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Nintendo’s Strangest And Most Iconic Inventions
There are many words that can describe Nintendo’s long history, but “uninventive” is certainly not one of them. Just as much the tinkerer as the toymaker, the company’s developed quite the few gadgets for gamers over the years beyond the simple control stick and start button. In light of its recent announcement of a “non-wearable health product” to take off sometime this coming year, it’s hard not to remember how far the company’s gone since its rectangular controllers of old. Take a trip down memory lane with this little history lesson then as we look back at some of the undoubtedly strange and iconic inventions Nintendo’s churned out over the years.
10. The Gameboy Printer
The Gameboy stands as the most popular handheld of all time, but it only became so with a little known printer attached to it for better or worse. Released in 1998 as a thermal printer compatible with every Gameboy except the Gameboy Micro, the Gameboy’s printer directly compatible to the Gameboy Camera, immediately printing whatever primitive photos (typically 118) you could take on the system’s exclusive printed paper. The accessory was certainly a perky one at that, texting a chipper “Hello!” if turned on while the feed button was on. It’s since ceased manufacturing since 2003, and the rolls of film hard to find, but the tidy idea of essentially printing photos on location proves that it’s the thought that counts.
9. The Wii Balance Board
It’s no secret that gamers aren’t known for being the most ambitiously active people, so it’s only more ironic that an exercise game should be one of the best selling game products to date. The Wii Balance Board hallmarked 2010’s Guinness Book of World Records as the “best-selling personal weighing device” and as of January of 2012, it passed its 42 million mark. Touted by Shigeru Miyamoto as being more accurate than even a bathroom scale, the Balance Board certainly compensated for a few gamers out there, being able to balance over 300 pounds of humanity and even threw in non-skid socks for player use through Club Nintendo’s deals. From everything yoga to calisthenics, the Wii balance board had gamers moving more of their bodies than they’d like to admit and, if nothing else, set Nintendo up for the health craze they seem to be soaking in.
8. The Power Pad
Just Dance, Dance Central, and Dance Dance Revolution have already have us dancing around the room nonstop, but they weren’t the ones to truly start the dance control bandwagon. Nintendo also released an age-old step-based “controller of sorts” in 1986 and it was a unique one at best. Generally plugged into an NES controller port, the “pad” boasted dual sides, one with eight and another with twelve buttons with players coordinating and “running” to the music and their own steps in tandem with the game. Thanks to Namco Bandai (Now Bandai Namco) Games, the pad saw a brief revival with 2008’s Active Life: Outdoor Challenge in North America and its 2009 sequel Extreme Challenge. While the Wii Balance board had us exercise, the Power Pad combined that rarity with musical stylings, and the dancing game genre can owe itself to however many out of breath steps gamers have taken since.
7. The Power Glove
It’s hard to outdo 1989’s “Power Glove” in terms of hyperbole, but Mattel and PAX’s unique design undoubtedly combined something decidedly bizarre with something on the doorstep of brilliant. Though one of the only iconic Nintendo game products not developed by its company of attribute, the Power Glove was an oddity that few could take their eyes off of if the now cult-classic film Wizard had anything to do with it. It may have been the film’s very own Lucas Barton, that popularized “I love the Power Glove. It’s so bad,” as the glove’s most famous description, and critics agreed in a not so endearing way. Meshing traditional NES controller buttons with program buttons 0-9 on its forearm and palm, the glove further used the earliest forms of motion control through the optic fibers of its fingertips to varying degrees of responsiveness. It only held two games to its name, Super Glove Ball and Bad Street Brawler, and combined with poor software sales and lackluster reception, the glove faded away into the history books. Nonetheless, hand based controls were more prophecy than fantasy in our age of Kinect and Wii-motes and the glove definitely served as the seer of its ill-fated timing.
6. The Virtual Boy
Few have ever risen to the curios and infamous devotion to 3D gaming that the Virtual Boy embodied in its turbulent time on the market, yet few can deny its defining place in the annals of experimental gaming. From its release in that summer of 1995, the bulky portable console was heralded as the firebrand to reignite SEGA and Nintendo’s gaming bases in the wake of Sony’s readying armament of the original Playstation. Outfitted with large, almost Flash Gordon-style visor goggles on a tripod, the Virtual Boy came with a controller not too much unlike the eventual Gamecube’s and boasted “true 3D graphics” and the ensuing immersion. Unfortunately for the system, the jumpy imaging and color combined with its then pricy $180 price point, the almost spiritual successor to a more life-sized View Master was discontinued early in its infancy and to make way for the further troubled N64. Undeniably a commercial failing, the Virtual Boy’s legacy was nothing short of the fact that experimentation can sometimes be the only way to gauge success.
Before Wall-E, before cult film Short Circuit’s Number 5, there was everyone’s favorite Robotic Operating Buddy. Lovingly abbreviated as “R.O.B.,” Japan’s short-lived Family Computer Robot enjoyed a peculiar role as the quirkiest add-on to Nintendo’s most popular gaming system. Part mascot, part gaming peripheral, R.O.B. complemented the Nintendo Entertainment System as a means of both livening up consumers’ spirits following the post game crash of 1983 and playing its own exclusive titles. Coupled with the standard NES controller, R.O.B was essentially a stand-in for players, initiating button prompts and operating colored trays in sync with the games’ onscreen action. Bundled with the more popular NES zapper gun, R.O.B was definitely the odd-bot out in light of it only claiming two titles to its name: the puzzle-platformer Gyromite and Stack-up. You may never have seen R.O.B. in every arcade on the block, but his frequent appearances throughout games like Pikmin 2 and Super Smash Bros. Brawl prove that the big N still seems to have some love for its plucky metal friend.
3. DK Bongo Drums
Gamers should be used to series related merchandise by now, but even the DK Bongo drum set might have spurred more “What in the world?!” comments from every parent and consumer it came across. Rubber drumskins, built-in microphones, and the appropriately tropical allure to seal the deal, Donkey Kong’s drum controller was a robust if not the most blatantly commercial of the Gamecube era inventions unapologetically tied to its franchise. Cleverly named the “TaruKonga” (or Barrel Konga) in Japan, the drum set acted as a basic controller, with each bongo acting as an A and B button for your average gameplay bits, albeit with built-in clap detection. Though doomed to die in relevance once Nintendo inevitably dropped the rhythm based gameplay of Jungle Beat in favor of its more standard Wii release controls, the somewhat charming presentation was aesthetically refreshing, if not a pain for every player that had to do homework in the midst of their siblings drumming off.
3. The Vitality Sensor
Gamers are probably more than experienced with blood-pumping moments from their games, but in 2009, Nintendo was going to tell you just how much blood players were pumping into their gaming hearts. Advertised as a way of relaxing the player and telling them about their body stress levels at 2009’s E3, the device looked more akin to something out of a hospital rather than a video-game sliding into your thumb like a small monitor. Nintendo’s CEO Satoru Iwata himself ultimately canceled the device back in summer of last year acknowledging its narrow application. The still unreleased Red Steel 3 was the only title reported to use it. As ambiguously ambiguous as it was, the Vitality Sensor was probably was shot down too soon to be mourned, though it’s probably far from the “non-wearable health product” that Nintendo’s recently teased.
2. The Wii-Mote
In many ways, Nintendo’s always strived to invent the perfect controller, as its consistent evolution between its tabletlike and hand-grip controllers proved. It was a shock to 2005’s players when Nintendo turned a controller not sideways, but towards tv-screens, and with a wireless one at that. So went the jump into the age of motion-controls. The simplistic button placement and easy to use point and click mechanics opened the doors for ages 8-80 to join the Wii party train for years and the Wii-Motion Plus birthed the kind of accuracy that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword’s sword-based mechanics were meant for. Even in the face of the yet-to-be determined success of the Wii U’s gamepad, the Wii-mote’s still the controller most people remember. On paper, the strangest thing about the Wii-mote was simply its success. Microsoft’s Kinect would take the peripheral race to the next level with bare hand controls and Sony’s Playstation Move seemed like an almost reactionary invention with its similarly wireless remote control scheme, but Nintendo may go down as the one to have influenced, if not started it all.
1. The Ultra Hand
The strangest and undoubtedly most influential of them all might very well come from the most unlikeliest of Nintendo’s famed products: The Ultra Hand. Conceived way back in the day of Nintendo’s toy more than game history, the odd, crisscrossed contraption looked akin to a pair of “lazy tongs” for a bowl of salad rather than the toy that possibly saved a company, but it might have been just that. Advertised as a toy that essentially helped you reach things from far away (like huge, more colorful tweezers in other words), the Ultra Hand was no doubt a cheap gimmick for an Internet-less age, but no less an effective business victory. Produced in 1966 by Japanese employee Gunpei Yokoi in an era where Nintendo’s trading card business couldn’t stave off its massive debt, the Ultra Hand sold more than a million of itself in just under a year. More than just a cheap novelty for the bored kids of yesterday’s amusement (which it technically was), the Ultra Hand is credited with having given Nintendo the very capital it needed to climb out of its then financial coma and into its modern era with 1975’s release of the arcade “Donkey Kong” title. To date you’ll even see it pop up in “Wario Ware: Smooth Moves” and “Mario Power Tennis.” An “ultra” help indeed.
What inventions do you best remember of Nintendo’s backlog of gaming? Sound off in the comments below and tell us what new gadgetry you’d like to see from Nintendo next.