Until very recently the best way to immerse yourself in a game the ability to use a peripheral – a device that was able to be connected to a computer or video game console, whilst not being an integral part of the machine. Throughout the years, peripherals have taken many shapes and forms. For this month’s RETROspective I thought I’d delve into my video gaming past and the add-ons I’ve used.
My first encounter with peripherals was the Music Maker for the Commodore 64; a musical keyboard that fitted over the C64’s standard QWERTY keyboard, as part of the bundle that came with the system. There wasn’t really a game as such, but rather a programme on cassette that loaded The Beatles’ hit song When I’m Sixty-Four (see what they did there? Commodore 64… When I’m 64…). You could then play along with the notes on screen to your hearts content. I don’t recall if there were any other songs or expansions, and it didn’t take long for the keyboard to find its way into the attic along with the C64’s box.
By far one of the coolest light guns I ever played with was a friend’s Captain Power Powerjet XT-7 in the eighties. I couldn’t think of anything that could sum up being a boy growing up in the eighties – the gun was shaped like a spaceship, and was part of a toy line from a TV series called Captain Power And The Soldiers Of Fortune. The gun came with a VHS video cassette and if the spaceship got “shot” by the enemy on screen, the pilot would be ejected from the cockpit – no, I’m not making this up… Seriously, check it out on YouTube!
At the beginning of the nineties I started pestering my parents for a NES, specifically the one bundled with Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt. I remember unwrapping a big box one Christmas, watching my Dad connect it to the TV and firing up Super Mario. Meanwhile my Dad, an ex-soldier discovered the Zapper, and the family pretty much lost him to Duck Hunt for the rest of Christmas Day! I loved Duck Hunt, although like most gamers had an intense hatred of the hunting dog and would waste ammo shooting at his stupid, sniggering face when I’d missed my target.
Having upgraded to a SNES a year or two later, I got the Superscope light gun. The thing was shaped to resemble a bazooka, and rested on your shoulder with a sight to squint through for better accuracy. The Superscope was bundled with a cartridge that held six mini games – although I only recall playing two: the first was a whack-a-mole type game involving aliens popping out of craters, and the other was a Columns-esque puzzle game, shooting the blocks to change colours and eradicate lines. My lasting memories of the Superscope was that prolonged play made my arm go dead due to having to hold it in such an awkward position; and also that Bob Hoskins used one in the godawful live-action Super Mario Bros movie.
Continuing with my penchant for light guns, I switched to the Sega Mega Drive and got The Menacer, a bad-ass looking gun bundled with Terminator 2: Judgement Day; then onto the Sony PlayStation, the GunCon and Time Crisis; and lastly back to Sega, The Dreamcast, their light gun and House Of The Dead 2 – which I seem to recall having recoil. Whilst I enjoyed the games, I don’t think I ever bought any other light gun compatible games, even though there seemed to be a fair few available for each console.
Aside from my addiction to shooting at my TV with brightly-coloured plastic guns, I made the decision to buy Sega Bass Fishing for the Dreamcast, complete with fishing reel controller – because, well I forget precisely why. I’ve never been a fan of fishing, I went once when I was a kid and found it mind-numbingly boring. At least with Sega Bass Fishing I could have all the “fun” of fishing from the comfort of my own house. Unfortunately, due to either poor design or my own heavy-handedness I managed to break the controller after about a week.
Following the fishing reel debacle, I left peripherals alone for a while – until I discovered Guitar Hero III whilst visiting a friend. It’s hard to deny that there’s something cool about standing in front of your TV, hitting licks on your (albeit plastic) Gibson Les Paul guitar. Essentially a rhythm game, Guitar Hero gives those that don’t either don’t have the dexterity or the time and effort to devote to learning how to play the real thing. I have to admit I never really got the hang of the power chords, and would almost do myself serious injury as a swung the controller to and fro in an attempt to pull them off. Regardless, I still felt like a bonafide Rock God when playing it. Guitar Hero became insanely mainstream, with the game popping up in plenty of movies and TV shows, including the hilarious South Park episode “Guitar Queer-o”.
Whilst not strictly peripherals, but rather the system’s main controllers, the Nintendo Wii controller and nunchuks were also incredibly mainstream; with the console becoming the company’s most popular home console. Everyone and their nan’s had a go at the bundled game Wii Sports, as there isn’t any genuine skill needed to play it. The Wii version of Mario Kart was amazing fun, as I got to use the clip-on steering wheel that came with the game, rather than twisting my hands whilst holding a standard joypad controller in order to make a tight turn. Unfortunately, the novelty of getting up off of the sofa soon wears off, and most Wiis now sit gathering dust on entertainment centres across the globe – until the family visits for Christmas that is.
The same fate befell the Kinect camera for the Xbox 360. As much fun as it is “being the controller”, too much effort is required to play any of the available games regularly. As with Wii Sports, the bundled game Kinect Adventures comprises of a series of mini-games, although a serious amount of space is required, as you could play the Wii from the sofa with only minimal movements. I invested in a few other games: Michael Jackson: The Experience and Rise Of Nightmares (one of the worst survival horror games I’ve ever played); sadly the Kinect didn’t live up to the hype and mine was traded in long before I upgraded to my current gen console.
The next step in the peripheral evolution are the controllers needed to interact with VR headsets (and the headsets themselves). The HTC Vive comes bundled with its own wireless controllers, whilst both Oculus Rift and PS VR rely on a standard console controllers, although a dedicated controllers are in development (including a newer version of PS Move). I’ve experienced a little of VR in the form of Google Cardboard, and whilst not the most comfortable headset, it’s given me a taste of what’s to come from VR.
And so that brings us up to date (and slightly into the future) in terms of peripherals in gaming. I know there are plenty of peripherals I’ve missed out – dance mats, power gloves, chainsaws, skateboards… the bizarre list is never-ending. What was your favourite peripheral? Did you have any weird and wonderful controllers? Let us know in the comments section below.