Shame Is Plastic: 6 Gaming Peripherals of Dubious Quality (Uncut)

[Editor’s Note: This article was published by VentureBeat in 2012 under the above title however the content of the article was subject to heavy editing by the publisher for length and content; the original list of ten items was brought down to six and many of the less politically correct jokes were removed or replaced. The article’s republication on TwilightFoundry.com includes the original content.]

In the years I’ve partook in video games as a hobby and source for journalistic inspiration I too have experienced the phenomenon known as “Buyer’s Remorse.” In most instances the effect wasn’t immediate – otherwise I’d have returned the item unless I inadvertently broke it while trying to use it (e.g. the Tiger R-Zone) – but for one reason or another I regret purchasing, fawning over, or being excited about all of the following:

 

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It’s not very often that you can get burned by the same console’s add-ons twice, not unless you bought both the HD-DVD player and Kinect for the Xbox 360. When the Mega CD was released for the Sega Genesis I happily nabbed myself one of the devices and then the moment I took it home and tried it out I realized I had made a terrible mistake. Let me just spell it out this way: one of this platform’s launch titles was Make My Video: Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch. Whether or not you subscribe to the belief that “console launch titles have an excuse to be bad” let me remind you that this is a game where your entire directive is to make a music video…

…for a Mark Wahlberg rap song.

When the 32X showed up I was hesitant to adopt the technology seeing as how the last Genesis “upgrade” was akin to installing Windows 3.1 on an Alienware computer but I took the bait (and edgy 90’s advertising) anyways and took home a device that made my ailing Genesis look like it had some kind of cancerous growth both on its head and coming out the side of its ass. Plus there were wires. Oh god, the wires. There were so many criss-crossing cords and three AC power cables that I couldn’t even play the damn thing without either unplugging one of the add-ons or getting one of those 6-way power strips. And for what? A version of Doom that was missing almost a dozen levels in exchange for two extra tracks in Virtua Racing DX? Sounds like a completely legitimate deal. My dead grandparents have aged better than these things.

Revisited in 2012: One of the handful of important cables to my 32X has been lost to the sands of time and thus I cannot actually use it anymore. I do, however, possess a JVC XEye – a Sega Genesis and built-in Mega CD combo console – because apparently being so dissatisfied with the console the first time around led me to eventually buy a second one. Must have been a drunken impulse buy.

I decided to confront an old nemesis in the form of Marky Mark himself and booted up his sole venture into the gaming world. Guess what? You’d be surprised to learn that not a whole lot has changed in the two decades it’s been since this thing’s release. I honestly forgot how poorly the Mega CD handled video compression; it’s like I’m staring at an over-compressed GIF of a shirtless Wahlberg rapping about Sunkist. I have a giant TV now, something I only dreamed of in the nineties, and good lord does this thing look atrocious on my television. It looks like someone added bacon bits to a lentil soup and dumped it on top of a Powerpoint presentation.

And honestly? I think that’s the first time anybody’s ever used that phrase to describe Make My Video. I feel like I’ve accomplished something here.

 

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I’ll just be out with it, voice commands and video games do not work. At all. I can appreciate the novelty of Hey You, Pikachu but that’s all this game is: a novelty. And a shitty one at that. I don’t know what the deal was with Pokemon and the Nintendo 64 but for some unknown reason pretty much every Pokemon title except for Stadium was terrible and Pikachu’s solo venture into the world of 64 bits stands as a testament to that notion.

There is only one game in the North American market for the N64 that uses the VRU (“Voice Recognition Unit”, because “microphone” isn’t cool enough). This is it. I can’t even tell you what the microphone quality is like because there simply isn’t a way for me to figure that out. I don’t know if Pikachu can’t understand me because the mic is terrible, the recognition software is terrible, Pikachu is retarded, or all three. The first time I played this game “let down” doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. Honestly, I have a hard time putting myself in the shoes of my younger years remembering this game because I’m about 99% sure I was anticipating something terrible to begin with. As a kid, one of my neighbors had one of those stupid “laser helmet” things for the NES where you could yell “FIRE” and it would shoot the screen. It was a glorified Zapper and it sucked because the aiming reticule didn’t line up with the lens that fired.

To be honest I should have just made this entry in honor of that goofy-ass helmet. Maybe I compared Hey You, Pikachu to the glorified Zapper because that’s exactly what this piece of trash is, a glorified Zapper.

Revisited in 2012: I’ve been making fun of video games for too long. I don’t have the patience for this shit. There is nothing redeemable about this game or its peripheral. You can’t even get anything funny to happen by tilting the cartridge. What a waste of time.

 

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Before I begin I want to clarify that there is a difference between a special edition console and a “console skin”. A “faceplate” is something I am dropping into the limbo between the two because depending on what it is it may very well be a total piece of shit. Allow me to elaborate. Plain Nintendo DS? Okay. Limited edition Pokemon Nintendo DS? Pretty neat. Nintendo DS with a shitty Nerf faceplate snapped onto it? Eeehh. Nintendo DS with a fucking sticker on it? What in the hell is the matter with you?

A video game console is extremely difficult to “jazz up”. Not that all of them look beautiful to begin with (yes I’m looking at you original Xbox) but it’s pretty easy to immediately and permanently make your console look like utter ass. I personally have never put a skin on any console I’ve ever owned, and I say that with immense pride. Even if I were to have purchased a skin with beautiful artwork that complimented the shape and color of the console it’s applied to it’s still a sticker and as such it must abide by all the rules of stickers including the one where you can never and will never apply it straight. You can whip out a ruler, protractor, and a compass and make reference points all over the console but the moment you peel the skin from its backing to ready it for application it will fly out of your hands and fasten itself to the system sideways.

I’ve never personally applied a skin but I’ve inherited a console that had one already applied to it when I got it. It was a Nintendo DS and when it was given to me it appeared as though the previous owner loved Pokemon but didn’t love it enough to A) put the fucking lid sticker on facing the right way and B) resist the urge to attach all of the surrounding chaff to the inside of the DS when all was said and done. I don’t know who formerly owned this handheld but to this day I wish nothing but harm to come upon them mostly because the skin was a cheap paper one from eBay that did not come off at all.

Revisited in 2012: To this day I attest that there is not a single console skin that is acceptable for use. There are only limited edition consoles, faceplates, and professional console mods. If you have vinyl stickers custom cut to your shapes and specifications maybe I’ll give you credit, but if you’re the type to slap a promotional GameStop skin on your console then I don’t want to know you.

 

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I am notoriously spiteful and hateful toward Pokémon Snap, the North American market’s debut Pokémon franchise title on the Nintendo 64; when Snap was released in the United States there was already a Pokémon Stadium available in Japan and that simply didn’t sit well with me. When Stadium was finally announced for release in the States I was ecstatic to say the least.

When they said you could use this device called a “Transfer Pak” to trade your Pokémon Red and Blue teams into the Nintendo 64 I just about shit myself. This may or may not be hyperbole.

For the first few weeks of having the Transfer Pak I relentlessly used it to upload every single Pokémon I had ever captured into Pokémon Stadium and meticulously stormed through the quest to unlock the fabled Surfing Pikachu in Pokémon Yellow. Non-stop Pokémania 24/7 all day erry day. Then, as quickly as it started, support for the Transfer Pak dropped completely. Outside of Japan the only other games that supported the Transfer Pak were Perfect Dark with its atrocious Game Boy Color port, Mario Golf, Mario Tennis, and fucking Mickey’s Speedway USA.

Your options were essentially “Pokémon or that shitty Mickey Mouse rip-off of Mario Kart 64” while over in Japan the Transfer Pak was boasting connectivity between Mario Paint and the Game Boy Camera. No thank you, Nintendo.

Revisited in 2012: Every single accessory released for the Nintendo 64 was a load of crap, and I can say that with a clear conscience because there was technically only two of them: the Transfer Pak and the Voice Recognition Unit for Hey You, Pikachu!

The Transfer Pak still works fine for the purpose it’s intended to serve. I can still use it to trade my decade-old Pokémon into Pokémon Stadium and I can still use it as an awkward middleman to play Pokémon Blue on my television, you know, in case I manage to misplace my Super Game Boy. With the exception of being able to transfer my battle hardened pocket monsters into another game the Transfer Pak is wholly and entirely worthless. Do I look like the kind of jackass that not only owns Mickey’s Speedway USA for N64 but also GBC and am dying to do whatever it is that game could do with the Transfer Pak? I’ve never played that game, and I never intend to, because I don’t fit the criteria to be in that game’s demographic: I am not a socially challenged 10-year-old nor am I a child predator.

 

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Believe it or not when I’m not livid about what a rip-off Kinect was or busy sperging it up about Pokémon glitches I enjoy funneling my creative energy into drawings and sketches. Right here at my work desk I have several hundred dollars of Prismacolor pencils and art supplies sitting on a shelf dedicated to just that. I’ve always been hesitant to own a tablet for my computer because I’m old fashioned and I prefer traditional handmade-on-real-paper artwork. No fill buckets, no color palettes for easy shading, no undo button; just pure talent and self-discipline.

However GameStop.com was selling uDraws for $20 in December so I figured I might as well bite and get a tablet for twenty bucks because in all honesty that seemed like a good deal and it actually was. The problem with the uDraw on the other hand is that it’s intended for kids. I realized this when I bought it but I had no idea just how dumbed-down this thing was going to be.

The tablet is nice. uDraw: Instant Artist, the “software” for the device, is not. The minigames are an enjoyable timewaster but that isn’t why I bought the tablet; I bought it to draw and that’s where the issues are. First, you can draw faster than the tablet can keep track of. I don’t know if this is a problem present on PC tablets as well but I’m so used to sketching with pencils and the like that my hand movements are very rapid and in quick succession. The uDraw doesn’t like this and lags behind me. Secondly, there is no “layer” function meaning that I cannot draw guidelines on a sub-layer and then add finalized lineart and coloring on additional ones. Finally, there’s this thing called a “Paint Meter”. It’s a limitation on the amount of lines and color you can have on the screen at one time. For all the perceived RAM and storage space of the Xbox 360 there’s a fucking limit on the amount of creativity you can execute with this thing. I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself “oh I can use the eraser tool and it’ll refill the Paint Meter”, but you’d be wrong.

Somehow, in some bizarre catch-22 universe-shattering paradox, using the eraser also uses up paint.

I feel like an ass because honestly the uDraw is a really nice peripheral for the Xbox; the software is just utter trash and because of it the enjoyability of the tablet ceases to exist.

Revisited in 2012: Considering the fact that I only bought the thing a month ago and used it recently, I’m fairly certain not much has changed regarding my feelings toward it in 2012. Let me check. Nope, still dissatisfied.

 

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Words cannot express the joy I felt when I first got this device. Actually, that’s kind of a problem now that I look at it. I probably should find some words to allocate to that joy otherwise this’ll be a short entry on the list. I loved this thing. I loved it more than life itself back when it was new. When I purchased my Game Boy Camera the printer actually came bundled with it and I promptly burned up an entire roll of paper on all of the pictures of mundane crap I took those first few days.

Then I realized you could make stickers out of these things.

Everything became a sticker. When I bought Super Mario Bros. DX (the best re-release of the game, for the record) and discovered the entire sticker menu locked away inside of it my excitement attained prompt critical proportions and the rest of my paper went down the drain. On my wooden VCR shelf, which has now been repurposed as a place to hold my Xbox 360, I still have the “Nintendo Entertainment System” banner sticker I printed out with Super Mario Bros. DX all those years ago. Somewhere in a storage unit in south Texas sits an entire shoebox full of Pokédex printouts from Pokémon Yellow. That’s how fond my memories of the Game Boy Printer are.

Revisited in 2012: It’s been a long while since I’ve played with this. For the longest time it sat on a small shelf with my other Game Boy games and handhelds just because I liked the way it looks. When I started writing this article I had forgotten how needlessly intricate this was which is why I mouthed the words “are you shitting me” when I took the battery door off of the Game Boy Printer and rediscovered that it takes about $5 worth of AA batteries (6) to operate. Six. That’s three Game Boys. I could have a Pokémon link battle with myself and pay someone else to take pictures of the occasion with my archaic digital camera with that many batteries.

Six batteries later I powered on the printer and it buzzed to life. I smiled. Then I connected my Game Boy (with camera) to the printer and decided to print the first picture I ever took with the device (yes I’ve saved it all these years): a photo of me making a goofy grin with my name improperly centered below it. The printer began buzzing and humming and the paper began emerging from under the jagged metal paper-ripper-strip-thing. When the picture was halfway through its printing job I knew there was a problem. The paper was all blotchy and messed up; the picture looked terrible.

As it turns out the printer paper apparently has a shelf life. It’s thermal paper, e.g. the stuff that every fast food and grocery store receipt is printed on, and when it’s opened it can somehow “go bad”. The entire remainder of the roll that was loaded into the printer had expired like it was a gallon of milk. Guess what? That was also my last roll, and they kind of don’t sell that paper anymore. As it turns out you can use any thermal paper roll in the printer as a replacement, but none of those are sticker rolls.

So screw it.

 

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Third-party accessory companies will create a fix for anything. From ridiculous magnifying lenses for Game Boys to automatic firing mechanisms for the Atari 2600 and even to the aforementioned NES Zapper that you wear on your damn head if there’s an idea someone will pursue it no matter how stupid it is. The Xbox 360 cooling station is one of those creations. The moment news started spreading that the death of first-gen 360’s was more of a “when” than an “if” companies like Pelican (pictured in the header graphic) stepped up to create a myriad of goofy-ass “cooling” devices for the starcrossed system in a shoddy effort to let gamers futilely prolong the life of their system.

They weren’t selling you a panacea for your shitty launch console, they were selling you a hunk of junk that actually drew power from the USB ports of the Xbox 360 and in most cases did the complete opposite of what they were intended to do because of it. Slapping a micro PC fan or two into a hunk of plastic is not going to cool the system down; that’s what the Xbox 360 had to begin with and it clearly wasn’t working the first time around.

Revisited in 2012: These devices simply aren’t needed anymore. Like a tapeworm without a host to infect every Xbox 360 cooling stand is now even more of a waste than it was five years ago not because Microsoft fixed the problem or anything like that, but because there is no more population to infect and leech power from. The cooling stands killed them all. Mission completed, or mission failure?

My cooling stand serves no purpose now other than a grim reminder that I was not only floozed out of money but that the quality of gaming consoles has left a lot to be questioned in recent years; my Xbox 360 ascended to that big anti-warranty in the sky long ago. I don’t remember needing a fan for my Sega Genesis and I certainly don’t remember my Atari 2600’s chips melting off. Pardon me while I continue to wax nostalgically about classic gaming in a very biased manner.

 

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Save for maybe a Dance Dance Revolution pad never in my life have I seen a peripheral so fucking obtuse as the drum set from Rock Band. This god damn thing takes up so much space they may as well have advertised it as a piece of furniture because believe it or not Amazon will sell you an ottoman that this stupid thing will fit inside of to make it less of an eye sore than it already is. Look, this is really unprecedented but I’ve never heard of a piece of dedicated furniture where you can hide a shitty gaming peripheral. I just want to point that out. I can’t think of a single device in the history of gaming where someone had the bright idea of just hiding it in a damn ottoman to get rid of it.

Nobody I know knows how to play the drums on Rock Band. No one. They either have a golden voice or they suck at singing and just play the guitar instead. Maybe it’s because my friends and I are all white and thus none of us have a sense of rhythm but whatever the case the drums from this game are absolutely worthless. The pedal breaks, the drum heads make that horrible pat-pat-pat sound, and the entire rig is flimsier than your average dating relationship between two furries.

Revisited in 2012: Rock Band is dead. Sure there’s Rock Band 3 with a keyboard but this niche of the music genre is completely and utterly dead. There was a massive gold rush once Guitar Hero sold a few copies and now nobody gives two shits about the genre. I don’t even know why Harmonix bothers with DLC, they’re pandering to a dwindling market.

GameStop won’t accept musical equipment as trade because thanks to the guitars and drums being cheap as all hell they break all the time and there’s no way to test it in the store. Because of this Goodwill stores end up having more Rock Band crap than they know what to do with and the keystones of these piles of e-waste are none other than these stupid fucking drums.

 

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There has never been a more star-crossed console than the Dreamcast, or rather, The Legend of The Dreamcast. Its downfall is a mystery to us all but it’s likely because the console was released too far ahead of its time. Legend has it that the Dreamcast was actually created in 2004 but a Sega representative traveled backwards in time to deliver the schematics to 1998 thinking that releasing the console six years before its intended release would equal massive profits. Unfortunately, that plan failed and the time rift left in 2004 resulted in Ashlee Simpson releasing a debut album.

I came into possession of my Dreamcast as a Christmas gift in 1999 and a couple years later, just before the Dreamcast gave its last breath in the United States, I picked up a copy of Typing of the Dead and a Dreamcast keyboard. I’m getting ahead of myself here, though.

One thing I loved about the Dreamcast was the fact that it came with a built-in modem, what seemed like an entire spool of telephone cord stolen from an AT&T truck, and a CD curiously titled “Web Browser”. See, I was always a big fan of being able to have the World Wide Web on a screen bigger than the crappy CRT that came with my Windows 98 brick but I was never too fond of WebTV (which I am surprised to learn is still around today). The Dreamcast was the perfect bridge between having a proper computer with Internet access but not being forced to use the clunky quasi-broadband crap that was WebTV.

Except I could never get the Web Browser to work. So I ended up playing Sega Swirl until I became very, very, good at it.

Revisited in 2012: SegaNet has been dead for a whole decade. Typing of the Dead is still a riot, though.

 

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There’s nothing nice I can say about this company, now a subsidiary of Hasbro. Sega might have fooled me with the Mega CD and 32X but I feel like a real goon for being duped countless times by Tiger and their shitty LCD gimmicks. I honestly have no idea how a company whose entire portfolio of products consist of the kinds of tat that should be (and has been) made fun of by Stuart Ashens can become some multi-million dollar corporation. It makes no sense to me.

Let’s take a look at the Tiger R-Zone, the thing I mentioned in the article opener. This piece of shit was nothing more than a glorified handheld LCD game that you wore on your head. This was meant to compete with the Virtual Boy. Reread that last sentence once more so that sinks in. Tiger Electronics took one look at the Virtual Boy, a.k.a. That Red Thing That Makes Peoples’ Eyes Hurt, and said “well shit we can do better than that”. The end result of their labor was a hellspawn of a device that somehow manages to make the Virtual Boy look good in comparison. They made the Virtual Boy look good; not even Nintendo Power could do that.

You want another example of Tiger’s genius in action? Anybody remember the Game.com? That was a brick of a handheld system created to compete with the likes of the Game Boy Pocket despite the fact that their handheld was easily four times the size of the Pocket. The Game.com was “portable” in the same sense that a large piece of furniture is also portable. The Game.com boasted a ton of licensed titles and franchises, all of which were hilariously butchered by Tiger Electronics in increasingly bizarre ways. The best game available for that thing was Solitaire, and that came preinstalled on the handheld.

Revisited in 2012: I still hate LCD games. Maybe that’s the Bias of Time emerging forth in my psyche but I seriously cannot play with these things without wanting to commit a hate crime. The Game.com was an amalgamation of a bunch of flashy things the world wasn’t ready for but unlike the Dreamcast there was no acceptable or appropriate presentation of these things; it’s almost like the Game.com was born from the hastily scribbled meeting notes of a Tiger board meeting discussing what “futuristic” meant in a handheld game. The Game.com had Internet access (14.4K modem, BLAZING SPEED), dual cartridge ports, and even a touch screen. This was supposed to be the future of gaming.

Instead it was a crappy black & white handheld “gaming” system with a screen refresh rate in the negatives. They had the balls to release a Sonic the Hedgehog game for this piece of trash, if you can believe that. Not only is the Game.com’s version of Sonic Jam completely dissimilar to the Sega Saturn compilation of the same name, it’s literally unplayable. You can’t see the screen when you move around.

I have an almost complete library of Game.com games because apparently I really hate myself; none of the games are decent. They’re all flawed in some way or another ranging from Sonic Jam’s blurriness, to Resident Evil 2 being unclear about how to use its save function, to Fighters Megamix having broken characters, even down to Scrabble not having a dictionary challenge so you cannot dispute the CPU when it plays “ZXJBQ” across a triple word score tile.

The greatest thing Tiger Electronics has and ever will produce is the original handheld Lights Out, and yes I have one of those.

– Dracophile