Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Retro Repost: 10 Most Ridiculous Video Game Products

Note: This article was originally published during my time as an Associated Content Featured Contributor to the Video Games Section. Associated Content was later bought by Yahoo! and renamed Yahoo! Voices. Yahoo Voices shut down in July of 2014. This article was later featured on the front page of Yahoo! in the Yahoo! Buzz section, as screen-capped here: 

In this format, it was renamed the "Top 9 Most Ridiculous Video Game Products" (they omitted the Sega Saturn to Dreamcast controller converter. Yahoo! shut down its Buzz section sometime in late 2012. This article is being republished here on The Code, backdated to its original date of publication to remain as a record of my writing. 

Consumers spent over $25 billion dollars on video games last year, according to Today's Gamers Survey by Newzoo and TNS. Video games as an industry have been around for over a quarter of a century. Billions of dollars and decades of being around have meant that video games have also given rise to other merchandising efforts: promotional tie-ins, spin-offs, and accessories. With so much history and so much money being spent, there were bound to be a few video game products that were clunkers. Here are the ten of the most ridiculous video game products ever released.

10. Nintendo Cereal System
Released by Ralston in 1989, the Nintendo Cereal System was a limited edition of cereal designed to cash in on the popularity of the Nintendo Entertainment System. The box of cereal was divided into two halves. One half had Super Mario Bros. inspired fruit-flavored Mario pieces, along with mushrooms, Koopa Troopas, Bowsers, and Goombas. The other half promoted The Legend of Zelda and had berry-flavored cereal shapes of Link, along with other items from the video game like shields, boomerangs, hearts and keys. The cereal itself was bland and unexciting, tasting like an even sweeter Trix knockoff, but that wasn't really the main selling point. The back of the box featured Nintendo trading cards, Nintendo stickers and a contest entry to win a Super Mario Bros. cereal bowl, or a Nintendo Power Pad.

Though the cereal was only produced for one year, the flavor of nostalgia is still strong with the gaming enthusiasts of today; sales of vintage boxes of the Nintendo Cereal System often reach a hundred dollars or more on E*bay.

9. Sony Pocketstation

Released in 1999 in Japan, the Pocketstation was a memory card for the Sony Playstation console that had an LCD screen, flash memory and a built-in real-time clock. The Pocketstation garnered some attention in the US when it was announced that Final Fantasy VIII's US release would retain the Pocketstation mini-game present in the Japanese version. Eager gamers who paid the exorbitant import prices were rewarded with the ability to play a Chocobo-themed mini game... and that was about it. After you had paid more than a Game Boy or a Playstation memory card to get a much tinier screen with games that weren't all that fun, and a memory capacity no better than the cheapest memory card, you can understand why most importers were disappointed.

8. Total Control Saturn To Dreamcast Adapter

This device allowed a Sega Dreamcast owner to use Sega Saturn peripherals on the console's successor, the Sega Dreamcast. While the idea behind this device may seem like a good idea at first blush, there are two major problems with this product. First of all, the demand for the Total Control Saturn To Dreamcast Adapter was going to be low in the first place, as the reason the Sega Saturn was discontinued was due to slumping sales. The second problem was that instead of building backwards compatibility for controllers into the console, as Sony has done with its Playstation lineup, Sega was essentially requiring customers to pay for a feature that should have been included in a next generation console.

7. U-Force

Released in 1989 by software company Broderbund, the U-Force was actually a hardware release. It was a controller for the Nintendo Entertainment system that unfolded like a sort of laptop computer and used infrared beams and flat panel sensors to translate the motions the player made in front of it into what the video game would interpret as button presses. It sounded unbelievably futuristic when it was announced, and television commercials showed clips of gamers sticking and moving, unleashing devastating right-left-right punch combinations in Mike Tyson's Punch Out by throwing actual punches.

In practice, the infrared beams were very weak. The motions required a lot of effort to even register, and in many cases, the U-Force made a video game even more difficult to control. It proved to be a critical flop, even years later when IGN named it one of the 10 Worst Controllers of All Time.

6. Wii Hip Street Cheer Pom Poms

Kobian USA released this Nintendo Wii accessory last year, hoping to ride the bandwagon of the spate of cheerleading games on the Wii. For the low, low price of 20 dollars, the Wii Hip Street Cheer Pom Poms can be strapped onto the end of your Wii Remote and Nunchuck controllers, and... do... ...well, that's it. You've now paid 20 dollars for cheaply made pom-poms that dangle off of your Wii controllers and do nothing else. And if you bought this set hoping to make the most popular cheerleader series, We
 Cheer, more fun? Well, you are going to have to buy a second set, as the Wii Hip Street Cheer Pom Poms set has one attachment for a Wii Remote and one attachment for the Nunchuck controller; the We Cheer series uses two Wii Remotes simultaneously.

5. Gamer Grub

It turns out that the 1980s don't have a complete lock on ridiculous video game related food items. Gamer Grub was introduced as a "performance snack formulated especially for gamers" because it was engineered to be grease-free and crumb free so that you wouldn't clog up your keyboards or gunk up your controllers. Also, you didn't have to bother with the restraints of civilization commonly called "utensils". The Gamer Grub package was designed to be torn open and tilted directly at your open mouth so that you could keep playing with your free hand.

As if the one-handed junk food that fed into gamer stereotypes (as well as gamer waistlines) wasn't bad enough, the names of the flavors were laughable. With flavors like Action Pizza, Racing Wasabi, Strategy Chocolate and Sports PB&J, Gamer Grub marketing made the promoters of GoGurt look like geniuses in comparison.

4. Wii Party Station

The Wii Party Station demonstrates why video games and food just don't seem to work well together. Video game accessory maker Nyoko first debuted the Wii Party station prototype at the 2007 Electronic Entertainment Expo. It featured a hand fan unit to cool off sweaty palms, a tiny storage try, and four separate LED screens for presumably keeping score. What drove this accessory from the boring into the ridiculous were all its additional features: four plastic cup holders with freezable liners, and a shallow bowl in the center to store chips and dip.

While storing greasy chips in a chintzy plastic bowl atop a unit that has a hand fan out of a bowling alley might seem to be the key reasons Nyoko sent this product idea back to the drawing board after a much-hyped release, it turns out that the rising prices of oil have made the amount of plastic used for the accessory too expensive. So the world has been spared this plastic monstrosity. For now.

3. Sega Dreamcast Fishing Rod

Released in 1998 alongside the inexplicably popular Sega Bass Fishing video game, this official Sega accessory attempted to make the typical fishing video game more realistic by releasing this video game controller shaped like the fishing rod and reel. Unfortunately, since the Sega Dreamcast games didn't officially support any sort of controller vibration or motion controls, all this gave you was a more frustrating experience as you struggled to use the analog thumbsticks and other buttons attached to a heavy lump of oddly shaped plastic.

2. Power Glove

Released in 1989, the Power Glove was an accessory for the Nintendo Entertainment System that attempted to bring a virtual reality type control to the game console experience. It was a black and white glove that fit over the hand that also contained a joypad and keypad across the forearm. It was an accessory that received prominent product placement in the Nintendo-produced drama-comedy The Wizard, about the adventures of a group of tweens entering a video game contest. The movie's antagonist, Lucas, showed off the Power Glove in what would become an Internet meme two decades later when he uttered the line, "I love the Power Glove. It's so bad."

In the late 80's "bad" was slang for good. But as it turned out, "bad" meaning "not achieving an adequate standard; poor" was much more accurate. Most games were not specifically designed for the alternate range of motion the Power Glove offered, making attempts to play video games designed for use with a standard controller difficult to play. The glove was usually awkward or ill-fitting, and the forearm mounted controller pad usually seemed like it was just in the way. Only two games were ever released for use specifically with the Power Glove. One, Super Power Ball, was packed in with the Power Glove for free. The other game, Bad Street Brawler, was a critical and financial flop. Additionally, both Power Glove designed games could also be played with regular joysticks or controllers, making the Power Glove a superfluous purchase at best.

This list has spanned two decades' worth of video game accessories for many systems. And two of the preceding spots on this list were taken up by two Nintendo Wii accessories. The Wii itself is known for having a number of third-party accessories that add little to the gaming experience, from steering wheel attachments to fake tennis rackets that snap onto the end of a Wii Remote. In such a distinguished field, what video game product could possibly stand apart from the rest? What accessory could soar above the Power Glove to take the throne of number one most ridiculous video game product? Say hello to the...

1. CTA Wings for the Nintendo Wii
The CTA Wings are designed to be used for one specific mini-game for Wii Fit
 Plus game called Bird's-Eye Bull's-Eye. According to The Escapist, the Wings are promised to let you "truly experience what its like to be a bird". How does it accomplish this? It's simple: you take these "wings" that look like over-sized pot holders, slip your hands and arms through the loops, strap on the Wings, and then flap your arms up and down like a bird while holding a Wii Remote.

That's right, the CTA Wings do nothing except make you look even more ridiculous, and all for the sake of a single mini game on a popular title for the Wii.

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