Yes, I actually own a Virtual Boy. I even bought a few games for the thing. Most of them weren’t too bad, and Wario Land was actually pretty good.
The Wario Land series is kind of like the Super Mario Bros. series with a couple of differences, primarily that Wario isn’t adventuring to achieve some greater good like rescuing princesses or defeating giant spiky-shelled turtles, he wants to get money and treasure. Fair enough.
The story in Wario Land is pretty much irrelevant. You start out in a cave and must work your way across the stage, then up an elevator, then across a stage, then up an elevator. Mix in a couple of boss fights, and that’s pretty well it. What I found weird was that all the stages are laid end-to-end through the entire game, meaning that if you saved while on the last stage and wanted to go back to the first stage to pick up something you missed, you could, but you’d have to go through the entire game backward. It makes some kind of sense, but it’s still a little tedious. Especially once you start trying to collect the hidden treasures. Yeah, there are hidden treasures, one per stage, and you’ll want them all if you want to see the real ending. Awesome.
The thing about the Virtual Boy, the ‘hook’ if you will, was that it could do pseudo 3-D. It used two screens to provide slightly different views to each eye, tricking your eyes into thinking that they were looking at a 3-D image. It was a whole lot like looking at slides through a Viewmaster, except everything was shades of red on a black background. This is why screenshots of Virtual Boy games don’t do them justice. You can only get a feel for the depth by actually playing the games on the actual hardware.
Wario Land uses this pseudo 3-D to make the action happen on two different planes. You can think of each level taking place on a city street. You can walk along the sidewalks leap across to the sidewalk on the other side of the street at particular points, but you can’t actually walk in the street itself. Wario Land uses this to the fullest. You have to use both ’sides of the street’ to solve several of the stages, enemies will pop out of the background, gigantic spiky balls will swing into and out of the foreground. You even have to leap back and forth to fight the last boss of the game. It’s all done really well.
If this had been the pack-in game instead of Mario’s Tennis, would the system have sold better and not have died a premature death? Eh, no, probably not. As good as this game is, it doesn’t overcome the huge flaws in the design of the Virtual Boy: It takes batteries, but needs to be used on a table or other flat stationary surface. It eats six Double-A batteries almost as fast as the Game Gear. It apparently gave some people headaches (although I wonder how many of those resulted from people didn’t know how to properly adjust the focus and IPD). That’s not really a recipe for success.