It didn't take long after the invention of home video games for companies to realize they could upsell us on accessories for those video games. At first, it was the original game companies selling us accessories to their own products—but soon, an entire cottage industry popped up where so-called third-party companies were established specifically to manufacture and sell video game accessories. And such is the potential profit from this industry that there are companies that have only ever made third-party game accessories that have been in business for decades at this point.
In a perfect world, video game accessories would only ever be a net positive for gamers, universally enhancing our gaming experiences. Sadly, that's not the case, as a lot of video game accessories not only don't improve gaming, they actively make it worse. And is there anything more frustrating than paying extra money for something that lessens the fun and functionality of something that we would've been better off just leaving alone?
Things have gotten a bit better in recent years, with far less outright garbage out there in the way of video game accessories—and certainly much less in the way of bizarre novelty items. But the first few video game generations were the wild west, and anything went—and the result is a few good accessories supplemented by a whole lot of completely superfluous ones. You'll probably see us rag on some accessories here that you remember loving as a kid—but we often had no choice but to convince ourselves that the pricey thing we begged our parents for and got was great even when it probably wasn't.
30 Shouldn't Exist: U-Force
It's only pretty recently that technology has reached a point where video games can translate a person's body movement into in-game actions—and even now, it's far from perfect.
In 1989, motion sensing control technology was still mostly a pipe dream—especially in the way of an affordable, mass-market device.
The U-Force for the NES worked about as well as just putting a regular controller on the floor and flailing your arms over it. The advertising for this monstrosity proclaimed, "Don't touch." It was best to take that advice literally.
29 Actually Useful: Game Genie
Anyone who grew up in the 1980s knew to be skeptical of a device that promised to let you run faster, jump higher, and have unlimited lives. That the device came from the toy company that was previously most famous for Micro Machines and those cymbal-banging monkeys didn't do much to ward off skepticism.
Against all odds, the Game Genie—available for NES, SNES, Genesis, Game Boy, and Game Gear—worked like a charm, and did everything it promised and more. And even when a code glitched the game out in unexpected ways, it was just part of the fun.
28 Shouldn't Exist: Sega Activator
Sega was always an innovator—sometimes to its own detriment, as it would often try and introduce ideas way before their time. Sometimes, that ambition would lead to flops like the Activator, just one of many bad decisions the company made during the 1990s.
Imagine Xbox's Kinect, only with 98% less success at registering movement.
The ads made it seem as though gamers could play titles like Mortal Kombat or Streets of Rage and have their real-life punches and kicks match the action in the game one-to-one. Retroactive spoiler alert: It didn't. At all.
27 Shouldn't Exist: Konami LaserScope
Gaming is so tiring. You have to hold the controller in both hands, use your fingers to press buttons—just describing it makes us exhausted.
Konami was there to rescue lazy NES owners in 1991 when it released the LaserScope, which only required gamers to look at what they wanted to shoot at and simply shout the word "fire" when they wanted to attack. Millions of headache-stricken parents would've thrown the thing out after a week, had their kids not already given up on this barely-functioning, stupidly-conceived accessory by the end of their first day with it.
26 Actually Useful: Namco GunCon
There is a lot of affection for the NES Zapper, as well as various other light guns for consoles through the mid-1990s, but nothing would ever be the same for the genre once Namco released the GunCon for the PlayStation.
Originally bundled with either Time Crisis or one of the installments in the long-overdo-for-a-reboot Point Blank series, the GunCon was the first home light gun to truly replicate the feel of playing a gun game in the arcade (sans the recoil, naturally). It would go unrivaled until its own successor, the PS2's GunCon 2.
25 Shouldn't Exist: Wu-Tang PlayStation Controller
It's weird enough that there is a game starring the legendary hip-hop group The Wu-Tang Clan, and that it's a four-player fighting game. And it's even weirder that the game is actually kind of good.
But the weirdest thing about Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style is that it was released alongside a special Wu-inspired controller.
Sure, plenty of fighting games have their own specially-branded controllers. But shaping a controller like the iconic "W" logo of the Wu-Tang Clan was clearly done entirely for visual appeal and with zero thought given to how incredibly uncomfortable the thing would be to actually use.
24 Shouldn't Exist: Nintendo 64 Controller Pak
Nintendo deciding to stick with cartridges for the N64 was a costly mistake for the company—although carts aren't without their advantages.
One of the biggest perks to cartridges vs CDs is that cartridges have the ability to contain save game data and not require the purchase of memory cards. It should've been one of the big selling points of the N64's expensive carts—except that some early games in fact didn't have built-in battery saves and still required the Controller Pak to save. Fortunately, on-board saving soon became standard for N64 games and made this accessory superfluous.
23 Actually Useful: Super Game Boy
There are a lot of great games on the Game Boy. The problem is that those games... are on the Game Boy.
The Super Game Boy was a chance for Game Boy games to shine, unencumbered by their problematic original hardware.
Not only did the Super Game Boy bring GB games to the big screen, but it colorized them—and even had special built-in color palettes for some of the platform's top games. It also allowed certain multiplayer games to be played by simply inserting a second controller rather than dealing with link cables and all that nonsense.
22 Shouldn't Exist: Lara Croft Memory Card
There's no denying that Tomb Raider's Lara Croft became a superstar during the late-1990s, becoming one of the first video game characters to actually become a certifiable "celebrity" in her own right.
Lara Croft's likeness adorned a lot of merchandise during her peak years, but none was as ridiculous or unnecessary as this PS1 memory card. To have a bust—pun intended—of Ms. Croft jutting out of a PS1 memory card port looked completely silly, and wasn't helped by the fact that it wasn't even a particular good-looking or high-quality interpretation of the character.
21 Shouldn't Exist: Champion Video Game Gloves
Gaming in the 1990s was totally x-treme, man. Between slamming Jolt Cola, rocking out to the Offspring, and shredding half pipes, '90s kids were gaming as hard as anyone had ever gamed before. Needless to say, they needed gloves to keep their hands from ripping apart from all the awesomeness.
Of course, regular baseball gloves would've done the trick—which is all these "gamer gloves" really were, save for the totally in-your-face colors and the license adornment that wasn't even always game-related. Sure, why wouldn't gamer gloves have a Batman logo on them?
20 Actually Useful: Sega Saturn Racing Wheel
Racing games have been a video game genre since the beginning, back when gaming technology was so primitive that cars were literally just stickers on arcade screens.
It's kind of surprising that this is one of the only first-party console racing wheels ever made.
Sega's Saturn wheel made games like Daytona USA and Sega Rally Championship go from good to great, and provided an experience that Ridge Racer with a d-pad couldn't touch. Purists criticize its lack of pedals, but having the gas and brake located on the wheel itself makes for a more streamlined experience without any finicky setup.
19 Shouldn't Exist: Speedboard
We'll get the only positive thing there is to say about the NES Speedboard out of the way right off the bat here. Rather than trying to sell us yet another separate controller, the Speedboard at least offered a way to try and improve the original NES pads we already owned.
The key word in that last sentence is "offered," which isn't to be confused with "delivered." Because all the Speedboard actually delivered was a plastic frame to jam an NES controller into in order to make the buttons more arcade-like but the d-pad ten times harder to use.
18 Shouldn't Exist: Aura Interactor
One of the threads running through a lot of these failed accessories is that they made big promises that were exaggerations at best, and outright lies at worst. And the Aura Interactor definitely feels like an outright lie.
What was promised was a wearable device that let you "feel" what was happening to your avatar in the game you were playing.
What was actually delivered was basically a giant stereo speaker strapped to your chest, which of course meant that all you were actually feeling was the bass from the music and sound effects, and nothing more.
17 Actually Useful: Power Base Converter
The gaming industry has always had a very inconsistent relationship with backward compability, championing it one minute and shunning it the next. It was actually once a pretty standard thing until Nintendo infamously abandoned plans to allow the SNES to play NES games. If only...
So, Sega decided to one-up Nintendo by selling the Power Base Converter, which allowed Sega Master System Games to be played on the Genesis/Mega Drive. Sure, the SMS wasn't a huge seller in most of the world, but it was still a neat feature—and backwards compatibility is never "wrong" in our book.
16 Shouldn't Exist: PlayStation Link Cable
It seems crazy now, lugging consoles and TVs to other people's houses in order to have big multiplayer parties. But anyone who played 16-player local Halo multiplayer will attest to it being worth the trouble.
However, having to bring a PS1 to someone's house, along with a second copy of a game and maybe even a TV, just to play a two player game is absurd. And the PS1 quickly established its ability to handle just about any game in splitscreen with no problem, meaning that devs who couldn't get that working in the early days were just lazy.
15 Shouldn't Exist: Super Scope
The NES Zapper was iconic, and it was a foregone conclusion that the SNES have a light fun of its own—but not like this.
Succumbing to '90s extremism, SNES's light gun was a giant bazooka-type thing that sat on your shoulder and also needed batteries.
It might have all been worth the trouble if we would've gotten more good games to use with it. T2: The Arcade Game was great and all, but that's really all that was worth digging this thing out for—and that game was only fun for about 10 minutes at a time.
14 Actually Useful: Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak
While extremely powerful on paper for its time, the Nintendo 64 still had its share of significant hardware limitations—one of the big ones being the system's lack of RAM. So, Nintendo decided that the N64's twilight years releases get a little graphical boost via the Expansion Pak.
While it was outright required by three games—Perfect Dark, Majora's Mask, and Donkey Kong 64—it noticeably boosted a number of others. It was definitely a better alternative to what happens today, where gamers need to spend hundreds to buy an entire console "upgrade" to get improved performance on existing games.
13 Shouldn't Exist: Tyco Power Plug
Again, we're all for accessories that try to supplement the functionality of our existing controllers rather than forcing us to buy new ones. But again, maybe that isn't necessarily a viable solution as these types of devices never seem to work as well as standalone controllers.
Tyco's Power Plug was supposed to add features to standard SNES and Genesis controllers like autofire, slowmo, and even an ability to "record" button sequences that could then be mapped to a single button—like, say, Ryu's fireball in SFII. All fine ideas, except absolutely none of them worked well in execution.
12 Shouldn't Exist: Palmtop Dance Dance Revolution Pad
You know, Dance Dance Revolution is fun and all, but it requires actually getting up and moving around. What if there was a way to play DDR but without having to move your feet or even get up off the couch?
There already is a way to play DDR with your hands—it's called the d-pad on the PS1 controller.
If you absolutely must play DDR with your hands, why wouldn't you just use a controller rather than this completely ridiculous and unnecessary accessory? Unless, of course, your action figures want to play DDR...
11 Actually Useful: Sega Channel Adapter
Sega being ahead of its time wasn't always a reason to mock the company—sometimes, they were forward-thinking in really awesome ways, such as with the ridiculously-ahead-of-its-time Sega Channel service.
Basically Xbox Live meets Netflix years before either of those things existed, Sega Channel was a monthly subscription-based service that let you basically stream games through cable lines, including regular retail games, games still in development, and even games that were never made available any other way—in the U.S., it was the only (legal) method to ever play Mega Man: The Wily Wars. Sega Channel remained active until 1998.
10 Shouldn't Exist: The Roll 'N Rocker
The knee-jerk reaction is to make fun of a video game accessory that you play by standing on it and tilting it—but doing so is forgetting that Nintendo sold over 20 million Wii Fit balance boards.
Of course, Wii-related sales figures often defy convention—under normal circumstances, balanced-based game accessories are a dumb idea. For proof of this, see the Roll 'n Rocker for the NES. Where the R 'n R went wrong is that it still required players to hold a controller for button presses, only using the tilting for movement—the latter of which barely worked anyway.
9 Shouldn't Exist: ASG Video Jukebox
We gamers are nothing if not lazy—it's a hard accusation to be offended by, as our hobby of choice is essentially built around sitting on our behinds for hours and hours (and hours) at a time.
Still, just because gamers are already lazy doesn't mean we need accessories to make us even lazier.
A company called ASG enabled the laziness of Genesis owners by releasing the video game equivalent of a multi-CD changer—remember those? Besides being absurd, the Video Jukebox also just didn't work that well, and took up way too much space to even be worth it.
8 Actually Useful: NES Advantage
Now this is how you recreate the experience of an arcade cabinet on the NES. Coveted by every kid who owned an NES—especially after they saw it used to pilot the Statue of Liberty in Ghostbusters II—the NES Advantage was one of the most decadent items in Nintendo's accessory repertoire but also totally worth it.
Replacing the admittedly sticky NES d-pad with a nice-feeling joystick, making the A and B buttons big and mashable, and adding features like turbo definitely made the Advantage live up to its name. Some prefer the NES Max—and some are wrong.
7 Shouldn't Exist: Sega 32X
It's hard to know exactly what Sega was thinking with the 32X. They already had the Sega CD add-on for the Genesis—which was pretty great in spite of the eventual saturation of crappy FMV games—and they also had the Saturn right around the corner.
Why on Earth did they need yet another stop-gap console add-on to further dilute the market?
The fact that there are only two or three games in the entire 32X library that didn't just look like slightly crisper and brighter Genesis games proves how unnecessary this thing actually was.
6 Shouldn't Exist: AlphaGrip AG 5
While PC gamers long clung to keyboard and mouse as being the only control input they needed, they eventually acknowledged that some gaming experiences are better with a controller. But when PC gamers use a controller, it's because they want a controller—not a keyboard molded into a controller.
To take a keyboard's several dozen buttons and try to find a place for them all on a single controller sounds like a terrible idea—and it is. But that didn't stop the creation of the AlphaGrip AG-5, which requires someone with ten fingers on each hand to actually use comfortably.
5 Actually Useful: NES Hands Free Controller
It's sad how rare it still is for a company—especially the original console manufacturer—to actually release a video game controller that allows for people with various motor-based difficulties to be able to enjoy gaming like the rest of us.
Nintendo was way ahead of the curve on this one when they released the Hands Free for the NES, which allowed a user to play it by blowing.
It definitely wasn't perfect, and better types of controllers have been made since, but the Hands Free deserves props for being an important trailblazer in this area.
4 Shouldn't Exist: Power Glove
The Power Glove was the coolest thing in the world and every kid wanted one...for about six months in 1989. Word quickly spread that it wasn't the one-to-one, virtual reality-type gaming experience that it was promised to be, and the Power Glove's reputation took a major hit and would spend the ensuing 20 years being rightfully mocked.
Part of the reason that the Power Glove gets ridiculed so much worse than its peers is just how hard it was pushed on us, even featured prominently in the Nintendo propaganda film The Wizard. Plus, Super Glove Ball just plain sucks.
3 Shouldn't Exist: Atari Mindlink
If a device really could read our minds, would we actually want it to? It's bad enough that we can't passively mention something in a text message or on social media without it suddenly being advertised to us in banner ads on every website we visit for the next six months—companies don't need to actually be in our heads.
Look, obviously the Atari Mindlink couldn't read our minds. It's hard to imagine anyone actually believed that it could. But it would've been nice if it didn't something a little more advanced than just measure the twitching of our eyebrows.
2 Actually Useful: Multitaps/Four-Player Adapters
Long before consoles defaulted to wireless controllers and could easily connect four or more controllers at once, we were limited to how many ports console manufacturers decided to build onto systems—and before the N64, that number was typically just two.
A lot of games required more controllers than consoles had ports—and luckily, they released accessories that let us play 3+ player games.
This entry celebrates all multitaps and four-player adapters, from the NES Satellite to the PS1 multitap to the ingenious Genesis carts with extra controller ports built onto them. Bomberman, Gauntlet, and CTR fans know what's up.
1 Shouldn't Exist: Skywriter Stick Station
As dumb of an idea as the NES Speedboard seemed to be, it was actually a direct successor to a previous accessory that was basically the same thing for Atari 2600 joysticks. Oh, and instead of plastic, it was made out of wood.
Correction: It wasn't just made out of wood, it was wood. Literally just a plank of treated wood with a square hold in the middle of it to stick an Atari joystick into. We know that wood paneling was all the rage in the '70s, but an actually wooden video game accessory is taking that too far.