Last year I explored some of the more interesting and obscure controllers that various accessory makers had developed from the NES and SNES systems. That was a great time for peripherals because, well, everybody was completely insane and insane people do some wonderful things in addition to horrific ones.
I thought I had said all that needed to be said on the matter when I was able to work the phrase "Using the LaserScope meant that they were helpless as you drove them into the line of fire and ended their little pixilated lives with a cry of 'I am the God of Murder!'" into the article, but guess what? There are still lots and lots of strange Nintendo controllers just waiting to be showcased. So here we go!
Way ahead of its time was the Exertainment system that allowed you to pair your SNES with a Lifecycle 9XS to both exercise and participate in the onscreen action. The controls slipped onto the handlebars, and you could both interact with the game on screen as well as keep track of your distance, calories burned, etc. just like on a regular bike.
The accessory only worked with two specific games, Exertainment Mountain Bike Rally and Speed Racer, but it absolutely owned at how powerful it could make your gaming experience/exercise session. Want to have a picture in picture so you can watch both your fitness progress and the onscreen action at the same time? No problem. You even get encouragement on screen for your accomplishments as well as a headset and a special mode for those who are maybe very out of shape or just starting out. You know, like gamers.
These are still around, and usually sell for around $2,000 on eBay. Make sure all parts are included.
It's rightly well known that the Power Glove was for all intents and purposes one of the crappiest things ever foisted on us as far as controllers go, but Broderbund came up with a similar idea around the same time that makes the Power Glove look like NASA engineering. Introducing the U-Force, which is to gaming what Theremins are to Rachmaninoff.
Don't believe that admittedly awesome commercial up there. The U-Force did not by any means let you play the NES play in a way the Wii still hasn't entirely gotten right. Using it to go up against Mike Tyson in Punch-Out was about as effective as you going up against Mike Tyson in real life. The concept was there -- we're all using it now, in fact -- but the technology was nowhere near good enough to allow for great game play. Mostly there was just a lot of flailing around then crying. It was impossible to use effectively...
Or was it? Joe McKenna decided to prove the naysayers of the U-Force wrong after finding one for cheap at a Funcoland in the '90s. Since then, not only has he mastered playing with the U Force in a way that looks half like sorcery and half like a beautiful interpretative dance on some of the most difficult NES games of all time, but he's taken it to the next level by using it on emulated SNES and even N64 games. Maybe the U-Force didn't suck after all. Maybe everyone but Joe Mckenna sucked instead.
Just to show you that not all bad controller ideas come from the NES and SNES eras, there was an official sonic screwdriver-inspired Wiimote that accompanied Doctor Who: Return to Earth on the Wii in 2010. Neither the game nor the controller was released in America, being pretty much exclusive to European markets.
And yes, I have it because I'm a huge Who nerd, and I can tell you that it's a pretty good buy. It works with all the standard games, though horizontal use is a bit more awkward than the regular Wiimote, and is slightly lighter and easier to manipulate. There are some reports of the batteries not holding a charge, though I haven't experienced that myself.
The only real downside to the thing is that the game it is supposed to complement is pretty awful. Seriously, why is making a good Doctor Who video game so hard? Even Eternity Clock, which I loved, is at best a B- outing. Ah well, they keep trying to get it right. That's something.
Also known as the Roll n' Rocker because the letters "a" and "d" are for mere mortals. The controller was yet another attempt to make something as easy and instinctive as using the D-pad into something as difficult and alien as tightrope walking.
Basically, LJN's machine was designed to have you lean precariously with your feet close together in order to move your character while still using the regular controller to press A and B. It's like someone looked at the Super Chair I profiled last time and failed to realize that the part that interested people wasn't fun with leaning, but exerting the absolute least amount of physical effort possible while gaming.
At least husky kids could use it as some kind of weird isometric workout, right? Nope, it had a 100-pound weight limit. What do you expect from a product that sells itself on being "enteractive" and apparently is only used by the kind of people who would beat up Punky Brewster and take her shoes.
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When games offer alternate controller methods, they are supposed to be catering to our urge to better simulate awesome activities. Guns for shooting? Check. Pad for Olympic sprinting and jumping? Check. Hardcore knitting? Grandma, go home. You're drunk.
Nope, the idea was totally real, and even made it into a 1987 brochure. The NKM would allow players to use specialized software in order to knit actual sweaters with the controller. Sure, the idea sounds kind of cool now. You know why? Because we're getting old and boring, that's why. How many kids are going to want to even receive sweaters as a gift, let alone make them themselves when they could be whipping Dracula?
The NKM was debuted at an electronics show, them dropped out of sight. The wording of the ad kind of gives a clue why. "It's not a game; not a toy; not something that a girl can outgrow in three or six months or even a year." Translated from old-school gender role speak that reads, "Don't worry about your son playing Mario Bros and wasting his life. Your daughter will learn valuable husband-catching skills in a way that we freely admit is not fun!"