It's time for Nintendo to get virtual, boy!
Virtual reality gaming is currently having a moment! With new details on the PSVR2 recently revealed, and the Meta Quest 2 selling like virtual hotcakes, this trend shows no sign of slowing down. Plenty of the big players in the industry have shown their interest in VR, but there’s one game company nowadays that isn’t exactly known for following trends, or riding the cutting edge of technology; Nintendo.
Ironically, decades ago, Nintendo found themselves right in the middle of the VR discussion. Back in 1995, Nintendo released the Virtual Boy; a pseudo-3D headset that certainly had critics and fans alike talking about VR. While not really a VR platform in the traditional sense, you could see how the Virtual Boy’s form factor and playstyle lent itself to the VR discussion. Unfortunately, the Virtual Boy didn’t light up the sales charts, and in turn, quelled any potential VR aspirations the House of N had.
No doubt afraid of repeating past mistakes, the closest Nintendo’s come to dipping their toes in the VR waters since is the Labo VR Kit for Nintendo Switch. Like the rest of their Labo line, the VR Kit was a build-it-yourself cardboard headset that used the Switch itself as a screen, allowing you to play games up close and personal. It’s clear that the Labo team had some creative ideas for the device, but unfortunately, the setup was marred by some troublesome issues. Most notably, the Labo VR headset does not include a head strap, which requires you to physically support the bulky equipment with your hands while playing. Making matters worse, the Switch’s maximum resolution just isn’t good enough to make for a comfortable viewing experience. Clearly, Nintendo once again has some curiosity about the VR space, but they haven’t yet developed a capable, viable delivery method.
What if Nintendo did decide to go all in and create full-fledged VR hardware with tech specs matching gaming’s latest technology? Which franchises from their vast library would benefit the most from the new perspective? Let’s dive into Nintendo’s vast catalog to see what might work best.
It’s safe to say that an official Nintendo VR headset couldn’t exist without a flagship Mario title. In fact, Mario is one of the few franchises that has received some VR support, thanks to a Labo VR add-on for Super Mario Odyssey. That said, a better example of what a fully realized Mario VR title could look like can be found in the excellent PSVR-exclusive platformer, Astro Bot Rescue Mission. Astro Bot showcases the true potential of 3rd-person platforming in VR, and it’s brimming with Mario-esque charm, and engaging ideas. Replace the titular Astro with Mario, add in a Nintendo layer of polish, and there’s little doubt you’d have a sure-fire winner.
When Super Mario 3D Land utilized the 3D functionality of the 3DS, it made platforming considerably easier, as you could better judge the distance and depth of the game world. Making tricky jumps became much more manageable, and misjudged leaps felt like an honest mistake in player control, rather than an amalgamation of control, camera, and timing issues. That kind of enhancement could only be emphasized further in a fully three-dimensional virtual world. A VR Mario wouldn’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel. Another fantastic, solid platformer viewed from a VR perspective could be the perfect combo to really dial up the wow factor.
The Legend of Zelda
Zelda is another juggernaut that no Nintendo hardware should be without. As with Mario, sticking to the basics, instead of loading up on gimmicks, would be the best path forward in VR. Sure, you could throw in Skyward Sword-style motion controls for the combat, and gyro aiming for the bow is always nice, but the real treat would come from immersing yourself in Hyrule.
The early VR title Chronos, developed by Gunfire Games, is a great example of how Zelda-style gameplay could translate to VR. Chronos, a 3rd-person action-adventure game, demonstrates how the genre’s hallmarks are strengthened in VR. Clever camera design, married with a beautiful, mysterious setting, gives you a sense of wonder and exploration like never before.
Where VR could really shine in Zelda is the series’ “dual-world” trope. Most Zelda games have some sort of Dark World or other dimension for you to discover, which is ripe for the picking with VR tech. Perhaps you could activate a mystical visor to see into another dimension, or shrink yourself down Minish Cap-style and watch the world’s scale change around you! With the world of Zelda, the VR possibilities seem endless.
The first-person perspective is usually the first thing people think of when it comes to VR. While a 2D Metroid game would still look and play great through a headset, a Metroid Prime entry in VR is the obvious way to go. The original Metroid Prime redefined the genre when it launched on the GameCube, and for many, it’s still considered one of the most immersive games ever made.
Just imagine exploring spooky Chozo ruins in VR while scanning the environment for new lore. Watching rain hit and run down your visor in real time would be incredibly immersive. Honestly, a straightforward port of Metroid Prime (or the whole trilogy) to VR would probably move millions of units. Yes, it would be great to see some fresh mechanics thrown in, like new weapons or ship combat, but these elements aren’t necessary for a transformative experience.
Wii Sports/Nintendo Switch Sports
A new entry in the Nintendo Sports series was recently announced in the form of Nintendo Switch Sports, and the excitement is palpable. The original Wii Sports was a cultural phenomenon, and a VR installment might revolutionize virtual reality in the same way. The original Wii Sports was played via a TV screen, but a connection to the VR world was always there through the Wii Remote. The Wii Remote’s form factor and motion capabilities, while somewhat modest by today’s standards, are still remarkably similar to how most modern VR games are controlled.
Bringing the Sports franchise into VR seems like it would be another instance where big tweaks aren’t necessary. The core experience doesn’t need much reimagining to work, as you could use a controller to golf, bowl, or swing a tennis racket just like before. Of course, now you’d have the added bonus of being completely enveloped by your virtual surroundings, making it easier than ever to aim and line up shots. Sports games have already seen great success in VR, and of all the Nintendo franchises, their Sports series might be the biggest no-brainer yet.
Wii Sports included a boxing game, but Nintendo has another franchise in the genre much more deserving of a VR adaptation. In particular, the gameplay of Punch-Out!!’s (those exclamation points are mandatory) arcade installment seems like a great starting point. That game already featured a green, wireframe version of Little Mac, so why not take that same approach for VR?
Punch-Out!! has always been more of a puzzle game than a traditional fighter, but a VR entry could be an opportunity to lean a bit more into the physicality of actual boxing. Those who played Punch-Out!! on the Wii are already well aware of how much fun motion controlled boxing could be. Existing VR boxing games have been met with critical acclaim, but Punch-Out!! definitely has what it takes to be a real knockout.
Ring Fit Adventure
Nintendo’s efforts in the fitness genre have achieved a huge degree of success, with Wii Fit moving millions, and now Ring Fit Adventure following suit. These exergames have flirted with VR-adjacent control schemes, and Ring Fit Adventure takes things even further. The Ring-Con and leg strap combo do a great job tracking most of your movements, but adding a VR headset would surely elevate the experience. Eliminate all distractions and live completely in a world of exercise by losing yourself while jogging, or in battle with muscle-bound enemies.
The biggest hurdle to jump (get it?!) with this one would be the, uh… sweat factor. As anyone who’s played a few rounds of a VR rhythm game will tell you, things can get downright moist while you’re bouncing around. Still, VR fitness games have found success, and Ring Fit Adventure could be an even bigger hit in the format. Just make sure to bring a towel with you!
One of the most popular genres in VR is horror. Luigi’s Mansion is the closest thing Nintendo has to a proper horror franchise, so why not take it into VR? Beyond the possibility of ghostly jump scares, seeing the art style of Luigi’s Mansion realized in VR would be quite a spectacle. Luigi’s Mansion games have always had a delightful diorama-like feel to them, with intricate architecture, and lots of surprises to discover. Exploring those haunted spaces in VR would be a blast, whether from a first person perspective, or arranged like a giant dollhouse that you peer into. The Poltergust controls would be a natural fit too, allowing you to physically move your arms around to suck up ghosts. Just think of the new gadgets E. Gadd could develop!
One of the most memorable VR experiences around is Thumper (one of my favorites, and also on Switch!), a racing/rhythm hybrid that has you moving rapidly along a track of loops, twists, and turns. The sensation you get from the sights and sounds of Thumper is right along the lines of what you’d get from F-Zero (albeit less scary!). Keeping the camera tight behind your vehicle would help to focus on the race, yet also allow you to take in your surroundings for upcoming bends and obstacles.
Leaning into the series’ sci-fi trappings and iconic techno-infused music could take things to the next level. Imagine an ever-changing background with vibrant, lively scenery - something akin to Tetris Effect, but less soothing and more heart-pounding. Of course, at this point we’d all probably take a version of F-Zero playable on a TI-84 calculator, but that’s a topic for another day.
Plenty of great spacefaring games have made the jump to VR, such as Elite: Dangerous and No Man’s Sky, but Star Wars: Squadrons’ VR approach makes the most sense for Star Fox. While keeping the third person camera perspective could work, stepping into the cockpit of an Arwing for a VR spin would be wild. Star Fox VR would be an amazing opportunity to expand the features and capabilities of an Arwing, as your new viewpoint could allow for access to the entire control panel.
Combining the traditional on-rails levels with a simulator-like set of buttons and levers could be just the shot in the arm the Star Fox needs. How awesome would it be to take on a gigantic, floating Andross head in a situation where you can fully appreciate its scale? The only potential concern with this one comes from doing a barrel roll, which could result in some serious airsickness.
When most people think of virtual reality games, they envision first-person shooters and dance simulators, but there are plenty of other genres that benefit from the format. One such genre is board games, as evidenced by something like Demeo, a VR title that simulates sitting around a table for some dungeon-crawling action. Imagine being able to play a game of Mario Party online, at a virtual table, and seeing your friends (or their Mii avatars) sitting there with you! You could shake your hands to simulate rolling the dice, and to get a better look at the game board, you could just stand up! Obviously, there are endless possibilities for minigames in VR, both with brand-new creations and upgrades for the classics. Mario Party might not be the most immediately obvious VR contender, but it has potential to be one of the best.
Pikmin is yet another easy franchise to translate to VR due to the control style implemented in Pikmin 3 (Switch) and New Play Control! Pikmin (Wii). Equally important, Pikmin gives us another game world that’s just too beautiful to not explore in VR. The sights and sounds of Pikmin games are so pleasant and comforting, you could happily get lost in the environment for hours. Of course, things wouldn’t be so relaxing when your freshly grown Pikmin are being devoured by a hungry Bulborb, but that’s just another opportunity to show off the scale and perspective VR provides.
It might be too exhausting to literally hurl Pikmin one at a time with your controller - we don’t need THAT much immersion - but a few key moments adapted to VR could make for an unforgettable adventure.
Wario is one of the few Nintendo mascots to have gotten the pseudo-VR treatment once before, thanks to Virtual Boy Wario Land. Platformers can be a great fit for virtual reality, but going with WarioWare over Wario makes a bit more sense. This series is famous for taking advantage of its hardware to provide weird, frantic microgames, and a VR installment could do just that. There’s even a history of motion controls in WarioWare, as seen in WarioWare: Twisted! on GBA, and WarioWare: Smooth Moves on Wii.
Picture the joyous chaos of trying to understand how to physically run, duck, or punch your way through a variety of challenges. Don’t you want to use your actual fingers to try and pick WarioWare’s infamous giant nose? (No? Just me then? Okay…)
Chibi-Robo! (another mandatory exclamation point) deserves some VR love! The original Chibi-Robo! on the GameCube is an unsung masterpiece of platforming, exploration, and just being adorable. The game centers around a tiny robot who does household chores while fulfilling missions for a family, sentient dolls, and action figures.
What makes Chibi-Robo! perfect for VR is the protagonist’s perspective. Exploring a house from the point-of-view of a 4-inch robot would make every nook and cranny feel absolutely cavernous. Exploring that setting in VR would literally and figuratively magnify the adventure to great effect.
Sadly, Chibi-Robo! has never gotten too much love from Nintendo. New entries are few and far between, but when they do come around, gameplay often veers toward the experimental side, whether it be a side-scrolling platformer, or an AR-centric photography game. This is another great reason to revive the franchise, as virtual reality could breathe a new life into Chibi-Robo and his pals.
Will Nintendo ever put out a standalone VR headset, or at least, an add-on similar to the capabilities of the PSVR? The existence of the Nintendo Labo VR Kit shows Nintendo has at least some interest in the VR space, but if the Big N were to go-all out, it would likely be years from now. Nintendo has always loved experimenting with new technology, and they usually take a direction that no one else sees coming. Maybe their version of VR would be unlike anything we’ve seen before. No matter what, it does seem Nintendo’s franchises are very well suited to the world of VR. We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed and hope Nintendo feels the same way.
What did I leave off the list that would pique your interest? Pilotwings? Mario Kart? Urban Champion? Sound off with your own ideas in the comments!