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Saturday, 27 January 2018

Nintendo's Love of Weird Peripherals


Taking a look back at some of the stranger peripherals to grace Nintendo consoles.

Written By: Grant Barrett





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With the recent announcement of Nintendo Labo's new cardboard experiences dividing opinions across the world, Nintendo Play takes a look back at the past where the variety of controllers ranges from the outright clever to downright cringe inducing and highlights a few of the most notable, be that for better or worse. So we’ll start where it all began, back on the NES, and when you think of out-the-box obtuse controllers on the NES there could only be one peripheral that comes to everyone’s mind.



The Nintendo Power Glove


The PowerGlove! What more could be said about it other than “it’s so bad!”. Although the PowerGlove is a 100% officially licensed product Nintendo had no say in its design and development whatsoever, being wholly created by Mattel. The glove itself was essentially a fully-fledged NES controller with a couple of additional buttons. Well, more than a couple, it featured 10 programmable buttons simply labelled 1-10, not including the usually buttons found on a standard NES controller. What set it apart was that it had motion tracking built in to the finger tips, allowing for the user to control certain elements of a select few games. Surely giving way to the current Nintendo motion controllers we see today.

This sounds all well and good but what games could be used you surely ask? First and foremost, the Power Glove was still a standard NES controller, it had all the requisite buttons and all, but the controller did have its very own line of Power Glove specific games that included ‘Super Glove Ball’ and ‘Bad Street Brawler’. Considering that this peripheral came out in 1989 and then was subsequently discontinued only a year later just as it was being released in the western market, all in all it is a fine piece of history and probably provides more awe as a collector’s piece rather than an actual useable controller, despite what Lucas from the 1989 film ‘The Wizard’ tells you.



The Super NES Mouse


In 1990 Nintendo had released their follow up to the successful Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. With home consoles becoming mainstream but with the standard formula of using a regular controller not being innovative enough for the company they saw a rise in personal computers and thought, why not combine the two?

Thus the Super NES Mouse was born. Released originally with Mario Paint and seemingly appearing as a gimmick for that one game, it actually ended up being compatible with over 65 games, with most notable releases including Doom, Sid Meier’s Civilisation and Wolfenstein 3D. The mouse was a hard choice to include as the most notable of the console as the amount of peripherals available for this system is probably one of the most varied available. Ranging from Pachinko Slot machine controller, working teaching piano, a Barcode Battler as well as a few sports based controllers which more than likely paved the way for Wii Sports and its motion controls, the SNES was home to both the weird and the wonderful.



64DD


Initially for the mid-to-late nineties offering the standard N64 controller nearly topped the list as most obtuse and downright weird peripheral to grace the console as, for starters, it just wasn’t that great to use. The central stick deteriorated quickly and that’s not to mention the fact that you actually need 3 hands to be able to use the controller properly.

Diving in to the history of the N64 highlighted what is possibly one of the most fascinating attempts at console peripheral, the Nintendo 64DD. The 64DD was a magnetic disk drive that would attach to the bottom of the console itself, surely many of you have looked at your console, seen the expansion port at the bottom and questioned if it was ever used. Well, the 64DD is your answer. It allowed both expansions as well as new games, though only 10 where ever released. The ability to connect to an online system, allowing for persistent game world design, allowing you to record and create your own videos through it are all things that are now common place today but during the period of 1999 – 2001, when it was finally discontinued due to being a commercial failure, you could do it through your very own N64. If you do want to grab yourself one today though prepare to break the bank, as eBay prices it from £400-£1200 for the unit.



The GameCube Keyboard


With the end of the N64 came a new console and yet another successful era for Nintendo. 2001, Sony and Microsoft had their new 6th generation of consoles out and Nintendo wanted to fight back. The GameCube did exactly what it said on the tin, it was a cube that played games, though it did so with the smallest sized discs ever! It had everything you could want, a controller that was comfortable to hold and arguably still one of the best controllers that have ever been made, but was there anything else out there worthy of notoriety? One thing that this generation pushed was the ability to play online and with that came the need to be able to communicate with other players.

What if you happen to be playing an RPG that is built on the need for being able to trade with others, possibly arrange a few hours together to take on a large boss or simply jump in with a few dungeon runs? Well, it sounds like you are trying to play Phantasy Star Online Episode 1 & 2 and you want the above, thinking that the only possible answer is to take a normal GameCube controller cut it in 2 vertically and stick a keyboard in the middle? You’d be right! This contraption required 2 controller ports, was fiddly as hell, but the art of communication lived on well through it.




WII Speak


The Wii is one of the bestselling consoles of all time, successfully shipping over 100 million units and outselling the other main consoles of the same generation by nearly 20 million. The Wii had a myriad of plastic adapters at its heart that were nothing more than, thematically appropriate cases used to hold the WiiMote. These haven’t been taken in to account as it would be best to mention a peripheral that actually had a specific function.

One of the things Nintendo wasn’t pushing as much as its competitors during the Wii’s life were its online services. So when they finally decided to add a communication method that didn’t require a keyboard, like the previous GameCube once required, it felt that it would Insert a microphone, not one that attaches to a headset, but one that is merely there to sit in the room with you and be able to keep up with all the different voices that may be floating around. The Wii Speak released alongside with the new Animal Crossing: Let’s go the city, in 2008, 2 years after the Wii console was launched. The Wii Speak channel was open for 6 years before being shut down in 2014 but that didn’t stop the peripheral still being able to work with Nintendo’s next iteration of console.



The WII U GamePad


One of the greatest strengths of the Wii U was the fact that all the old WiiMotes that had be purchased for your original Wii would be fully compatible with the Wii U, as long as you had the Wii Motion Plus adapter. But that isn’t the peripheral of choice here; instead, the Wii U GamePad is the weapon of choice here. Nintendo’s new controller, touted as bringing more immersion to the games being released. The second screen acted as a few different actions, from being able to manage your inventory in Zombie U to even using it as a camera. With every 1st party game from Nintendo utilising its full potential.

The GamePad had another trick up its sleeve; it also acts as a main screen for games when there is no TV available. While there are many positives, the downsides lay in the fact that it was occasionally cumbersome to use with some games, either as a primary or second screen. Sadly the Wii U Gamepad was never sold separately from the console, making it a hard peripheral to come by regardless.









With Labo released on April 27th, Nintendo shows no sign of slowing down the pace of wildly imaginative peripherals. All of us here at Nintendo Play are excited of what the future could bring.

Join the Conversation and let us know what your all time favourite peripherals where and why!



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