Every year Nintendo of Japan traditionally introduces their newest games and consoles to gamers and insiders on their own tradeshow, the Shoshinkai. At the end of 1994, it was the Virtual Boy's big day in the Harumi International Trade Center in Tokyo, when it was first shown to the public.
As big as the hype was before Shoshinkai, as big was the disappointment when finally the curtain fell to reveal Nintendo's "wonder-machine" to the public. A bizarre looking, bulky red piece of hardware on a stand, plus only three games in early state, which all looked pretty poor and were absolutely nothing revolutionary. What should people think about that? Still it was from Nintendo, the biggest and most respected video game company of the world, but the three playable games shown, "Mario Bros. Virtual Boy", "Space Pinball" and "Teleroboxer" were half finished at best and really nothing that could excite the visitors of the show. A lot of them even complained that the system was uncomfortable and that it would cause headaches after a short time.
Not only the games, but also the Virtual Boy itself was only shown in prototype form, the display systems were running off AC Adaptors. The displays were placed around some blue "pillars", which had Virtual Boy logos on them and screens, on which demovideos were running. Hosts explained the system to visitors. By the end of Shoshinkai, not to many positive articles of the Virtual Boy were left in the media, to many, this was already a dieing cause.
In 1995, the Consumer Electronics Show was still one of the biggest of its kind. On Friday, January 6th, through Monday, January 9th, the show was held in the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Las Vegas Hilton, the Mirage and Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. More than 2,000 exhibitors and 90,000 attendees presented their new stuff in video games, computer, multimedia, audio and video on a total space of more than a million square feet. The show was only for people related to the industry, "normal" gamers couldn't get in. Atari, Sega, 3DO, lots of third parties and, of course, Nintendo, having the slogan "Fast Forward!" on this show, were present in the video games-area and showed off their new hardware and software. One of the stars on the show surly was the Virtual Boy, which was presented to a western audience for the first time.
In the early morning of the first day of the show, Nintendo held a press conference [Left], to inform chosen representatives of the media about their plans for the future. After Peter Main [Nintendo's vice president of marketing] talked about the future of the 16-bit consoles, Ultra 64 and the Virtual Boy for an hour, he finally became more concrete. After the disunited reactions on Nintendo's 32-bit console on the Shoshinkai exhibition in November in Tokyo, Nintendo was very careful to emphasize that the shown hardware and software were all prototypes, which mainly should demonstrate the 3D graphic capabilities of the Virtual Boy. The price of the VB was said to be $200, the prices for software about $50. Nintendo also said that the launch, which should be in April simultaneously in the USA and Japan with "Virtual Mario", "Space Pinball" and "Teleroboxer" as launch-games, would be supported by a 20 million dollar marketing budget and that they wanted to sell 2 million systems and twice as much games in the USA until march 1996.
The Virtual Boy area, which one had to get passes for, was housed in a dome and basically was a two-part walk through an enclosed area. In the first, dark room you could have a look at several game and technical demos running on six big screens. Using special cardboard 3D specs the images were 3D, just like the 3D effects of the Virtual Boy unit. On the first screen an early demo of "Red Alarm", which was considered the worst Virtual Boy game on the show, though most likely because of its early state, was running, the second showed "Space Pinball", the third "Teleroboxer", on screen 4 the Dolphin and Racing Demos were alternating, 5 showed a very early and raw demo of "Vertical Force", still having a simple "shoot 'em up!" working title, and screen 6 alternatively showed the "Starfox Demo" and a short "Mario Land" demo.
In the second room of the Virtual Boy area one could play prototypes of "Space Pinball" and "Teleroboxer" at about 10 displays. Interestingly, "Space Pinball" had 5 instead of 4 tables. The prototype was at best 50% complete and its ball-physics were way off, but it had some of the best 3D-effects on the show. Teleroboxer was about 75% completed.
On the 21st of July, 1995, the Virtual Boy was released in Japan, and in North America a month later. Nintendo thought it would sell very well [they hoped it would sell 3 million copies] because the Virtual Boy didn't have any competing consoles. Both the Saturn and the Playstation played in a totally different league. They couldn't have been more wrong! In Japan, the Virtual Boy sold poorly and the price dropped drastically on both the machine and the games. Nintendo estimated that the Virtual Boy would sell 250,000 copies in Japan but it ended up selling less than 50,000!
One problem that arose (which worried the parents) was that it was said that playing the Virtual Boy could cause eye damage to children under the age of seven. In the US, the machine hardly sold at all, and it was never even released in Europe. At Shoshinkai 95' Hiroshi Yamauchi [President of Nintendo] confessed that the machine had sold less than Nintendo had calculated, but they hadn't lost all their hope for this strange product yet. New games that made better use of the Virtual Boy's special skills were to be released. Unfortunately, by now most of the players of the world weren't interested in the Virtual Boy. Nintendo just had to live with the fact that the Virtual Boy was a flop! One year later (1996), the Virtual Boy was discontinued.