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One of the rarest games ever is also among the worst
Author: B. Hodges | Date: 2008/12/05 | Rating: 1/10


Introduction

This is a review for the Virtual Boy game Virtual Lab. This game will work on an American Virtual Boy without any modifications; all menus and in-game text are in English. It was released only in Japan in December of 1995 during the Virtual Boy's final Japanese release window; you can tell it was rushed out before it was finished.


Gameplay - 2/10

Virtual Lab is a puzzle game clearly inspired by Tetris, Dr. Mario, Columns ... you get the idea. The object of the game is to clear the screen of all the pieces of intestine (you heard me). Additional pieces drop from the top of the screen and you use these to "seal" the ones already in the well. An intestine is sealed when all open ends are either placed against a wall or capped with a special piece that is only open on one end. Once one is sealed, it disappears from the screen. An opening placed against another piece of intestine is NOT considered sealed. Once that happens, you must seal the other section to make it disappear in order to access the opening and seal it. It is very easy to accidentally put yourself in a position where you are unable to reach the ends of segments to seal them off. When that happens, your only hope is the magic fairy.

Sealing a segment of 10 or more pieces will summon a fairy equipped with a pickaxe who will fly across the screen and instantly clear the bottom layer. The animation for this takes several seconds and breaks the rhythm of the game. She will still show up after a combo that clears the screen, even though there are no pieces left and you still have to wait for her to slowly make her way across the screen before proceeding to the next level.

Once the last piece is gone, the stage ends. After completing each level a number is displayed (NOT a score). The assumption in the VB community is that this was supposed to be a password, but apparently the game was released before the password entry screen was implemented. On the title screen there is an option to change the drop speed of the pieces, but it doesn't work!


Play Control 5/10

They couldn't even get this right! The controls are nearly identical to Dr. Mario's, you maneuver the pieces using the left control pad and rotate them with A. If more than one piece is falling, pressing B will cause them to swap places. Seems pretty straightforward, right?

The problem lies in the movement controls. Whenever you tap left or right, there is a second delay before the piece moves. If you hold down that direction there will still be a delay, but then the piece will suddenly zip across the screen. This makes placing the pieces where you want a lot trickier than it should be.


Story - ?/10

There appears to be some sort of story in the instruction booklet, but the text is in Japanese so I don't know exactly what's supposed to be going on. From the pictures, it looks like some sort of creatures are running amok in a lab and three scientists are trying to stop them.


Graphics - 1/10

The graphics are very poor, more along the lines of the original GameBoy than a 32-bit system. The pieces are just wavy lines and there is a lot of empty black space on screen. The worst part is that every few seconds the pieces will "pulse", they change brightness and move back and forth which is very hard on your eyes. The only thing resembling a 3D effect in this game are the stars in the background. There is a girl in the corner who is very blurry and it looks like her chest has been censored. After completing a segment she does a little dance that consists of only three frames.


Sound - 1/10

I didn't know the Virtual Boy had a POKEY! This game sounds more like an Atari 2600 title than 32-bit. The soundtrack is very bland and consists of only a few songs, each one consists of only a handful of notes repeated over and over and over again. The sound effects are sparse and dull, consisting of very basic beeps and thuds. Every time you move a piece there is a beep, this gets annoying very quickly.


Playing Time/Replay Value - 1/10

You won't spend more than a couple minutes playing this. The music is annoying and the graphics are painful (literally). The controls are frustrating and most importantly the concept just isn't that good. There are dozens of similar puzzle games out there that are a lot more fun to play.

According to a brave soul who played this game for a solid week (he kept the power on the whole time) there are 99 levels. Once you beat level 99, it keeps repeating over and over. Since there's no ending, the only motivation you have to replay the game is to break your high score. Unlike Galactic Pinball, Virtual Lab has no backup battery, so the only way to save your scores is with a pencil.


Buy, Borrow, or Avoid? - Avoid

This game is EXTREMELY rare; copies have gone for over $1,000 dollars on eBay. Add to that the fact that the game is no fun whatsoever and riddled with bugs. If you are looking for a great puzzle game for the Virtual Boy, check out Panic Bomber, V Tetris, or 3D Tetris; leave Virtual Lab for the hardcore collectors,


Overall Score - 1/10

Virtual Lab is very low quality. You can tell this before you even start playing because they managed to misspell Nintendo twice! On the box it is spelled with one extra N (NINTENNDO) and on the cartridge label they have two extra N's (NINNTENNDO). And it only gets worse from there folks. The graphics, sound, and controls needed a lot more work before the game was released and the overall concept isn't innovative or fun. There are several good puzzle games available for the Virtual Boy, I suggest giving those a try instead.