25 bizarre videogame controllers

Feature Aaron Birch 13 Jun 2014 - 05:59

We take a look at some of the best, and worst, videogame controllers ever conceived by humankind...

In order to create the perfect game controller, a huge amount of research and focus testing has to be performed. All elements of the controller have to be meticulously planned and designed, taking into account ergonomics, functionality, future proofing, battery life, cost to produce, and much more. Of course, the controllers have to appeal to the end user too.

Game controllers have evolved a great deal from the one or two button pads and joysticks of yesteryear, and we've arguably found the pinnacle of the technology with the PlayStation's DualShock, and the Xbox 360's wireless pad. These controllers tick all the boxes, being comfortable, functional and good all 'round devices. There are few faults, and certainly nothing amazing about them, they simply do their job, which is the most important feature of any controller.

Not all game controllers are created equal, however, and throughout gaming's history, we've been treated to some of the most bizarre and downright crazy input devices ever created. Devices that are so outlandish, or just plain pointless that they deserve to be recognised, for good, and bad.

So, we thought we'd share some of our favourite weird and wonderful game controllers in existence with you, rounding up 25 of the most unique, and often laughable devices out there.

Before we begin, we should note a couple of ground rules. First, these controllers are, or were commercially available. We're not going to include custom made one-offs or prototypes, and these have to be finished, retail units. Second, we're not going to focus on the less tasteful area of controllers, such as the myriad sex-toy devices available in Japan and elsewhere. They're bizarre, yes, but really? Do we need to go there? We'll steer clear of these thankyouverymuch. Oh, and the Virtual Boy is not a controller, it was a console, so doesn't count, so you won't find it here (but yeah, it was very, very bad).

With that out of the way, let's begin with the good, and not so good gaming controllers.

Wu Tang: Shaolin Style pad – PlayStation

As an actual device, this isn't all that crazy. It's just a basic controller underneath, after all. The problem here is that the control pad functionality lies within one of the most badly designed game controller housings you're likely to see.

We get that it was to promote the Wu-Tang Clan fighting game, Shaolin Style, and that the idea of a Wu-Tang logo-shaped pad may have been cool at the time, but look at it. Just look at it! Not only would you have to be some sort of alien for this to actually be comfortable to use, but it featured no analog sticks, and no vibration feature, two inclusions we've come to expect from any decent controller.

Still, for Wu-Tang Clan fans, either of the music or the game, this is probably one of the best controllers ever. And hey, even if you didn't use it for gaming, you could channel Flavor Flav and wear it as bling.

Sega Fishing Rod – Dreamcast

It's no secret that fishing games are very popular in Japan, so much so that the Dreamcast even got it's very own fishing rod controller. Yep, if you're a big fan of Sega's Bass Fishing, and want the most authentic armchair angling experience you can get, this controller is for you.

It features motion sensing capabilities so you can hook your catch with a quick upward thrust, and has a reel on the side to land that elusive trophy. And you know what? It actually works. Even though we can hardly say the idea of a fishing game is all that entertaining to us, this controller made it real enough that it becomes far more enjoyable. Scary.

The motion control capabilities can even be used to control some other games in a limited fashion, including Namco's Soul Calibur, although Siegfried, Taki and Co. never manage to catch their dinner with it.

Namco NeGcon – PlayStation

What's better for racing game fans than a game controller in the shape of a steering wheel? A game controller that makes the action of wringing out a wet towel into a driving mechanic, that's what. That's just what this oddball controller from Namco does. A standard game pad on the face of things, this PlayStation controller also features a twisting steering control situated in the middle of the pad. By twisting it, you can use the pad to turn the wheel of your vehicle, supposedly simulating a real driving experience. It also features triggers used for accelerate and brake.

Now we don't know about you, but the last time we checked, driving a car is nothing like giving someone a Chinese burn, so it's a mystery why this idea managed to make it into the light of day. It did though, and crazily enough, it isn't all that bad, even if it is a silly premise.

R.O.B. - NES

Ahhhh, good old R.O.B. Any gamer of the NES generation will remember this incredible piece of robotic plastic. Surely one of Nintendo's most ambitious projects, and one of its biggest misguided failures, R.O.B., or Robotic Operating Buddy, goes down in history as an idea that should have been killed off in the planning stage.

The idea, in essence, was pretty simple. Create a seemingly intelligent robotic buddy for gamers to play with. A companion that could enable two-player titles with only one human, and could interact with, and actually control the game. It would use existing optical technology, already used by light guns like Nintendo's own Zapper, to receive signals, which would trigger it to press certain buttons on a standard NES pad. Tricky? Yes. Impossible? No, not really. Well, that's not unless you let one of your hardware boffins go crazy and over-engineer it, creating a nightmarish and overly complex system that could fail and almost any point. And fail it did.

You see, instead of simply creating a robot that pushed individual buttons prompted by signals from the TV, Nintendo created an amazingly unwieldy and sluggish system that makes R.O.B. pick up and place spinning tops onto pressure pads that then, in turn, presses buttons on the controller. Not only is this a slow and laborious process, making for painfully slow game progression, but, more often than not, it doesn't work. R.O.B. will often drop the spinning tops before moving them into place, and instructions sent to the unit are misread, or missed entirely.

It's a pointless mess, and with only two games compatible with it, Gyromite and Stack-up, it didn't take long for R.O.B. to be scrapped. And, when it's far easier to simply program a game to feature AI, without any pointless hardware guff, what's the point? Oh yeah, money.

Steel Battalion – Xbox

One of the most expensive units on this list, the mammoth controller for the original Xbox's Steel Battalion is a prime example of hardcore fandom. You really did have to be a fully paid up mech fanatic to warrant this purchase, which set gamers back around $200 (£130), and that's back in 2002, long before the ridiculously expensive collector's editions we have now.

The controller is a huge beast, comprising the main console and foot pedal unit. The console features two joysticks and 40 buttons to control every aspect of your mech in the complex and difficult game, and there are three pedals on the foot unit.

There's no doubting this is an impressive sight to behold, and nowhere else will you get a more realistic mech experience. The issue here on release was the steep price, overly complex controls alienating all but the most hardcore fan, and the fact that the game itself could only be played with the controller, which wouldn't work with any other game. That's an expensive proposition, even if it is very cool.

Palmtop Controller – PlayStation

You know those dance games where you jump around on a dance mat, inputting simple dance moves with your feet - you know - because they're dance games, and you like dancing? Well, what if, rather oddly, you like dance games, but don't like actually like dancing?

Well, rejoice! Because the Palmtop Controller is here. Yes, if the thought of burning a few calories by performing a few simple steps is enough to make you break into a cold sweat and run for the fridge for comfort, you don't have to panic, and can use this controller to play a dance game right in the palm of your own hand. Let your fingers do the dancing, totally negating the point of the game entirely. Hurrah!

Alright, so that may be a bit harsh, but seriously? Not only is this just a daft idea that wouldn't appeal to people who bought the games in the first place (because they like the actual action of dancing) and those who don't wouldn't be interested anyway, but you can just do the same thing using a normal game pad. Pointless.

Resident Evil Chainsaw – GameCube

One of the most memorable bits of Capcom's excellent Resident Evil 4 has to be the early village battle where you eventually get assaulted, and often grotesquely beheaded, by a chainsaw wielding freak sporting a rather fetching braces and burlap potato head-sack combo. The sound of that chainsaw revving up whilst you're desperately trying to survive an already deadly wave of Ganados is nerve jangling to say the least.

Well, how would you like to slaughter your way through the game with that very chainsaw as a very nifty, but ultimately amazingly uncomfortable, finger-snapping controller? You would? Then you've come to the right place!

Created by Nuby for the GameCube version of the survival horror (a PS2 version was also released), this is a great-looking controller, complete with blood splattering and display stand, but it's just impossible to play the game with for any length of time, making it more of a collectors curiosity than a real controller.

Power Glove – NES

Surely one of the most hyped, and desired controllers of any self-respecting 80s gamer, not least thanks to its inclusion in Fred Savage movie, The Wizard, the Nintendo Power Glove is an infamously bad piece of gaming hardware.

As with many of Nintendo's random attempts to reinvent game controllers, the idea was simple – place a controller onto a glove, enabling gameplay with a single hand, including the ability to use motions gestures. Today, that wouldn't be much of a problem, but back in the 80s, the technology simply didn't cut it. Not only do you have to carefully place the clunky sensors onto your TV in a very clumsy manner, but the glove itself isn't sensitive enough, and fails to control almost every game. And that's after you enter the individual game code into it to enable the glove's input in the first place.

Have you ever played on a Wii where the remote is running low on batteries and often struggles to send or receive inputs? Well, that's as good as the Power Glove gets, a hit and miss travesty of confused input commands and frustrated arm waving. Nasty.

Nintendo may have marketed the glove as the controller that all the shades, leather jacket and white T-shirt wearing gamers were using back then, but after five minutes with this, you'd be anything but cool.

Tony Hawk Ride Skateboard – Various

It doesn't work! Need we say more? This was one of those ideas that must have looked so good on paper when desperately trying to breathe life into an ailing franchise that had been flogged like the proverbial deceased equine. Sadly, the execution of the project was woeful in the extreme, producing a controller that simply doesn't work, and makes Tony Hawk's Ride unplayable, further adding to the demise of the once great series.

To be fair, it could have been a good idea, and the thought of being able to actually pull off tricks in your living room without the risk of scraped knees or shattered skull sounded promising to some degree. Sadly, the board is unresponsive and plain impossible to use. As it doesn't even have wheels, you can't even use it as a normal skateboard. Meh.

Wii Bowling Ball – Wii

We loved the gimmick of Wii bowling when the console first arrived with its promise of motion control revolution and a copy of Wii Sports. It was a fun game, pure and simple, but, did it really require an actual bowling ball controller? No it didn't. But someone released one anyway.

The Wii Bowling Ball is just that, a bowling ball-style case for your Wii remote, and a blatant grab for gullible gamer cash. Once encased inside the ball, you can hold the heavier, ball-shaped controller, and use it to mimic an actual bowling session, you know, like you already did using a normal Wii remote. So, who thought this up? Do they still work in the industry?

Samba De Amigo Maracas – Dreamcast

If you've never played Samba De Amigo, then you should, it's fantastic. One of the best rhythm games you can find, it's very different to most of the standard dance games around, mainly due to the use of the maracas controller.

Using these weighted rattles, you can dance and shake in time with the music, and the whole experience is brilliant. What's more, Sega managed to create a perfect set of maracas for the Dreamcast, and these worked like a charm in tandem with the dance mat sensor. They were perfectly weighted, the right size, and even functioned as normal maracas.

They're very difficult to get hold of these days, commanding high prices on eBay, but if you're a fan it's still worth seeking out the DC version, as the later Wii version, which didn't even feature maracas, instead uses a horribly inaccurate Wii remote control system and pales in comparison.

Sega Activator – Mega Drive

You have to hand it to Sega. With the Activator it created the first commercially available full-body motion gaming controller, long before Nintendo made wrist-waggling fashionable. The issue here is that it simply doesn't really work as advertised, and if it had, it would require a serious level of fitness in order to make use of. Well, that's if you believed the adverts at the time, which you shouldn't.

Whilst the commercials showed players mimicking martial arts movie stars with all sorts of kicks, punches and acrobatic moves, the actual product simply needs basic, non-athletic movements to manipulate the action on screen.

Simply waving your hand over the section of the Activator mapped to a button is sufficient (and advised in the insturctions), and the device has 16 different inputs that can each be set to a different control. This amounts to a totally pointless controller that does litle more than make you make you stand up whilst playing, lightly gesturing to press buttons when you could do that same in a far more accurate manner from the comfort of your sofa with a normal control pad. And as the controller isn't supposed to be used in an athletic manner, it loses any potential exercise benefit, even if it did originally advertise itself as such.

Dream Machine – various

Unveiled at E3 in 2005, this full-body controller utilises four-way pan and tilt control and full body movement to play almost any game on any platform. It takes the whole fitness controller to another level. As well as the stand-up option, you can fit a seat to the unit, which can also be used to control games, especially useful for racing games and the like.

Does it work? Well, kind of, but any appeal is quickly lost when you see the price of the unit. At around $1,700, it's a serious investment, and for the same price you could buy tons of games, and several systems. We know what we'd rather buy.

Rail Driver

Just as fishing games are surprisingly popular, especially in Japan, so are train driving titles. Instead of driving a car or bike that can go anywhere, why not control a vehicle that can only go forwards or backwards along a set track? Sound like fun? Well, this controller is for you.

The Rail Driver is arguably one of the most fully-featured train driving controllers we've seen, and according to the sales blurb for the unit, it'll make you “feel like you're driving a train, not a computer.” Hmmm, okay then.

It cost around $200 on release, and features a full selection of levers, switches and buttons, presumably to emulate the same kind of control you'd find in a real train. That's over 30 buttons, several switches and four big levers to pull and twiddle with whilst you drive various trains around the world. Choo, choo!

Katana: The Soul – PlayStation

It's amazing to think that we could find a controller that could actually make the Wu-Tang pad look like an ergonomic masterpiece, but find one we did. Setting you back around $150, is this sword-shaped PlayStation pad is arguably one of the worst designed game controllers we've ever seen, and we struggle to see how the designer could even begin to explain how this could be used to play anything, let alone Onimusha 3, which it was released to celebrate.

It does look very cool, especially when perched on its stand, but how are you supposed to use it? The analog sticks and d-pad are in a terrible configuration, and the actual face buttons are grouped together right next to the Start and Select buttons.

Clearly designed as a collector's piece rather than an actual functional controller, it's impressive that effort was put into this to make it a working unit, but maybe it would have been better to stick with a simple replica katana to offer with the game instead.

The Slime – PlayStation

If you're a fan of the Dragon Quest series, you're probably already digging out your credit card and looking online to find where to buy this. And as far as game-themed controllers goes, this is undeniably great. The Slime is a very popular, and iconic character from the Dragon Quest series, and this controller is a perfect reproduction of it, complete with a fully functional controller situated in its backside. Ouch! Painful.

The problem here is the shape, as is the case with many game-themed controllers. Not only is the actual shape of the controller bulbous and uncomfortable to hold for prolonged periods, but you have to balance its pointy head on a table or your lap if you're going to rest it down on something (it did include a stand, however). The curved nature of the creature also makes reaching the d-pad and buttons more of a chore too. Still, this remains one of the better franchise-style controllers out there, certainly better than the Onimusha sword.

Sonic Screwdriver – Wii

It's a Wii remote in the shape of the eleventh Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver, do we really have to qualify this one? As far as marketing ideas go, this is certainly one that fits. The Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver is already Wii remote-shaped, so little needs to be done to alter the already existing design, and the motion control nature also fits, as the Doctor often waves his Screwdriver around like a loon. What's more, the unit features a built-in rechargeable battery, making it even more useful and convenient than the standard Wii remote.

It's an entirely win, win situation for this controller. It looks great, feels good to use, and actually works, even bettering the original controller. Now all we need is a good Doctor Who game to play on the Wii. Ah well...

Konami LaserScope – NES

If holding a lightweight Zapper in front of you to play the likes of Duck Hunt was a little too much effort, or you thought you simply didn't look stupid enough, you could make use of this ridiculous piece of head gear.

Konami's LaserScope is essentially a head-mounted light gun, only it constantly projects a red laser onto the screen, eliminating any manual aiming challenge, and to fire you don't pull a trigger, you actually shout “fire!” It's the gaming equivalent of playing cowboys when your were little, making a gun shape with your hand and shouting “bang, bang!”

Of course, the sight of it made it instantly attractive to younger gamers back on its initial release, and in terms of marketing, it was a great idea by Konami. In hindsight, however, it's an awful controller. It can be used as a normal pair of headphones though, although you wouldn't really want to wear them out in public.

Mortal Kombat Kontrol Pad – PlayStation

If there's one thing that's always mystified us about the Mortal Kombat games, it's the decision to make the fatalities and other finishing moves so secret and so hard to pull off. This violence and gore is arguably the game's biggest selling point, so hiding it away and making it so inaccessible is just crazy. We've hankered for single button-press fatalities for characters for a long time, but so far the games have failed to deliver. There is a way, though, in the form of this unique game controller.

The Mortal Kombat Kontrol Pad, available in MKII and MKIII variations, is a standard controller that sports four extra buttons. By inserting SMART card cartridges into the slot on the unit, you can program these buttons to perform specific moves, including special attacks and fatalities.

Various cards were available wit hthe pads when released, with various different characters on each, and the pads are even compatible with other games, such as rival scrapper, Street Fighter II.

It was a good idea, if an expensive one, but for fans of the games, this is a great way to easily enjoy all the titles have to offer, easily. Sadly, though, each controller only came with certain cartridges, so you'd have to buy extra controllers, hunt for the cards online, or pick the units that includes carts for the characters you want. This means most simply memorise the move combinations with normal pads, it's cheaper.

Trance Vibrator (Rez) – Various

We like ourselves a good bit of Rez here at Den Of Geek, and any way to enhance the already great game is certainly welcome, and if you purchased the special edition of the game, you'd have that with the Trance Vibrator.

Now, we've already said we're steering clear of sexual-themed controllers, but there's no denying that this controller has those carnal connotations (just Google it. But not at work). It was designed to be worn whilst playing, and can vibrate in time with the music, the major sensory feedback feature of the game. The result is surprisingly good, and Rez is the perfect choice for this kind of physical feedback.

That said, the aforementioned sexual angle is inescapable, and maybe some of this could have been avoided if the product wasn't called a vibrator. There's a reason market research and common sense exists...

Phantasy Star Online GameCube controller – GameCube

Sega's Phantasy Star Online was one of the first ever online RPGs for console, and it was great. The original version of the game on Dreamcast could make use of the console's keyboard peripheral to make talking to others easier than using the limited pre-set phrases, or typing messages out with the on-screen keyboard.

For the GameCube release, this mammoth controller was released by Sammy, and it merged the GameCube controller with a keyboard to produce one of the most unwieldy pads ever devised.

The standard GameCube controller were split in two, with a full keyboard slapped in the middle. When we say split in two, we mean it. As you can see, the normal GameCube controller has been hacked apart, complete with hand grips, and a keyboard has been welded to the pieces.

Now at first glance, you may think this is a good idea, and to some degree, it is, but what when you're actually playing the game? Are you supposed to pickup and hold this huge controller? The hand grips suggest so, and playing the game with this resting on a table is awkward to say the least. We'd prefer a separate controller and keyboard option like the Dreamcast if you don't mind.

U-Force – NES

Here's another entry from Nintendo, and another example of a company needing to show some restraint in getting ideas from the drawing board to market. You know what, Nintendo? Some ideas are just bad, and shouldn't be released.

The U-Force is one such example, and what an example it is. It looks like a mutant version of Battleship, and was designed by Brøderbund to be a motion controller that can read a gamer's hand gestures, eliminating the need for physical pads. By waving and moving your hands within he unit's sensory range between the two surfaces, you can fly as a pilot in Top Gun, punch like a champ in Punch Out, and even play Mario without a controller. The problem? It doesn't work.

The U-Force constantly fails to detect hand motions, and when it does it performs the wrong action in the game. Even games with amazingly simply control setups, like Punch Out, are rendered nigh-on unplayable.

Laughably, some sales blurb read, “Introducing U-Force, the revolutionary controller for your Nintendo Entertainment System. So hot, no one can touch it.” Very true, only there were different reasons for people not wanting to touch it.

Paradox - PlayStation 2

Here's a special controller that could actually be a great idea. The Paradox for the PlayStation 2 is a standard DualShock pad that replaces the right-hand analog stick for a trackball. This is intended to make playing some games, specifically real time strategy titles, easier, and more in-line with their PC counterparts.

We've, sadly, not had the chance to try one, as only so many were produced, but the 'reflex control' system sounds like an interesting addition that could actually replicate a PC input experience on console, without having to have an actual separate mouse and mouse pad.

The problem with this design, however, is that the pad would make playing other games very difficult indeed, meaning it would only be useful for certain titles, limiting its appeal.

Roll & Rocker – NES

Many game controllers can be misguided, or badly designed, but few could actually end up making you break your neck. The Roll & Rocker from NES shovelware developer, LJN, is a disastrous idea that's an injury lawsuit waiting to happen.

It's a platform on top of a ball that allows gamers to steop onto it, and rock the unit around in order to control the NES' d-pad. Does this sound like a good idea, or a genuine way to enhance your enjoyment of Mario? We're betting the answer is no, and that's fortunate, as it's a horrible controller to use.

Not only does it make playing every game a total nightmare, accompanied by the constant falling off the unit, but it also makes for some very sore legs. It was a truly terrible idea, and another one we're surprised even made it to market. As Devil Doll might say, “We rock and roll and roll and rock!”

Nintendo Hands Free controller – NES

Okay, let's be serious. We've taken a few cheeky pokes at some of the controllers listed here, but this next offering from Nintendo deserves actual attention, as it's a very respectable effort.

The Nintendo Hands Free controller is an early example of a controller designed for those with disabilities that prevents them from using a standard game pad or joystick. It's a large unit that's worn by the player, and it uses a straw attachment that interprets blowing as a push of the A button, and sucking as B. A chin-mounted pad can be used as the D-pad, opening up the NES catalogue to those who would otherwise be unable to enjoy their favourite pastime. Great stuff.

That rounds off our 25 bizarre controllers, but of course, there are many, many other crazy creations for gaming out there, so feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments.

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