were becoming more powerful and user-friendly in this era, and the internet was just starting to become mainstream. There was also hysteria around approaching the year 2000 and whether all electronic devices would be confused by the change of date, and whether it would cause a technological apocalypse. 

    These issues were highlighted in films like The Net, The Lawnmower Man, and to a lesser extent, The Matrix and Jurassic Park. The Lawnmower Man’s story revolves around a Scientist (Pierce Brosnan) who is experimenting with virtual reality and artificial intelligence. He manages to increase the intelligence of a low IQ individual, and it comes to the point that he becomes so powerful that he basically has an existential crisis, transcending into the computer system and eventually the internet. Jurassic Park deals with the process of gene editing and the potential to bring back extinct creatures, which would require great expertise in bioinformatics, in addition to computer programming. Things don’t end well for the guys that want to ‘play God’ by doing this.

    However, perhaps the real advancements at this time in terms of graphical power and virtual reality are in video games, and this brings us to Nintendo’s Virtual Boy and ‘Project Reality’.

    Jurassic Park Image

    Virtual Boy

    The Virtual Boy is Nintendo’s most notorious failure. Known as VR32 during development, the console/handheld created the illusion of 3D and used early stereoscopic 3D technology that was later used in the 3DS handheld system. Despite the system’s ambitious goals, it was a commercial and critical failure, selling less than one million units. No other Nintendo console has sold so poorly and the system only had 22 games released for it (although some of them, such as Wario Land were well received). The game used red and black graphics, similar to the Game Boy’s green and grey display. The console is alleged to have caused headaches. 

    Clearly, in 1994 during the Virtual Boy’s development, the technology was not there to create immersive virtual reality experiences. However, at the same time, there was another console in development that aimed to create immersive 3D experiences. This was the Nintendo 64, or at the time was known as ‘project reality’, and later known as the ‘Ultra 64’. While the N64 didn’t use a headset and was simply displayed on a TV, it can be argued it still created a virtual reality experience. After all, isn’t that what all video games try to do?

    The N64 was the most powerful console of the mid to later 90s and could display clear polygonal graphics. Experiences like Super Mario 64, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Goldeneye showed the potential of the video game medium. However, it would be a few years before Nintendo tried to drastically innovate again. This would occur with a console under the codename ‘Revolution’. 


    Wii and New Ways to Play Games

    The ‘Revolution’ was a complete mystery for gamers for a while before the full reveal of the console in 2006. The official name of ‘Wii’ sounded strange at first, but once people became used to the console, it properly entered society’s vernacular and was a cultural phenomenon. The device used a controller similar to a television remote that used motion and pointer controls. This meant that it was appealing to people who didn’t often play games, and loads of people from different sections of society were now enjoying sports and mini-games on Wii. 

    It could be argued that Nintendo’s use of motion control increased levels of immersion and gave the video game medium new ways to control on-screen action (with motion rather than button pressing). This meant new kinds of experiences could be created. It diversified the industry, and Microsoft and Sony soon followed Nintendo’s path of integrating motion controls into their consoles (although to lesser levels of success than Nintendo).

    Wii Remote

    Return of Virtual Reality

    By the 2010s with the commercial release of the Oculus Rift, technology had reached a point where true virtual reality with a headset was possible. PlayStation then released the PSVR in 2014 and both devices were relatively commercially and critically successful. Games were being made specifically for PSVR and the experiences are immersive and realistic. Resident Evil 4 VR and Skyrim VR and examples of console games that were initially designed for use on television, then adapted for use in VR. 

    We are now at a point where the price of entry for VR experiences has lowered to a level where more and more people can afford to buy a device. Developers are also hard at work creating unique experiences and it’s possible virtual reality will become much more mainstream in the coming months and years.

    PS VR

    Will Nintendo Release a Virtual Reality Headset Soon?

    In terms of Nintendo, the Switch is approaching its sixth birthday and the graphical technology of the device is definitely not up there with its competitors in Sony and Microsoft. However, Nintendo is known to innovate and we still don’t know what Nintendo’s next device will be like. Another traditional console is an option we have a chance of seeing or even an upgraded hybrid console like the Switch. Alternatively, could we see a return to a dedicated handheld?

    This brings us to an interesting question. Is it time for Nintendo to attempt virtual reality again? The technology may be advanced enough for Nintendo to attempt this now. Despite the failure of the Virtual Boy, Nintendo has made movements in the space of virtual reality with both the stereoscopic 3D on 3DS and the motion controls on the Wii. It’s very possible that Nintendo release a virtual reality headset, but I think what matters is if Nintendo can create a device that has a low entry price.

    It would be incredibly interesting to see what kind of VR device Nintendo would make in 2023. Utilizing their technologies like rumble, motion controls, and more, I’d be willing to be they would make an outstanding device with a great selection of content. Just the thought of some of the games they could create for a system like that is incredibly intriguing. 


    Overall, computing power, graphics, and controller innovations had made great leaps forward in the last 35 years. The days of the failure of the Virtual Boy are long over, and society and the media are less scared of rapidly advancing technology than they were in the 90s (maybe). It’s very possible that we see Nintendo release a virtual reality device in the next few years, and no matter what they do, they are sure to surprise. The PlayStation VR is doing well, but if Nintendo does release its own device, what kind of innovation would they use to make it unique? I guess we’ll just have to wait in these coming months to see what they do

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