From the Power Glove to Nintendo’s aerobics game, video games have been trying (and failing) for decades to get us up and moving.
Last week, one of my roommates, Paul, got a Nintendo Wii. And we’ve played a fair amount of Wii Sports since then. (We also downloaded the Wii Beer Pong game, which may need an 11 point list of its own.)
Anyway, sitting there, working up a sweat in boxing or actually getting competitive over tennis, I realized that these were very good, active video games.
Which made me think back on some of the worst active video games I’d played. And, these days, whenever I can think of four or five items in a category off the top of my head, I immediately realize it needs to be made into a list…
1 | Sega Activator
I actually played this. For those unfamiliar — which should be most — the Sega Activator was a Genesis controller that, allegedly, used infrared beams to track your movements. You’d lay this octagonal thing on the ground (which was completely impractical for storage, making set up and break down time at least five minutes), stand in the middle of it, and it would use lasers (everyone used to love lasers!) to detect your punches and kicks.
And while it was a good idea, it suffered from one major flaw: It didn’t work. At all. I have no idea how it cleared Sega’s QA department.
I remember when I played it at my friend’s house, we had to move it into a back room in the basement… because the ceiling fan in his living room used to distort the lasers as they extended upward which would mess up their accuracy.
Here’s the instructional video that came with the Activator. I have to admit that I absolutely love the line at 0:45 where the narrator says to avoid placing the Activator under “mirrored ceilings.” Come on! Those are for boning only!
2 | Power Glove
Everyone remembers the Power Glove, mostly because of its product placement in The Wizard (where the mean kid claimed “I love the Power Glove, it’s sooo bad!”)In truth, it was bad… but (with apologizes to Run DMC for this bastardization) not bad meaning good but bad meaning bad. I remember it worked OK for Rad Racer, because the glove motion was practical for driving games. But when you tried to play Mario or Contra or anything like that, it was completely impractical and made it almost impossible to properly move, run or jump.
And, most comically, it was awful for Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, and when my friend Harlan was wearing the Power Glove, it marks the first and only time I’ve ever seen someone get beat by Glass Joe.
3 | Virtual Racquetball
No photos exist of this, nor have I ever played it. But it sounds so hilariously ’80s that I figured it had to be on this list.
In the early ’80s, a company called Autodesk made an entire video game system focused on playing virtual racquetball. You’d hold a racket and wear something on your head, and smash a virtual racquetball around.
As for the truth that the early ’80s racquetball explosion actually happened because “I’m going to play racquetball with my friend Rick” was actually a common code phrase for “I’m going to have gay sex with my friend Rick”… no reports say whether that was incorporated into Virtual Racquetball.
4 | Dance Dance Revolution for Game Boy
My love for Dance Dance Revolution is very well documented. I think it’s one of the most innovative steps in video game history (and should get credit for the Guitar Hero/Rock Band phenomenon). The version for Game Boy completely sullied its good name, by trying to make handheld gamers get more active… with their thumbs.
Instead of being really, really innovative and figuring out a collapsible dance pad or something to plug in, Dance Dance Revolution GB just comes with a special plastic pad you strap to your Game Boy… and work with your fingers.
They made a bunch of sequels to this, and, each time, there was no actual dancing. No activity. No respect for the Dance Dance brand.
5 | Dance Aerobics
Everyone remembersWorld Class Track Meet for the Nintendo Power Pad. No one remembers this.
In theory, it was the early ancestor that begat Dance Dance Revolution. But, in practice, it was not. Because Dance Dance keeps the action going whether or not you can keep up.
Dance Aerobics was more about you learning lame, unrealistic dance moves (because what kind of dancing can really be simulated by stepping on dots on a pad?) So, instead of making you keep up and work hard and get active, the woman on screen would attentively wait for you to do a step before she’d move on.
Dance training and Nintendo were not a strong match.
6 | Atari Joyboard
The Atari Joyboard was the pioneer of active video game peripherals… and it’s pretty much considered a failure. Atari got a little too ambitious too soon, and tried to recreate their joystick controls in a big black plastic foot pad.
I’ve never played on it, but, from every single thing I’ve read, it just wasn’t responsive enough for the little control nuances that video gaming (even on Atari) requires.
I just can’t imagine controlling my Pong paddle by shifting my body up and down.
7 | U-Force
This came out around the same time as the Power Glove for the NES. But it got significantly less fanfare, since no punk blonde kid called it “so bad” in a moderately successful Fred Savage movie.
The U-Force unfolded, kind of like one of the game boards for Battleship. It had infrared sensors on both faces, so you could just wave your hands to control games.
The problem? Just like every other motion detecting controller from that era… it didn’t work right. But this one was SO unresponsive, SO unintuitive and SO unpredictable that might even be the worst.
8 | Batter Up
This was for the Genesis. It was a small stick, covered in foam, with a grip that was supposed to resemble a baseball bat. Really, the thing looked more like a semi-erect light saber.
With Batter Up, one could play any baseball game for Genesis and, instead of using the controller to swing, you’d actually swing the bat. This was OK, however, like all gimmicky controllers, it just didn’t seem to work as well as just hitting the A button at the right time.
Also, it was a bitch when it came time to be in the field… because the Batter Up had a mediocre, poorly laid out controller on the side that made catching, throwing and pitching exponentially more difficult.
9 | World Class Track Meet
This was the signature game for the Power Pad, and kinda good for getting kids off the couch and active.
Unfortunately, it came out in an era when we kids weren’t fat like today’s kids, and we didn’t care about getting up off the couch. No, we were the first video gaming generation, and we were focused on the win.
So instead of actually running in World Class Track Meet, we’d bang our hands rapidly on the Power Pad, because it made your little onscreen guy run faster. Instead of jumping over hurdles, we’d just stop banging on the pad for a second.
All we wanted was the win. Unlike today’s kids. They’re fine with just mincing around.
10 | Roll & Rocker
If it seems like half of this list is stuff for the original Nintendo… there’s a reason. Back then, every company was throwing everything controller they could manufacture out there, trying to get in on the Nintendo craze. And we kids were definitely stupid enough to buy something, even something that barely worked, as long as it looked cool.
(And calling a product the Roll & Rocker was genius… I mean, what was cooler in the late ’80s than rock and roll?! Winger RULEZ!)
I don’t remember where I played the Roll & Rocker, but when I was researching this list and I saw the picture of it, a flood of memories came rushing back.
The Roll & Rocker was a wobbly plastic pad that you had to balance on, and then use your balance to then control the character on screen. If anyone in 1988 had ever heard of core training, perhaps this would’ve been considered some kind of core training.
Unfortunately, we were kids, without fully developed motor skills. And that made it really difficult to get enough balance to make the thing work. It was like these toys we had, which were a giant rubber ball with a plastic ring around them, that you could, theoretically, bounce around on like a pogo stick. But no one could ever balance well enough to make one work.
11 | Giant Keyboard from Big
If Robert Loggia can use it, then it’s not getting your heart rate high enough.