Tuesday 9 February 2016

Virtual Lab (Virtual Boy review)

Developer: J-Wing
Publisher: J-Wing
Released: 1995

Virtual Lab is a puzzle game in the same vein as Pipe Mania (1989, Amiga) and it was only released in Japan.

It consists of 100 levels and the objective is to construct and rotate falling pieces so they fit together and complete a whole; this then makes them disappear from the play area. There's only a singular mode where you have to clear the entire field but there are options to select Low, Medium or High speed settings. Annoyingly, the controls are atrocious and simply tapping the d-pad once can result in the cursor moving halfway across the screen! Other times you have to be more forceful to make it line up with your chosen column and in a genre that requires quick reflexes it's a serious flaw. After a while several blocks start falling together and it's here that faulty gameplay algorithms and a lack of testing becomes abundantly clear; it's not uncommon to continually receive a large number of blocks that do nothing except litter the play area which eventually results in a Game Over. There's no way around it and it will make you shout random curse words and debate whether to shut the console down! There also doesn't appear to be any noticeable difference in the three speed modes as the pacing is consistent throughout. After you complete each level you're given a password so you can continue at a later date; there's just one small problem though... the developers forgot to include an option for you to actually input these codes! To be honest, it wouldn't have been worth it anyway as once you've played a single level you've literally seen everything the game has to offer. The stereoscopic effect is insignificant and apart from the title screen and 'space themed' backgrounds during gameplay there's nothing here that couldn't easily be achieved on a standard TV or handheld. The music is horrible and even the opening track consists of a boring drum loop with no other instruments.
Virtual Lab is a buggy mess with barely any content and J-Wing should be embarrassed that they released a game in this kind of unfinished state. Everything about it is dreadful and the fact that the developers couldn't even get the controls right speaks volumes about how much effort went into this title.
Random trivia: The working title for the game was Chiki Chiki Labo.

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