If you’re familiar with gaming on some level, chances are at some point you’ve come across a specialty controller or add-on for a game. For the majority of games, this sort of thing comes in the form of something simple, like a baseball bat attachment for a baseball game, or a steering wheel for racing. But in other cases, there have been very, very weird peripherals for games – peripherals so odd that they’ve been all but forgotten, usually due to their having been so specific that few ever came into contact with them.
Join us now, though, as we explore some of these historical gaming oddities.
1. Nintendo’s Pulse Sensors
Nintendo is no stranger to exploring unique avenues, as you’ll see here, but very rarely has it attempted the same weird idea twice. Yet that’s exactly what the company did with two of its devices for the N64 and Wii. Released in 1998, the Bio Sensor was a Nintendo 64 add-on that took the form of a cord you could plug into the console on one end, with a Nintendo-branded sensor clip on the other. In order to use it, you would actually clip the sensor onto your earlobe, where it would read your pulse! It only ended up being used for one game – Tetris 64 – for which it could speed things up or slow them down based on your heart rate. However, aside from use in this game, the device fell into obscurity. Over a decade later, though, Nintendo attempted the same thing again, this time with the Vitality Sensor – a finger clip that would attach to your Wii. This product was eventually shelved before actually being released, but between this and the Bio Sensor we can confirm that someone at Nintendo was really into heart rates!
2. The Sega Activator
The early days of the console wars between Nintendo and Sega saw numerous attempts by both companies to out-cool the other. This was most visible in the famous rivalry between Mario and Sonic in the ’90s, but it extended to controllers too. One of Sega’s attempts at the time was an octagonal pad known as the Sega Activator. The idea was to lay the pad down on the floor, plug it into the wall, and then move your arms over one of the pad’s eight different lines in order to play games. Each of the sections of the Activator had sensors mapping it to different buttons – one for A, another for B, and so on. Unsurprisingly, the ’90s-era motion controller wasn’t the most responsive, so it wound up being dropped quickly.
3. The Steel Battalion Control Panel
The monstrous Steel Battalion control panel was a combined Capcom/Xbox effort created for the Steel Battalion game released in 2002. This massive setup featured a joystick, dials, knobs, foot pedals, and more, with each feature corresponding to a different action in Capcom’s mech-based title. Unsurprisingly for it’s size, it sold for a whopping $200 dollars at launch, separate from both the game itself and the actual console. Surprisingly, it was actually quite well received, seemingly because the immersion provided by the controller made players feel more like they were piloting mechs. Still, looking back it was a massive (and expensive) eyesore, and particularly by comparison to modern VR, it’s wholly unnecessary.
4. The NTT Data Pad and the SNES Modem
These two pieces of SNES hardware may not seem too odd at first glance, but it was their usage that made them so. These two devices, when used together, would allow the SNES to connect to the internet and provide limited interaction online. Altogether, this sounds like a really neat and useful peripheral for the time, until you realize that all they were used for was betting on horse races. The JRA PAT, a popular horse racing company, partnered with Nintendo, in fact, to facilitate betting. Now, compared to modern real-money gaming activity, this all feels archaic. Horse betting is one thing (and it’s easily available on the internet), but gamers can now access free slot machine spins, play in poker tournaments, and enjoy virtually any other sort of casino activity they like at the touch of a screen or button. In retrospect, all the rigamarole it must have taken to set up these peripherals just to place a bet – ne
ver mind playing poker or spinning slots – seems positively exhausting.
5. The Aura Interactor
Let’s close out with a weird, VR-related peripheral that still has fans to this day. This fighting game-centric peripheral wasn’t a controller, but rather a vest you’d wear while playing a game normally. Hooked up properly, the Interactor would actually exert pressure on you when you took a hit in a fighting game. This would make it feel more like you were actually the one doing the fighting and taking the hits from your foes. In recent years, the vest has seen a resurgence with VR fanatics modding in support with modern VR titles to add another layer of depth to their experiences. So, as it turns out, the Interactor was kind of a great idea – it just came too early by almost 30 years. That’s right, this vest was a 1994 release, originally intended for the SNES and Genesis versions of Mortal Kombat 2. So much for the early bird getting the worm in the end!
These are some pretty weird devices to look back on, and they’re only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the weird and wonderful peripherals gaming’s featured over the years.