You may think that all these fun little tag-on accessories for the Wii is something new, but you would be dead wrong. This all began with the NES, which was originally intended to have the option to expand into a complex computer if the market called for it. Turns out the selling point of the NES was how not like a computer it was, but that didn’t prevent Nintendo and several others from creating a mass of accessories for the console – some practical and some horrible.
Known better as the NES Advantage, this was the first and most obvious release from Nintendo. Since most of the early games were arcade ports, it was only natural to adapt the controller to a traditional arcade joystick. The Advantage was big, easily fitting on the lap of a child or young adult, and big bright red buttons that made loud clicks when pressed to assure you knew every bullet was accounted for. In addition it placed smaller turbo buttons above the main red ones to make endless button masher titles easier to manage. It was also the first controller I remember to have a “slow motion” switch, which didn’t actually slow the game down but instead paused and unpaused the game in rapid succession. Doing something like this in today’s titles would most likely lock them up and eventually fry your console, but the NES didn’t care, it would gladly pause/unpause for hours if you so desired. For all the good it seems to bring, this was a horrible controller unless you were playing a standard arcade game like shooters or Donkey Kong. Try playing Castlevania with this thing and walking up a set of stairs, you’ll quickly go back to your comfortable original controller.
Better known with my friends as “that 4 controller adaptor that let you play Gauntlet with everyone”, the Four Score basically doubled the amount of controller slots from 2 to 4 and plugged into the standard first player slot. It also allowed you to push a switch for either button B or A that switched all attached controllers’ buttons to turbo mode. This made for hilarious consequences in games like Bomberman or Smash TV! A very small list of games were compatible with the add-on, my favorite being Super Spike V-Ball, but it was a relatively inexpensive way to expand the capabilities of the NES. That switch on the far left is a toggle between sending a signal to the system for 2 or 4 ports to be present, which was necessary because some games would have issues if you kept the switch flipped to 4. In addition, certain 3 and 4 player games wouldn’t utilize the add-on and thus require a classic “pass the controller” method for multiple players - Monopoly comes to mind.
The crap we used to buy for our favorite classic consoles is honestly baffling. Created by Konami for Laser Invasion this device basically replaced the light gun Zapper peripheral with a “voice-activated laser sight”. It basically used a laser to shoot at the screen using an eyepiece and your head for aiming and saying “fire” would be like pulling the trigger. It actually responded to everything in the background so if you had a pet dog that liked to bark then you’d be a trigger-happy idiot in every game you played. It plugged into the controller port and audio port in the NES, which sent sound to the speakers on either headphone. Nowadays I’m sure it’s the subject of many amusing YouTube videos.
Another Nintendo updated controller and clearly my favorite growing up, especially with the stronger grip for frustrating games and the turbo buttons. That analog looking circle pad isn’t quite as revolutionary as you may assume and for more complicated 8-way directional control you could press certain points on the black ring. Nowadays I’m not sure I could even try to use this controller for games because I’m so accustomed to analog sticks or nubs, of which this is neither, but back in the day it was my coveted controller.
Before Lucas touted it as being “so bad” (which in the late 80s actually meant “good”) in The Wizard, the power glove had pre-launch commercials and print ads that touted it as much better than it actually was. In the commercial it would match your punches in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! with every blow, the guy in the ad eventually uppercutting to knock out Glass Joe. Amazing. In The Wizard, video game prodigy Lucas Barton used a more realistic version where he input a code and then used the glove for controls. Even then, however, he punched slightly forward in Rad Racer to accelerate and then simple movements like he was holding a steering wheel would control the car. Turns out this controller didn’t work like that at all. When my rich friend purchased the device, which I think was $150 or more, we discovered it required an awkward apparatus to be attached to the side of your TV screen and contained a code book. Each game it worked for would have a specific code that attempted to use certain movements in lieu of a controller, but it was a lot more “wiggle your index finger” and a lot less “turn the wheel like you’re driving a car”. You didn’t punch in Punch-Out!! and you didn’t drive like a wheel in Rad Racer, it was an utter disappointment. It wasn’t all that responsive either. In the case where there was no code, a common occurrence, you could type in a basic code that required ridiculous movements to play some of the simpler titles on the console. Eventually we would get frustrated but not wanting to quit the game – unplugging a controller would often freeze NES titles – we’d enter the code to use the buttons on the arm as a controller. Next thing we knew we were stupidly holding this arm gauntlet and using it like a traditional pad in a masochistic attempt to complete Mega Man II.
Originally developed by Bandai and released in Japan, Nintendo purchased the rights to release this pre-Dance Dance Revolution pad in the US. The Power Pad was eventually bundled with the NES along with the game World Class Track Meet, which is why Bandai’s Stadium Events was quickly pulled from shelves and stands as one of the most rare and expensive games in existence. This big pad mostly only used the first two buttons, which allowed you to run and jump in games. Some games, like Dance Aerobics, did utilize the entire pad better and laid the groundwork for what would eventually become Wii Fit.
Robotic Operating Buddy (R.O.B.)
In order to entice buyers to purchase the NES, Nintendo came up with R.O.B. and plastered him all over early box art for the console. Even by Nintendo’s admission, R.O.B. did little more than stack rings and move slightly when he detected the flashing on the screen. Nowadays he can be a $100+ collector’s item that works with a whopping two games: Gyromite and Stack-up.
Broderbund (who?) developed this controller-free way to play Nintendo games and given the awkward control stick and buttons all over the device, it’s no wonder we knew that device would suck even back then. Here’s a good hint to not spending $200 for a device: if it has a bunch of hook-ups to turn it into an actual controller with buttons, there’s a good chance the designers knew it wasn’t going to work as they promised.
Before you could direct traffic with it, the Zapper was just your standard light gun that was designed to look like something a character in a sci-fi movie would use to kill aliens. This began my original love for light gun games as I was one of the few who had Gumshoe, Hogan’s Alley and Wild Gunman in addition to the packed-in Duck Hunt. When the controller went neon orange, thanks to airports and police officers mistaking it for an actual gun, it looked goofy to everyone but for some reason I wanted it. To this day I have never owned the bright orange one, only the original. It looks so candy-like that even now I’m tempted to pick one up on eBay.