With the rise in popularity of quality VR headsets like the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift, and the PlayStation VR, it feels like a good time to take a look back at some gaming peripherals that failed to impress. There have been a wide variety of gaming contraptions that have flooded the market and while some have been implemented successfully with accompanying software, the majority are cash grabs that rarely function as advertised. In my mind, the NES Zapper is the pinnacle of gaming peripherals and an example of an accessory that was simple, well-made and functioned with precision.
Unfortunately, not all accessories are created equal and spending your hard earned cash on these plastic add-ons often felt like playing the lottery. In a pre-internet era, there was often no means of distinguishing the good from the bad. With that in mind, here is a look at 15 of the worst gaming peripherals to hit the market over the past four decades.
15. Tony Hawk: Ride Skateboard
Year of Release: 2009
After a long line of quality releases in the late 90s to early 2000s, the Tony Hawk franchise eventually became stagnant. With Activision looking for a way to milk the franchise for as long as possible, the publisher decided to jump into the interactive motion gaming trend with Tony Hawk: Ride, a game that required players to actually balance upon and operate a skateboard peripheral in order to control their in-game avatar.
Even if this controller worked as advertised, it have been a significant challenge to implement software to take advantage of the tech. Though well constructed, the board wasn’t nearly responsive as it needed to be, with even experienced skaters finding the controls finicky and frustratingly difficult to manage. Most importantly the game just wasn’t any fun and quickly found itself in retail store bargain bins.
14. The SNES Super Scope
Year of Release: 1992
As mentioned in the intro, the NES Zapper is one of the greatest peripherals ever released. It had a great looking, simple design but most importantly, it worked really well. The Super Scope, on the other hand, is a bazooka-shaped light gun released for the SNES that attempts to serve the same function as the Zapper while also being unnecessarily massive. The Super Scope measures in at just under two feet in length, which is almost three times the size of the handgun-sized Zapper.
The Super Scope was a nightmare to use and never seemed to work quite as well as the Zapper and also required the use of a receiver that needed to be plugged into the second controller port. The Super Scope received very few titles of substance and the peripheral quickly faded into obscurity.
13. Game Boy Booster Boy
Year of Release: 1990
The original Game Boy was essentially a portable version of the NES and when it was released in 1989 ,it flew off shelves, with gamers jumping at the opportunity for some Nintendo gaming on the go. The Game Boy wasn’t exactly small by today’s standards, but it was definitely portable and it was the best solution at the time. The Booster Boy, on the other hand, apparently exists for the sole purpose of making your Game Boy about ten times bulkier and more unwieldy.
The Booster Boy transforms the Game Boy into a tabletop monstrosity, adding stereo speakers, an adjustable magnifier, bigger buttons, and a directional joystick. The system was powered by four expensive C batteries, which were used to power the speakers and lights to illuminate the screen. The Booster Boy was a device that completely marginalized the portability of the Game Boy and was destined to collect dust on shelves.
12. The Activator
Year of Release: 1993
With the popularity of motion controlled games hitting its peak with Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral, it may surprise you that Sega released its own version 25 years ago. Despite the technology not being anywhere close to ready, that didn’t stop Sega from trying anyway and the Activator controller was released for the Genesis console in 1993.
The Activator was an octagonal ring that snapped together and each segment of the controller projected an infrared beam. The controller would read inputs by passing your hands over the beam in a certain area of the ring, and activate the corresponding controller button. Unfortunately, the Activator was completely inaccurate and clunky, with the invisible infrared beams offering no tactile feedback to gamers and failing to convey when an action had been completed. With the combination of the high cost and clunky setup, the Activator wasn’t half as good Sega’s promotional material made it seem.
11. The Joyboard
Manufacturer: Amiga Corporation
Year of Release: 1982
The Joyboard for the Atari 2600 was a peripheral that was created with just one game in mind: Mogul Maniac, released in 1982. The Joyboard is essentially a balance board, with its closest comparison coming from the Wii’s balance board, released 25 years later. The device was promoted by skier Suzy Chaffee appearing on television and at toy fairs demonstrating its use.
The Joyboard worked by installing the four directional latches of a joystick on the bottom of the board. Leaning in a certain direction activated these latches, and translated the movements to the game. As you can imagine, the device didn’t work very well,with poor translation between movements on the board and the in-game avatar.
Year of Release: 1989
The U-Force is a motion-control peripheral released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989. Unlike the Sega Activator peripheral, the U-Force was designed to read only the player’s hands and arms, translating their gestures into control pad inputs. The controller was made by Brøderbund, a now-defunct publisher of classic PC games like Prince of Persia and Myst.
At $70 in 1989, the U-Force was an expensive piece of tech. The device was featured at CES and had an extensive marketing campaign that promised that it would work with pretty much every title for the NES. As we’ve seen with other peripherals on this list, the creators promised the moon but the device simply didn’t work and once again gamers were duped into laying down cash for an elaborate piece of plastic.
9. The Power Glove
Manufacturer: Nintendo & Abrams Gentile Entertainment
Year of Release: 1989
The Power Glove is arguably the most iconic gaming peripheral of all time. The peripheral was featured in the 1989 film The Wizard, which was essentially a two hour Nintendo commercial. Most of us will remember the scene where the film’s antagonist, Lucas Barton, unveils the Power Glove from a briefcase and gives viewers an extended on-screen demo of Rad Racer. After Lucas finishes, he turns to the audience and says, “The Power Glove. It’s so bad.” It’s too bad this description turned out to be literal.
Gamers flocked to their local Toys R’ Us to buy this exciting new device and be the first kid on the street to own one. The Power Glove functioned by using a series of sensors attached to the TV, which picked up sound transmissions broadcast by the Power Glove in order to triangulate its position in 3D space. Then there was the frustrating proposition of programming the Power Glove for use with each individual game. Unfortunately, most games simply involved using individual finger movements that translated to button presses in-game. The dream of being Lucas from The Wizard and showing off for the kids on your street ended up with users sitting on the floor flicking their index finger up and down while yelling at the screen in frustration.
8. Roll & Rocker
Manufacturer: LJN Toys
Year of Release: 1989
Developed by LJN Toys in 1989, the Roll & Rocker is an accessory for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The device was designed to be plugged into a controller port on the NES and placed on the floor where the player would stand on the device and use their feet to tilt it, which would control movements on the directional pad. The side of the device featured a port to plug the NES controller into, so that the player could use their hands to control the A and B button inputs.
While an interesting idea, the Roll & Rocker worked very poorly and sometimes not at all. Another case where promotional materials and packaging exaggerated the device’s actual capabilities, the Roll & Rocker was a complete failure. Gamers in the late 80s were already wary of the LJN label with the company releasing some pretty terrible game for the NES and the Roll & Rocker didn’t help the company’s reputation.
7. Wii Sports Accessories
Manufacturer: CTA Digital
Year of Release: 2013
The Nintendo Wii was a cultural phenomenon in the mid-to-late 2000s with one in four U.S, households owning the console by 2010. The Nintendo Wii has sold over 100 million units worldwide and third-party companies were quick to capitalize on the success of motion-controlled gaming by releasing cheaps plastic accessories for the popular pack-in game Wii Sports.
The ridiculousness of these dollar store peripherals can be summed up by Wii Sports Resort pack released by CTA Digital in 2013. The package includes a jet ski dashboard handle, rowboat paddle attachment, bow attachment, and a ridiculous Frisbee attachment. One of the greatest things to come out of the Wii Sports craze were the hilarious fail videos of people smashing their TVs with their Wii Remotes or hitting their friends in the back of the head with exaggerated swings. These cheap plastic accessories were a quick cash grab that only encouraged more destruction.
6. Nintendo Speedboard
Year of Release: 1991
We’re still trying to figure out just how this contraption could actually help someone be better at a game. I guess it allows you to isolate your index finger in order to be able to quickly press the A or B button as well as the left directional button?. This could, in theory, be helpful for games like Track and Field that require intense button mashing. The problem is that the Speedboard was extremely awkward and uncomfortable to use.
Released by Pressman in 1991, the Speedboard was essentially a single piece of plastic designed to house the NES controller in the middle. In other words, it was a single piece of molded plastic that sold for $19.95 USD, or about $30 in today’s currency.
5. Resident Evil 4 Chainsaw Controller
Year of Release: 2005
The Resident Evil 4 Chainsaw Controller released by NUBY in 2005 for the Nintendo GameCube and PlayStation 2. The Chainsaw Controller mimicked the look of the in-gameweapon used by the Los Ganados against main character Leon. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the Chainsaw Controller looks pretty darn cool. The controller is about one third the size of an actual chainsaw and featured some highly detailed blood splatters, with the PS2 version being even more gory than the GameCube version.
Although the Chainsaw Controller looked great, it didn’t function well as a replacement controller and was relegated to the shelves of collectors. The controller should receive some credit for being an interesting special edition item that can actually be used, but the problem was that it was cumbersome and hard to play with. NUBY claimed the controller would improve the Resident Evil experience, but the awkward button placement made it difficult for players to control both analog sticks in the same way they would with a standard controller. The controller looked great and was well built, but it was more collector’s item than functional input device.
4. Konami LaserScope
Year of Release: 1990
Long before the invention of consumer VR, Konami was encouraging you to wear a headset and immerse yourself in the gaming experience. Originally released in 1990 in Japan for the Famicom under the name Gun Sight, the Konami LaserScope was a device that was supposed to respond to your voice commands and allow you to control any shooter games you owned. The headset included an eyepiece with a cross hair that sits in front of the user’s right eye, and in order to shoot you simply needed to yell out “fire.”
The LaserScope was powered through the audio port of the NES, which allowed it to function as headphones for the system as an added feature. The headset was designed for the game Laser Invasion but was intended to work with any game that was compatible with the NES Zapper. As you can imagine, the peripheral didn’t work very well and resulted in gamers screaming the F-word (not “fire”) at their TVs in frustration.
3. The Game Gear TV Tuner
Year of Release: 1990
Long before the days where everyone had a portable TV in their pocket in the form of a smartphone, the Sega Game Gear actually had a TV tuner peripheral that let users, as the name implies, capture and watch TV signals. The first problem with the device was the Game Gear’s already limited battery life, which was made far worse with the addition of a peripheral allowing for just an hour of viewing time. The Game Gear also featured a pretty poor quality screen that was backlit by a fluorescent tube bulb that made the colors look washed out and had a poor contrast ratio.
The TV Tuner plugs into the Game Gear’s cartridge slot and has a mono A/V input that essentially turns the Game Gear into a standard 1990s-spec television. Sega used the TV Tuner add-on as a marketing tool to highlight its color screen, something that the Nintendo Game Boy lacked. The TV Tuner was a neat idea but unfortunately, it was too expensive and it was a little too far ahead of its time and failed to capture an audience.
2. The Aura Interactor
Manufacturer: Aura Systems
Year of Release: 1994
The Aura Interactor, released in 1994, was marketed as “virtual reality game wear” and the goal of the device was to have players “feel” their interactions in the game. The kicks, punches, shots, and explosions in the game would be transmitted to the Interactor through sound waves. In reality, the vest was essentially a glorified speaker that translated bass into rumbling vibrations. In short, the Aura Interactor is a wearable Rumble Pak vest that just doesn’t work all that well.
Aura’s claim to fame is that the Inteactort is the first commercially available haptic suit to hit the market. The Interactor was another product that was way ahead of its time and Aura Systems even had a marketing partnership with Midway’s Mortal Kombat II, as well as a $5 million advertising campaign. Unfortunately, the extensive financial backing couldn’t save the Aura Interactor from being another failed peripheral.
Year of Release: 1985
There is perhaps no peripheral more infamous than Nintendo’s R.O.B. the robot, short for Robotic Operating Buddy. Released in 1985 for the NES, R.O.B. works with a grand total of two games that set up physical obstacles for him to move around while a CRT television flashed him directions on the screen. R.O.B. was released with the intention of marketing the Nintendo Entertainment System as a toy in order to alleviate retail fears following the North American video game crash of 1983.
R.O.B. was included in the Deluxe Set, a configuration for the console that includes, R.O.B. and the pack in software Gyromite. The other game, Stack-Up, was packaged separately and includes its own physical game pieces. While R.O.B. was pretty cool looking he didn’t provide anything of substance and the games weren’t any better with its inclusion.