Limited by minuscule data storage, low-resolution graphics and basic audio, developers quite literally thought outside of the box. They (or a third party) created a unique controller, a peripheral, or a wearable that is to enhance the gameplay experience. These experiments resulted in some great, some awful and some utterly bizarre video game curios. Below, and in no particular order are 7 of the best, 7 of the baddest and 7 of the most bizarre examples of video game peripherals, add-ons, controllers and attachments.
The Resident Evil 4 Chainsaw Controller
Starting off with a brilliant if unwieldy one. The Resident Evil 4 Special Edition Chainsaw Controller. Like another controller featured later on in this list, the RE4 Chainsaw controller was more of a promotional collectable display piece than a controller intended for frequent use.
Jokingly (I’m sure) its designer NubyTech originally claimed the chainsaw controller enhanced the Resident Evil 4 gameplay experience. The controller featured all of the expected controller buttons one would expect from their respective consoles but in an unintuitive cumbersome configuration, it’s virtually impossible to play the game with the chainsaw controller and not frequently find yourself having to shift your grip.
NubyTech previously focussed on the creation of 3rd-party add-ons and peripherals for many consoles, but in a new aim to create more thematic, franchise based devices, NubyTech created what is arguably one of the most famous peripherals of them all.
There are two iterations of the chainsaw controller, a yellow version for Gamecube, based on the yellow chainsaws that are wielded by the terrifying in-game ‘Chainsaw Ganados’ and a red version for PlayStation 2, red chainsaws being wielded by the female Ganados known as the ‘Chainsaw Sisters’.
The only real visual drawback of this wonderfully macabre device is it size. Naturally, your standard real-world chainsaw is significantly larger than your average controller. For the controller to be usable, NubyTech were forced to shrink their chainsaws to a far less intimidating size. Regardless, what Resi fan wouldn’t want one of these adorning a shelf in their games room?
The Game Boy Camera
Did you know that the first-ever “selfies” were taken by Nintendo’s Game Boy Camera? While it was always possible for camera users to take photos of themselves, the GBC’s design made it the first camera with an inbuilt functionality for taking selfies, thanks to its 180-degree twisting camera head. Despite its low-res limitations even today the Game Boy Camera is used by photography enthusiasts as an artistic challenge.
The GBC was somewhat of an eyebrow-raiser when released. Who would’ve expected that one day, the humble Game Boy would be converted into what is recognised as the world’s first small digital camera? Such an eyebrow-raiser as it was, the Game Boy Camera almost never saw the light of day. In its earliest phases of development, the GBC was not well received within the innovative halls of Nintendo HQ.
It was the quirky hardware’s software that won over Nintendo execs with its mini-games such as but not limited to Space Fever II (a “sequel” to one of Nintendo’s earliest forays into the arcade gaming scene, Space Fever) and DJ a music sequencing game. All games utilised the “Game Face” a selfie taken by the user that would be inserted into various parts of a game. In the case of Space Fever II the final boss would be this “Game Face”.
Hori’s N64 Mini Pad
The Nintendo 64’s standard controller is a divisive one. Sometimes topping lists that are dedicated to the worst controller designs ever, while some laud the controllers design, calling it ergonomic allowing users to hold the controller in different ways to suit them, or the game they are playing.
Regardless of who is right in this debate, simpler is often best. The modern controller has evolved to an analogous design that works because they’re just that, simple. Simple was clearly what Hori was going for when they designed their N64 Mini Pad. This delightful compact N64 controller has become somewhat of a collectable and a favourite amongst competitive Smash Bros players for its compact shape and quality design.
The GameCube WaveBird
The curiously named WaveBird (it’s a reference to Dolphin, the GameCubes development project codename) was something of an achievement for its creator, Nintendo. Creating a wireless controller system was a goal for Nintendo since the days of the Famicom.
While wireless controllers weren’t groundbreaking at the time, the previous wireless capability was achieved via unreliable line-of-sight Infra-red detection and was the norm for many years. Alternatively, the WaveBird utilises radio frequencies which was a revelation, and as long as the player was within a 6-meter range of the GameCube connectivity is maintained. Yet, users have allegedly achieved full functionality at ranges as far as 40 feet.
With four controllers used for the same system, each controller could be set its own unique frequency. This meant, with the ability to connect four GameCubes for multiplayer, 16-player wireless LAN carnage is possible, in the same room. The legendary WaveBird has since become a holy grail item amongst GameCube fans.
The Namco NeGcon
Pronounced Neh-Jee-Con, the NeGcon has to be one of the most unique peripherals that still fit the standard controller mould. At a glance, the NeGcon could seem like a standard video game controller, but with a closer look, you’ll see that the NeGcon has a unique twist feature.
The NeGcon (its name based on the Japanese word “Nejiru”, meaning “to twist”) offered a unique control method intended for racing games. Each side of the controller can be twisted relative to the other, this then controls the turning of a vehicle in-game, such as Ridge Racer. This mechanic offers very precise turning with the NeGcon, it was highly praised on release and is sought after by racing fans even today.
The Hori Katana (aka The Soul Controller)
Around the time of the release of Capcom’s Onimusha 3: Demon Siege, Capcom licensed a special edition controller, a sheathed three-foot-long badass Katana, dubbed the ‘Soul Controller’. Hori, the aforementioned video game hardware creator of the N64 Mini Pad, designed the epic sword. Production of the impressive sword was limited to just several thousand.
Now, this is effectively a weapon, so, regardless of its plasticity Hori was concerned by the possibility of users accidentally thwacking their siblings on the head or slicing the family photos off the wall. To assuage any concerns, Hori designed the ceremonial sword with a detachable blade.
The wireless sword responded to sudden movements, so the direction of your swing had no accurate impact on gameplay but each detected swing functioned as a press on the attack button. It featured haptic feedback, full PS2 controls on the hilt and came with a fetching ceremonial display stand.
Steel Battalion’s Mega Jockey 9000
Here’s a “controller” that could easily fit in all categories. But, it sits in the Best category for its sheer insane badassery alone, The Steel Battalion Controller. Retailing at $200 (more than four times the price of the game for which it was intended) and being big enough to require the use of a desk, The Steel Battalion Controller is a sight to behold.
Often labelled the Steel Battalion Controller but officially named the Mega Jockey 9000, the intent of the SBC was of course to create a truly immersive epic mech battle. The SBC has multiple lights and 44 inputs that include five switches, three pedals, two joysticks, a throttle handle, a radio dial and an eject button.
It was originally intended for the eject button to be covered with a glass panel, as such an emergency button would, players would then smash it and the button to eject. The controller would come with 3 spare glass panels for future dramatic ejections. However, designers would scrap the idea for fear of players injuring themselves. Interestingly, if a player were to fail to eject when prompted the player would “die”. By that, the game means your game saves will be deleted. Next, we move on to the worst…
The NES LaserScope
Like many of these peripherals, concept exceeds execution. In the minds of many an 80s child, the LaserScope would seem like a totally badass idea. A cool looking headset with a physical aiming reticle that drops in front of the wearer’s eye for alleged super accuracy and a microphone that allows the player to shoot at targets by yelling “Fire!”
Sadly, the microphone was terribly ineffective, sometimes not only did they just not work, but any sound would trigger shots making the LaserScope perfectly functional as long as you sit in a quiet room, with the TV volume low, and remain silent most of the time.
The Wii Bowling Ball
What’s the difference between a controller and a bowling ball? A bowling ball is meant to be thrown across a room. A controller (though it appears some disagree) is not. This (forgive me) oddball is intended to stay firmly in one’s hand(s).
Even though it came with a wrist strap one wonders how much destruction and pain these peripherals caused, as they sailed from a child’s hand into the family’s precious china cabinet or mothers shin?
The NES Power Glove
We’ve all heard the quote “I love the Power Glove, it’s so bad!”. That’s correct, 80s movie child! The Power Glove was indeed so bad, it’s not even the badass superweapon as it is portrayed in the 1989 movie, The Wizard.
Compatible with only two poor-selling games, and using what was modern but ineffective ultrasonic sound technology for the detection of yaw, roll and pitch, it was not only inaccurate but in no way advantageous to a good old fashioned controller.
The Amiga Joyboard
Another idea that seems like a fun time on paper is the Joyboard. Essentially, a controller for your feet, the four controller directions are mapped to the four sides of the Joyboard. The Joyboard would then be set on a plastic disk on the floor, the player would stand on and lean the peripheral in those four directions to control their game. The Atari controller could also be jacked into the Joyboard for access to a fire button.
Released for the Atari 2600 and developed by Amiga, The Joyboard could’ve been a fun time if developers created games specifically for it. Only two games were designed with the Joyboard in mind.
It’s also useful as a meditation tool, as some of the Amiga Inc staff, dealing with the stressors of the video game development workplace would balance or meditate on the Joyboard as still and as central as possible. The goal was to sit still and not to close any of the Joyboards four directional circuits, which seems more fun than using it to play games.
The Sega Activator
The Sega Activator is notable as the world’s first full-body, motion-sense controller. It was also notable for implications in advertisements that full range body movements would be replicated in games. It was also notable as being one of (if not the) worst attempts at a motion controller.
The Activator is an octagon placed on a floor over which players move their hands or legs or head to break vertical infra-red beams. Each beam in each section corresponded to a controller button for a total of 16 possible inputs. It was based on a musical instrument of near-identical design, called a Light Harp. Check out this interesting video of a Light Harp demo by its creator Assaf Gurner at CES in 1993 below.
Sadly, like many obscure peripherals, the device lacked support, was expensive (retailing around $80) and the lack of support for breaking simultaneous beams limited gameplay. It was allegedly compatible with Sega titles Comix Zone, Eternal Champions and Mortal Kombat (though good luck inputting those fatalities.)
Yes, this is real, the “Speedboard” is literally a piece of plastic. Allegedly, when an NES controller is slotted into it, the Speedboard made rapid button pressing easier.
The intention of the Speedboard is pretty clear and obvious, but how is this much better than just putting the controller on the floor? And why would someone pay $15 (equivalent to around $30 at the time) for a piece of plastic? And why would anyone buy this when something like the NES Advantage or the NES Max was available? The Nintendo Speedboard belongs in its own section of this article titled ‘The Why’.
The PlayOn Game Boat
This piece of inflatable pointlessness is the Game Boat. The Game Boat was “intended” for the Xbox 360’s Kinect system and allegedly, as is stated on its box, it’s ideal for the game Kinect Adventures.
Here’s the thing, the boat doesn’t do anything, it doesn’t connect to anything, there are no sensors, no touch sensitivity, no motion controls, people should hesitate to even call it a peripheral. It actually limits your space and hinders your movement, which is rather necessary for playing Kinect. It’s just a dinghy, a square one. That’s it.
The Super Famicom JRA PAT Controller
Okay, that’s the best and the worst peripherals aside, let’s get weird and random! Here we have the Super Famicom JRA PAT Controller. What does JRA-PAT stand for you ask? Why that’d be Japanese Racing Association-Personal Access Terminal.
JRA maintains horserace betting and training facilities and racecourses. That’s right, this being a “Personal Access Terminal” means you can use the mighty controller to remotely bet on horse racing via your trusty Super Famicom and your dial-up modem!
The Nintendo Game Boy Pocket Sonar
Some of the most peculiar peripherals and add-ons come from the wonderful technologically innovative nation of Japan. Some may have tilted their heads at the Game Boy Camera, but the Game Boy Pocket Sonar would have generated many a double-take.
It will surprise you to know that the FIRST sonar enabled video game accessory is the GBPS. While it did feature a neat fishing mini-game, the GBPS is a functional non-gaming accessory. At a range of 20 meters, the GBPS detects underwater fish. Created by Bandai the GBPS did not see retail outside of Japan.
Wii Baby and Me
There’s a kind of one-upmanship in the weird world of peripherals. Especially in the era of the peripheral heavy Nintendo Wii and its motion-control gameplay focus. Simulation dedicated video game developer Sonic Powered certainly went all-in on their game Baby & Me by including a full-sized baby doll controller. The game also utilised the Wii Balance Board to rock, burp or teach your creepy plastic bambino to uh, walk.
What was perhaps even stranger, is that the game also came with a pink Wiimote holster, so you can attach your Wiimote to your puppy, displeased kitty cat, small sibling or household plant and use them as a controller.
The NES Lock aka the “Homework First”
It was the mid-to-late-80’s, video games were developing in leaps and bounds. Terrified parents were concerned, video games have come for their children! Little Billy just stares for hours, zombified, as he controls a pixelated plumber fighting a, uh, giant punk turtle!
What could these video games be doing to their little minds?! Parents thought they MUST step in. But what could they do? It’s not like they could hide the controller, nor hide the console or its games? Or enact some form of actual parental discipline? Luckily, the company MasterLock came to the rescue with a ridiculous fat combination lock. The NES lock or the “Homework First” latched onto and blocked the cartridge bay of little Billy’s precious NES!
But here’s the thing, MasterLock and parents surely underestimate a child’s willingness to try all 10,000 lock combinations over several weeks? Once cracked they can secretly remove the ridiculous device and get back to avoiding their homework!
The Singer IZEK Sewing Machine
This random peripheral was the fruit of a collaboration between Nintendo and famous sewing hardware manufacturer Singer. Both believing in the potential of the sewing plus gaming enthusiast niche. The IZEK came with a GameBoy Color cartridge. When connected to a GBC, the user could control the sewing machine. The user commands the device to sew designs from a series of preset patterns or make their own.
But surely a budding tailor/seamstress would prefer to use a regular sewing machine? Then again, the IZEK is not too dissimilar to the functional intent of the Game Boy Printer. Though one imagines that several tiny patterns and reams of wasted material later, the gimmick would surely have worn off.
However, at the time computer interfaces for sewing machines were uncommon outside of the clothing industry. Sewing computers were relatively and significantly more expensive when compared to the then around $70 priced GameBoy Color. So perhaps Nintendo and Singer were onto something? Still random though.
The Nintendo 64 BioSensor
Another wonderfully random Japan-only release, the Nintendo 64 Bio Sensor. The Japan release of Tetris 64 is the BioSensors only compatible game. At this point, you may be envisioning this device strapped to a gamers chest, but you’d be wrong.
The BioSensor slots into the extension port of the N64 controller and looks similar to the N64 Controller Pak. Then from the BioSensor, a cable would run with a plastic clip attached to its end. The clip is clamped onto the player’s earlobe. The BioSensor would then take periodic readings of the player’s heart rate and would accordingly adjust the game’s difficulty.
Step aside Professor X, move over Doctor Strange, little Billy is about to unlock his telekinetic badass with Atari Mindlink!
The limitations of the technological age hampered the Mindlink concept. The Mindlink, despite suggestions made by its truth-bending name, does not read your mind but reads myoneural signal voltage. And by that we mean it uses infrared sensors to monitor your twitchy forehead. And by that, we mean you pretty much control the game with your eyebrows. However, the Atari Browlink isn’t exactly a sexy product name.
Of the three games made for the Mindlink, just two are originals. Bionic Breakthrough, a simple clone of Breakout. Telepathy allowed players to navigate through various challenges controlling a character with two antennae sticking out of his head. Telepathy leaned heavily on that mind-reading claim. Finally, there was Mind Maze. With no mazes in sight Mind Maze claimed to utilise actual Extrasensory Perception (or ESP) to predict player choices. The game challenged players to choose one of several cards on the screen. Then through the power of Mindlink magic, the game would “predict” what card they selected.
While the Mindlink was indeed utter nonsense, it is a testament, at the very least, to Atari’s willingness to innovate. Atari would eventually cancel the Mindlink project. The cancellation occurred not because it was a poor product but because of game tester feedback. Testers would suffer headaches and dizziness after twitching their forehead for an unnatural length of time.
These were a compilation of several interesting peripherals, be it because they were good, they were bad, or they were simply bizarre. It is interesting that the earlier console generations seemed to have steamed the more curious and varied peripherals. Developers at the time must have thought that the capabilities of the hardware was a lot better than it turned out to be. Then there’s the NES lock, which is just cruel.