Although laparoscopy has revolutionized modern medicine, its training remains long and complex due to reduced haptic feedback and loss of depth perception. Training also poses an ethical challenge when performed on living patients, and access to cadavers is becoming rare and difficult. In the early 2000s, medical simulators began to appear to help mitigate these problems: virtual reality simulators (VRS) and physical reality simulators (PRS). Current VRS can provide guidance and performance evaluation with fewer instructors but are expensive and bulky. PRS, on the other hand, are less expensive, compact and offer haptic feedback through real physical interactions with mockup objects. However, they require guidance from an instructor, and cannot provide objective assessment or complex and realistic surgical scenarios. This paper assesses the potential of a VRS based on magneto-rheological (MR) actuators that could offer the haptic capabilities of current VRS with the size envelopes of PRS. Technical specifications for a laparoscopic VRS are extracted from the literature, a prototype is built and evaluated experimentally. In addition, three simulation scenarios are built and presented to surgeons to confirm simulation capabilities. In its current form, the MR-powered prototype is shown to meet targeted functional specifications but future work is needed to reduce friction, reduce size, and optimize packaging.