I combed the depths of history and my memory to pull together a (very subjective) list of the best and worst innovations to hit console gaming. Rather than full systems (with a few obvious exceptions), I chose to focus on peripherals and concepts. Enjoy!
The list is after the jump…
1. The Wiimote — When the Wiimote was first announced, EVERYBODY was skeptical about how they’d pull this one off. It seemed like the type of gimmick that would inevitably find its way into the peripherals graveyard. However, in just the first generation of Wii games, Nintendo has absolutely obliterated critics. Not only does it Just Work—that incredibly rare grail of any consumer electronics products—but it pumps life into an industry that has been increasingly relying on More of the Same (sharper graphics and more unlockable characters will only get you so far.) The brilliance of the Wiimote is that it forces game developers to think differently about how they approach video games. As a result, innovative and interesting games are almost inevitable. And the fact that Nintendo had the brains to give developers the time and resources they needed to make games that could take advantage of the unique platform didn’t hurt. Now that the obvious uses are out of the way—swords, baseball bats, steering wheels—the next batch of games should show just how creative developers can be with this anything-simulator.
2. Game Boy – Before this granddaddy of portable consoles came around, carrying around a video game meant playing those cruddy bricks they sold for 30 bucks at K.B. Toys. You know the ones—they had a total of about five pixels, and your sprite was a tiny outline of a dude that had a total of two positions (usually “standing” and “jump kicking”). Yeah, they sucked. Starting with Tetris, the Game Boy had games that were actually playable—the animation was smooth, the games were complex, the characters looked like characters. And, for the next few years, battery companies everywhere reaped the profits.
3. Game Emulators — Emulators are crack for nostalgic gamers—they let you play any game, any time, without having to spend 10 minutes blowing the dust off a cartridge before sliding it into your NES at just the right angle to avoid the Blank Screen Of Death. Today, we’re seeing retro gaming demand resonate with the companies as next-gen systems are increasingly adopting support for downloading and playing these once-Abandonware titles.
4. Save Game – Remember the original Legend of Zelda cartridge? If you shook it, you could actually hear the tiny battery that let it store your game bang around inside. So cool! I don’t know about you, but I never once bothered to write down a password to get back to Ridley’s Lair in Metroid, so this was a godsend. Unfortunately, early games were fragile—pulling the game from the system while it was still on just once (which I know they explicitly told me NOT to do) was enough to burn out the battery. Still, not having to spend another three hours getting the Magic Sword was priceless.
5. Nintendo Zapper Light Gun — If you think about it, Duck Hunt should have been the most boring game ever. You shoot a duck, a cartoon dog retrieves it, repeat. But still, we played it… again, and again, and again. Sure the Zapper was used in only slightly more games than the R.O.B. robot, but it seemed like complete MAGIC at the time (I still don’t understand how it worked.) I’ll never know why exactly it was so fun, but there isn’t a person you know who won’t smile when you bring this thing up in conversation.
Power Pad – I might get some haters on this, and I know it didn’t have much use beyond a track and field and an aerobics game, but we wouldn’t have Dance Dance Revolution if it weren’t for this thing, and fat kids everywhere would be without their only source of exercise.
AND THE WORST:
4. Laser Disc Games — I’m aware this was more of an arcade than a console phenomenon, but they simply need to be included. These things were GORGEOUS, but boy oh boy did they suck. Running through Dragon’s Lair or Space Ace was an investment (try getting through with less than 20 bucks!), and really no more fun than watching somone else play. The problem, of course, was that you didn’t control the cartoons so much as press a button every once in awhile.
3. Super Nintendo Super Scope 6 — The follow-up to the NES Zapper light gun LOOKED so cool—it was a freakin’ bazooka! And when I finally got mine, I couldn’t wait to get home and shoot some bad guys. But what did I get when I took this thing out and opened it up? A bunch of cruddy mini-games where you shoot moles and Tetris blocks. I wanted to blow up some Nazis or something, and I was stuck fighting garden pests. Developers didn’t put too much faith in this thing, and barely any games (much less decent ones) ever came off the assembly line.
2. TurboExpress — Instead of buying separate games for a portable system, wouldn’t it be great if it could play the same ones at home and on-the-go? With the TurboExpress, anyone with a TurboGrafx-16 could play the same games they played at home on the go! Wow! Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell developers that shrinking something designed for 19-inch image (as was the standard TV size of the time) down to 2.6-inches is enough to send both of the people who bought this thing to the optometrist.
1. Power Glove — You wanted this thing — we all did. Maybe it was the idea of actually punching Mike Tyson, or perhaps you saw The Wizard and wanted to be like video game maestro Lucas (“I love the Power Glove, it’s so bad.”), able to make Fred Savage and the girl from Rilo Kiley’s jaw drop with a few well-timed wrist movements. Unfortunately, this thing absolutely, completely sucked. It was complicated, hard to set up, unresponsive, expensive. Worst of all, however, was the need to punch in different programming codes for each game. When you inevitably lost the book containing them, you were SOL.