Peripherals. There's something about them, isn't there? Even those plastic guitar controllers, as passé as they are nowadays, seemed at one time like the next big thing in gaming - to the extent that landfills, charity shops and your mum's attic are now full of massively over-produced wannabe Stratocasters and Les Pauls.
But for a while there, we loved them. As did we love other, similarly singular-focused peripherals. They're interesting and exotic - they modify the experience of playing a game in enigmatic ways. Learning to use them skillfully is often as much fun as the experience they're intended to accompany.
Arguably one of the most interesting peripherals of late has been Nintendo's Labo. Very seldom has a video game peripheral required construction before use, let alone that construction being marketed as part of the experience. It hasn't set the world alight yet, but the sensible money says that Nintendo will continue pushing the boundaries of what its cardboard kits can do.
This week, I talked to my colleagues about some of the more interesting gaming peripherals that they remember using, and why the experience has stuck in their mind.
Tom Phillips, News Editor
Donk-ey Konga! womp-womp womp-tap! Donk-ey Kong-aaa! womp-tap womp-tap!
Nintendo's brilliant bongo drum accessory for the GameCube is one of the best and most tactile gaming toys. With its comfortably cushioned drum skins and sturdy plastic sides, it was just big enough to wedge between your knees while perched on the edge of the sofa. And it was so Nintendo. While other rhythm games focussed on the fantasy of playing an instrument and looking as cool as a rock star (spoilers: you didn't), Nintendo's own take played up to the absurdity of what you were actually doing: hammering a little plastic tool of percussion.
Donkey Konga and its sequels were perfect in their simplicity - a string of notes to be played using either one hand, two, or by clapping. (You could, of course, also tap the drum's side - which replicated the latter effect more efficiently.) The songs were suitably odd, too - a mix of '90s pop classics, Nintendo remixes and classical numbers. And then there was Jungle Beat, a Donkey Kong-starring platformer where you used the drums to move.
Support for the bongos dried up after that - sadly, the third Donkey Konga didn't make it to the West - but the accessory itself still holds a pride of place in my collection. And, from time to time, fans still challenge themselves to finish Wii and Wii U games just using the bongo accessory as an input. Like the best video game accessories, they simply feel fun.
Donk! womp! Key! womp! Donkeyyy Konga! womp-womp womp-tap!
Christian Donlan, Features Editor
Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand
I think it was Black and White that would look at the local weather and try to recreate it in game. It's a classic Molyneux-style idea, even if it wasn't Molyneux himself who came up with it. It was definitely Molyneux himself that later apologised for it, though. All it meant was that UK players suffered under grey skies in-game as well as out.
But that suffering is nothing compared to the horrors inflicted by Boktai. What a beautiful, hideous oddity this is: a vampire-hunting game in which you have to harness genuine sunlight, collected via funny little cells on the outside of the cartridge, in order to banish the undead for good.
Boktai is lovely stuff, its dinky pixel art conjuring a world of fragility and fear, while the watercolour backdrops are alternately melancholic and oppressive. What I really remember about struggling through this game during a very unpromising summer, however, is the community around it - a community that I only became aware of as I tried to create workarounds for a lack of sunlight.
Was this the first time I went online for help with a game? Maybe. It was certainly a strange kind of help I was after. If the sun wasn't out and I really needed to make some progress, could I trick the sensor with a torch? With matches? For a while somebody online was sure you could mess with the game using charcoal briquettes. I'm pretty sure you couldn't. I wonder how many houses burned down because of Boktai.
There was at least one sequel, I seem to recall, and the DS sequel opted for an in-game day-and-night system if I have that right? Far more usable, sure, but the pleasure of a gaming peripheral is often the pleasure of overcoming a degree of frustration and inconvenience. Boktai without the online hunt for someone to back up the charcoal briquette theory was not really Boktai.
Johnny Chiodini, Video Editor
I've always loved light guns, ever since trying Duck Hunt on my cousin's NES at the age of maybe four. The tech felt like magic and the NES Zapper produces a lovely metallic *ping!* when you squeeze the trigger all the way, providing a sense of feedback that you didn't really get elsewhere in the days before Rumble Paks and haptic vibration.
As much as I love the zapper, though, my favourite light gun - and favourite peripheral of all time, really - has to be the G-CON 45. They're front heavy, sturdy beasts with a grip that, at the time, seemed frankly massive. They look, frankly, like they were built to bring down helicopters. My brother and I had a pair of these along with Time Crisis and Point Blank for the playstation, and this setup played host to some of my most cherished memories of playing video games as a child - because every time we set up the guns and calibrated them on our dusty CRT television, it felt like an event. It felt like we'd snuck into an arcade and managed to steal the best bits for ourselves.
The G-CON 45 also gave me my first real taste of the power of reflex and muscle memory. Whether it was the 'shoot the leaf' minigame in Point Blank or that preposterous bit in Time Crisis where someone tries to run you over and you just stand there trying to shoot a car dead, my arms knew where to send my shot before it had even registered as a conscious thought. It felt natural and snappy and I know this is going to sound a bit odd, but it genuinely made me a bit more confident - it showed me that my body could be a useful tool at an age when I was all thumbs and toe punts and lingering puppy fat.
I last played with one of these light guns at EGX last year, when I hopped onto a Point Blank arcade in the retro section and wiped the floor with a teenager who challenged me to a match. My CRT might be gone, but I'm delighted to say I've still got it.
What's your favourite weird peripheral? Did you play through the entirety of Resident Evil 4 on that weird chainsaw controller? Or are you just a hardcore fan of The Duke? Let us know below.
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