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Gives a very unfinished impression By KR155E

With Virtual Lab, the weirdest of all Virtual Boy games is being reviewed here. Even before you start the game, you’ll notice two typos, so on the back of the game’s box, it reads “Nintenndo,” while on the game cartridge, it says “Ninntenndo.” And this is by no means the only startling thing in J-Wing’s puzzler…

After the usual Precaution, IPD/Focus and Auto Pause screens, the game goes directly to the simple title screen, where you can adjust the game speed before starting the game. The choices are “Low,” “Mid” and “Hi,” but all three options only differ slightly, and, oddly, “Mid” is by far the fastest mode. However, with other factors, like the scoring system, all three modes are identical.

The game plays like a cross between Tetris and Pipe Dream. Worm pieces falling down from the top of the playing field must be arranged to form completely closed tubes. Pieces open to the border of the playing field count as closed, which, by the way, also includes the upper border. When all worm pieces on the playing field are removed, the level is completed, and you see, accompanied by a short melody, a screen with the words “Level Up!” and “Take A Rest” as well as some Japanese text and a password – which is useless, since there is no way to enter passwords anywhere in the game – before the game goes to the next level.

Some worm pieces are already randomly placed on the playing field at the beginning of a level and are waiting to be removed by the player. From level to level, one finds a different number of already placed worms, but at the same time, an increasing level of difficulty isn’t to be seen.

Although J-Wing created a simple and potentially addicting game concept for Virtual Lab, it is not fully thought-out to the end. So you can, unfortunately, quickly get yourself into a situation where several pieces block each other and can’t be removed anymore. In such a case, you have to wipe out ten or more worms at once, which causes a little fairy to axe away the bottom row of worm pieces in an annoying animation. Too often, however, this turns out to be hardly possible, while the imprecise and over-sensitive controls do the rest and lead to many frustrating situations.

Graphically, Virtual Lab often looks out of context and without logical connection. There is only three-dimensionality in the form of simple parallax effects in the background or the counters. Variety, i.e. in the backgrounds, is non-existent, and the animations of the manga characters look very choppy. Graphical bugs are also unpleasantly noticeable, so it is possible, for example, to take a look at the playing field while the game is paused by pressing the A button and, thus, buy yourself some time in confusing situations.

Sound-wise, there also isn’t very much to offer. Besides a handful of beep sounds, there’s only a single, annoying background tune, which can be heard throughout the entire game.

All in all, Virtual Lab is an amusing and, at times, rather fun puzzle game, but thanks to the programming errors, small game extent and annoying sound, you always get the impression that the game was put together by a small group of hobby programmers in a few days and under the highest time pressure.

Virtual Lab is an amusing puzzle game, which suffers from its many design flaws and programming bugs and gives a very unfinished impression. Because of its rarity, it’s only interesting for collectors anyway.

3 / 10

Rated: Oct 26, 2004 • 17:11

Difficulty: Difficult
Completion: Halfway