Once a month, Gimme 5 will bring you a a 'Top Five' of all things gaming. Our pal Adam Smith may know his eggs from his rotary washing lines when it comes to video gaming, but we encourage you to actively participate in the discussions; go to the comments below, and let us know your thoughts!
We all have our preference when it comes to video gaming controllers: it’s a little bit like those world buffet restaurants where you have a vast selection of choices, but will always ensure you plate up your particular favourite nation’s nosh. For me, it’s always been about the Gamecube controller, with its dual analogue sticks positioned more comfortably than the Playstation counterpart, in-built rumble feature, differently shaped face buttons, and satisfying-to-the-press shoulder triggers.
For me, it is the pizza of the controller world: you cannot deny its beauty, its possibility, or its excellent design. But today isn’t about favourites. Today is about those quirky cats that give us something totally refreshing to roll with, it’s about the control methods that, quite simply, did things with a little bit of crazy in their execution. And crazy’s good, especially when it’s only for a brief moment: like sky-diving. It’s fun to fall from fatal heights for a little while, but it’s still somewhat pleasant when the parachute opens…
Enough! Bring on the bafflement…
First things first, I wanted this list to consist of controllers that were specifically designed as unique units, rather than filling it with modifications of previously designed controllers. Things like the Resident Evil 4 Chainsaw Controller or the Wii Bowling Ball, for example, may be monstrous and money-not-well-spent, but are ultimately adaptations of a well-received controller. So they won’t make the cut here. However, things like the Sega Marine Fishing fishing rod controller, Wii Fit balance board, and Sega Activator controllers do deserve to have their moment in the spotlight, especially the latter of the three. The Activator was a large octagon that you placed on the floor and stood in the centre of, which used infra-red light beams to detect and map your movement. Created during the ‘virtual reality is the future of gaming!’ moment of the mid-1990s, it aimed to add a new layer of awesome to fighting games like Mortal Kombat, where your flailing, sweaty limbs became replacements for the in-game controls. It was as mental as it sounds, and obviously the Activator was soon deactivated due to shoddy sales figures, and even shoddier control abilities…a literal kick in the teeth for Sega.
5 – Rhythm Controllers (Various)
Released – Various
Platform – Various
Genre – Rhythm / Music
Did you know… Rhythm music games became so popular that even the Nintendo DS got in on the action! Rather than offering a full-size guitar to cart around with your portable pal, instead it utilised the GBA cartridge slot in which you placed the fret board buttons, and you used a plectrum-shaped stylus to strum the touch screen!
For a time, it was no longer cool to be in an actual rock band, but to be in a virtual one instead. Whether on the mic, the guitars, the drums, the keyboard, or the DJ decks, there was computerised fame sat waiting for everyone. Setting up the whole ‘Band in a Box’ experience was the highlight of many people’s new year’s eve party, as they thrashed out old skool tuneage onto plastic counterparts of real instruments. But even if the standard four-piece band didn’t tickle your Beatles, you could always opt for Samba de Amigo’s maraca controllers instead, or Donkey Kong’s bongo peripheral, both offering a bizarre take on the music madness that was so popular. Of course, these weren’t the first ‘rhythm’ based controllers on the market…
4 – The Dance Mat
Released – Various
Platform – Various
Genre – Dance / Rhythm
Did you know… Dance Dance Revolution became so popular at one stage, a finger pad was released which was a mini version of a dance mat that sat in the palm of you hand and could be used by lazy gamers who couldn’t face the prospect of, you know, playing the game properly! They didn’t really catch on, but looked pretty cool nonetheless.
Famous in arcades the world over, dance mats were a novel idea that took the gaming world by storm. Simple enough in design, the dance mat consisted of directional buttons that were activated by the gamer’s feet and had to be stepped on in time with the on-screen display. Soft, roll-out mats were produced for home use, whereas the arcade variants were hard versions often with a hand-rail so the players didn’t lose balance. Many credit dance mat games as being the spark behind Guitar Hero and the like, which steadily replaced the dance mat in the popularity department. Regardless of how cool they may be nowadays, dance mats were one of the more successful controllers on this list of wackiness, and their entertainment value cannot be denied.
3 – Tony Hawk’s Ride Skateboard Controller
Released – 2009
Platform – Various
Genre – Sports / Simulation
Did you know… The game was the first in the Tony Hawk’s series that didn’t allow you to use a standard gaming controller, and no disc-only option was available to purchase for that reason. A sequel, Tony Hawk’s Shred, was released in 2010, and sold a dismal 3,000 copies in its first week across the whole of the US. Quite a bail…
This list is for the craziest ideas of a controller, not necessarily the most successful, and whilst numbers 5 and 4 did very well during their run, Tony Hawk’s Ride did not. At all. As with so many similar ideas, the concept for the peripheral was a great one: a motion-sensor skateboard deck that used infra-red sensors to map your movements and mad skillz onto the screen. In principle, this would be skating for non-skaters, in the way that Rock Band was playing instruments for the musically-impaired. In principle. In reality, it was impossibly difficult to master, and didn’t really reward you for the hours of agony you put in (if you even made it that far). The game itself was lacklustre and stripped down by comparison to its brothers and sisters on the series, and that didn’t help matters either. All in all, it could be described as goofy – and I don’t mean the skater stance.
2 – R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy)
Released – 1985
Platform – NES
Genre – Puzzle / Novelty
Did you know… R.O.B. was actually created as a clever scheme by Nintendo to battle the ‘video game crash’ of 1983. By releasing new peripherals that worked with the console, Nintendo hoped to withstand the crushing blow to the video game market by presenting themselves as more than simply a video gaming company. R.O.B., along with the light gun peripheral, allowed Nintendo to pitch their new console as a toy, rather than just a console, and in doing so saved themselves from extinction. Well played, boys.
Though he is only compatible with two games from the time, Gyromite and Stack-up, R.O.B. is undoubtedly one of the most crazy creations ever to grace the controller universe. At almost 10-inches tall, R.O.B. would respond to flashes from the TV screen and perform actions in real-life. He was a noisy controller too, whirring with every battery-powered movement. Though his innings as a controller were short-lived, he has since made appearances in many Nintendo games, most recently in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U as a playable fighter. There aren’t many controllers who can boast such a resumé – we love you R.O.B.!
1 – Sega Toylet – the interactive urinal
Released – 2012
Platform – Erm…urinals?
Genre – Mini-game / Novelty
Did you know… You didn’t need me to tell you this, but the Toylet is only available in Japan, and was trialled in several Tokyo-based public toilets prior to its release to the general public. Bizarrely, Sega weren’t actually the first to develop this idea. Utter. Madness.
A flash in the pan, it may be, but Sega’s urine-powered gaming collection has, without question, the craziest control method out there – fitting, almost, that it’s ‘Number 1’. Whether you’re using your wee-wee to wash graffiti off of a virtual wall, seeing what quantity of urine you can produce to fill a virtual jug, or challenging the next gent in the queue to who can produce the most powerful pee, the Toylet is the gaming peripheral that’s guaranteed to make quite the splash… Utilising pressure sensors, the urinal knows how hard you’re pushing, where you’re aiming, and how long you can last; getting the high score in these games certainly takes a different kind of skill! Best of all, these are on sale for just over a piddly £1,100, you won’t even need to wait for a slash in its prices to have one in your own home!