The once thriving art of unique gaming peripherals is dying, having had its heyday through the early 2000’s. The days of your closet overflowing with plastic extras gathering dust, just waiting to be brought out again for that one special game, are becoming a thing of the past.
These wonderful and often impractical extras created some truly unique gaming experiences, unlike those that could be achieved with just a simple controller. And while they may not have carried much staying power, they have left fond memories for all those who had the pleasure of using them.
That’s not to say they were all amazing, for every hit like the Guitar Hero Stratocaster, there is a Nintendo power glove to remind you why publishers maybe don’t take these kinds of risks often.
Thankfully though, there were plenty of wonderful examples of those who got it right. So put on your scoobies, jump into PictoChat and let's take a walk down the naughties memory lane, and remember the Top 10 unique gaming peripherals.
10. TimeCrisis GunCon
Okay, so lightguns have been around forever, originating in the 1930’s and already an arcade staple by the 60’s with the likes of Sega’s Periscope. But for me, the pinnacle of lightgun games is TimeCrisis.
Before the days of VR, this was the closest you could get to the sensation of holding the gun in your hands and relying on nothing but hand-eye-coordination and a quick trigger finger to crush your way through waves of enemies.
It doesn’t provide quite the same freedom as a controller due to the lack of movement options, limiting its use-case to on rails shooters only, but nevertheless, for the unique experience it gives it’s difficult to replicate without a peripheral. Bringing that arcade fun to your living room.
Before Amiibos there were Skylanders. A toys-to-life action game involving real life action figures which are portaled into the game to be played on screen.
A fun idea, combining many gamer’s love for collectibles, and children’s enjoyment of physical toys, with an engaging and colourful action platformer.
The combat is fun, the stories throughout the series were entertaining and it all combines to make a great package, particularly for children. But undeniably, it’s the real life toys connecting to the game which allows it to stand apart.
By adding a physical component, it increases players ability to connect with the franchise, and as shown by the countless sequels, this was a peripheral idea that proved a huge success.
8. Nintendo Labo
The newest entry on this list, Nintendo’s labo. Also unique for abandoning the old-faithful of plastic, instead opting for DIY cardboard.
Each set comes with multiple creations, packaged up and ready to build before they can be used in game. The variety this provides is joyous and the possibilities are only limited by Nintendo’s own commitment to providing new sets.
The peripherals themselves can become playable piano’s or functioning robots and anything in between. Unlike other accessories, much of the enjoyment lies in the assembly itself, creating a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment just from managing to play and use the end result.
7. Eye Toy
I challenge anyone who ever used the Eye Toy on PlayStation 2 to go watch the introduction narrated by John Culshaw, and not feel that twang of nostalgia taking you back to the first time booting it up, feeling like you were experiencing the future of gaming.
This small camera was the predecessor which walked so that Kinect and the Nintendo Wii could run.
It came with a selection of mini-games that allowed you to interact with the objects on screen through your physical body movements in front of the camera. To modern readers this may sound like an antique but at the time the idea was truly novel.
Being able to karate chop figures on screen with your real hands was completely different to anything else on offer at the time. Sadly it proved to be a short lived fad due to a lack of software support, but the promise has evolved through the years to much of what we have today including the PlayStation VR.
This one was truly ahead of its time.
6. Buzz! Buzzers
Another relic which has been made redundant through time and the ceaseless development of modern technology.
Any quiz game worth its salt releasing in today’s market is playable directly from your mobile phone through a browser or app. A trend popularised by the Jackbox party packs which have become the standard for being accessible to all players no matter their video game literacy.
But when Buzz! released, the developers required a more ingenious solution. A handheld pad with four multiple-choice answer buttons and a big red buzzer just begging to be pressed.
A staple of game nights for competitive families all around the globe. You could even customise your buzzer noise, what more do you need!
I hear those groans. Few peripherals have been as divisive as the Kinect, and fewer still were as integral to a console's entire identity.
For those who don’t remember, the Kinect originally launched as a peripheral for the Xbox 360, before Microsoft doubled down and went all-in on it with the Xbox One, going so far as to design the console's UI to be optimised for motion controls. Yes, THAT presentation.
Sadly, unresponsive controls and game’s failing to get the best out of the hardware proved to be its downfall. But for the few games which played to its strength such as the adorable Kinectimals, it provided a fun evolution of the Eye Toy formula.
They should bring back the Kinect…
4. Wii Fit board
Nintendo are the masters at creating peripherals which have a widespread appeal, able to be enjoyed by gamers and non-gamers alike.
The Wii Fit board was built as a fitness aid, even having an in-built scale for players to measure their weight and see it brought to life horrifyingly in the form of an exaggerated cartoon model. Truly the greatest weight loss motivation there could be.
The Wii Fit balance board earns bonus points as a peripheral for its ability to transfer across to other gaming genres. The pressure plates inside can detect shifts in the player’s movement, making it ideal for skateboarding games. Tony Hawk Ride would even make its own attempt at a copy but it didn’t have the same broad appeal.
3. Dance Dance Revolution Mat
The icon itself, the DDR mat.
After years of being the true test of who has the moves in Arcades everywhere, the non-slip at home mat was released, giving everyone the chance to dance to their heart's content.
Such a simple premise, taking the d-pad and making it playable with your feet, like the gamified version of Tom Hanks’ Big. It would prove to be the perfect formula for a dancing rhythm game, as you follow along with the arrows and screen to some iconic tracks.
Now replaced by Just Dance through cameras and mobile phones, it's no longer required for busting a virtual move. Surprisingly though, it's found a new lease of life as the go-to controller for showing how ridiculously easy some people can beat From Software games.
2. Donkey Konga Bongos
Nintendo’s greatest ever peripheral in my opinion. Donkey Konga takes one of gaming’s forefathers, the skyscraper climbing, peach kidnapping, barrel throwing gorilla, handed him a pair of bongos and made a rhythm game.
With arguably the most underrated game soundtrack ever assembled, this game is a blast. The peripheral itself has two drum pads and a mic in the middle for clapping (or more accurately, any kind of noise you like once your hands start to hurt). With only three inputs, the game and device were simple, but it was exactly what it needed to be.
It also features in Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, a bongo controlled platformer, and much like the DDR map, it now functions as an alternate unofficial challenge mode controller for the soulsborne genre.
1. Rock Band
No peripheral infiltrated pop culture like Rock Band. Starting out with the Guitar Hero Controller, in the shape of a stratocaster with a five colour fretboard and strumming switch in the centre.
This allowed everyone to finally live out their fantasies of being the next Jimmy Page, rocking along with the greatest hits from Rock history. A masterpiece by Harmonix, surpassed only by themselves when they created Rock Band.
Expanding on the formula by adding a microphone and a four piece electronic drum set with foot pedal, they created not only the greatest ever gaming peripheral, but the greatest ever rhythm game.
The series is still going strong today with Rock Band 4, with new content being released and updated, however the peak came with The Beatles: Rock Band, a celebration of the biggest Rock Band of all time, with the greatest peripheral. I mean just look at those Gretsch Duo and Rickenbacker 325 controllers *chefs kiss*.