TOP 10: Nintendo Accessories

February 18, 2024

BY Eric Rezsnyak

While working on this week’s episode devoted to the Best Nintendo Villain, we also thought about Nintendo’s storied history with very cool peripherals — objects that impacted the way you played games, and in some cases, WERE the way you played them. From the other NES in the 1980s up through the Switch in the 2020s, Nintendo has had several notable system accessories. Some were all flash and no substance, while some changed the way we played video games. Read on for our Top 10 rankings.

Note that we aren’t talking about Nintendo systems — no GameBoys or DSes or even Virtual Boys — and for the most part, we’re sticking to Nintendo-produced items specifically designed to be used by Nintendo games.


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Dishonorable Mention: The Power Glove

If you were not a kid in the Year of Our Lord 1989, it is difficult to understand how unbelievably hype we all were about the Power Glove. The commercial — watch it above — promised us the next evolution in Nintendo controllers, with the buttons and D-pad now wearable on your forearm, wireless play, and even motion controls. It was one of the earliest examples of wearable tech I can think of. And it was also featured in the 1989 Nintendo-based film The Wizard. The anticipation was real, and so were the orders: the Power Glove sold 1 million units, and there two NES games created specifically for use with its very basic motion controls, Super Glove Ball and Bad Street Brawler — although reportedly any NES game could be played with it. Unfortunately, it didn’t WORK. The controls were obtuse, and for the most part, playing games with the Power Glove was significantly harder than playing with a traditional controller. It lives on in infamy as one of the biggest hardware busts on the Nintendo, along with the Wii U GamePad and the Virtual Boy.

10. Super NES Mouse

I spent hours playing with the Super Nintendo Mouse (and accompanying hard plastic Mouse Pad) via its primary game, Mario Paint. This wonderful creative diversion — which was probably ahead of its time — swapped out the (terrific) SNES controllers for a computer-style mouse, and allowed players to create digital artwork, digital music, and play mini-games like the fly-swatter game. It sounds quaint by today’s standards, but in the 1990s, it had endless replay value, I swear. The Nintendo Mouse worked great, and it was compatible with more games than just Mario Paint, among them Lemmings 2 and the SNES Jurassic Park. I cannot imagine playing Jurassic Park with the Mouse, it was infuriating with a controller. There were a slew of Japan-only games that made more use of this peripheral, but for the most part, it was almost entirely used for Mario Paint.

9. DK Bongos

Lining up roughly with with Activision’s massively popular Guitar Hero series of games, Nintendo brought back Donkey Kong in the mid-2000s to be a drumming music franchise, Donkey Konga. Three Donkey Konga games were released on the GameCube, and they were sold with the DK Bongo peripheral. This plastic bongo set was as simple as you can imagine: you slapped the bongos, or clapped over them (which could be picked up by the built-in microphone) and tried to match up with the increasingly difficult rhythms of a variety of songs, from classic rock to r’n’b and punk. These were terrific party games, and to this day I can still recall playing along to Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!)” There was even a DK platformer game that deployed the bongos. And if you’re a sadist — or a YouTuber who is a stunt-queen — you can deploy the bongos to play a variety of games, up to and including contemporary games. I’ve seen people beating Dark Souls 3 bosses with them. And no, it was not Matthew McConaughey!

8. Amiibo

I’ll say this for Amiibo: it is a brilliant marketing move. Taking a peripheral and also making it a highly collectible item with a wide roster of offerings — these things had to have made Nintendo oodles of money since they were introduced during the Wii U’s reign of terror. Combining the aesthetic joys of mini statues with limited gameplay benefits via RFID technology, Amiibos remain popular even today, especially for games like Super Smash Bros., Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and the Zelda series. Different Amiibos offer different perks in different games, but most of them bestow minor cosmetic bonuses. In truth, I think most people have embraced Amiibos for the collecting aspect, and they’ve outlived several other similar products, like the Skylanders line or Disney’s Infinity series. So obviously they’re doing something right.

7. Power Pad

You have to give credit to the NES-era Nintendo developers: they were really bold and inventive. They put forward numerous visionary inventions that, while clunky at the time, presaged a LOT of the technology we come to take for granted today. Consider the Power Pad, a peripheral for the NES that had you playing with “BODY POWER!” Basically, this was mat with inputs that detected pressure, which could also be used to gauge speed and direction. The fact that this existed in the late 1980s was amazing, and of course roughly a decade or so later the concept would gain massive adoption with the popular Dance Dance Revolution series, and influence another, more advanced accessory we’ll get to in a minute.

6. R.O.B.

The mere concept of R.O.B. is so wild that it could really only have happened in the 1980s. An integral selling point in the original Nintendo Entertainment System was this adorable gaming robot, a cross between E.T. and R2D2. Sold as part of the higher-tier NES bundles, R.O.B. was specifically compatible with two games, Stack-Up and Gyromite. As you played the game, R.O.B.’s eye sensors would pick up flashes from the screen, and he would move and open or close gates/stack items to help you progress. The concept was mindblowing…but again, the technology just wasn’t quite there yet. R.O.B. was very slow, and if he wasn’t lined up exactly right, he wouldn’t do anything at all. While he served his purpose getting people’s attention and moving systems in a market that was bruised by the video-game crash of the early 80s, R.O.B. was quickly discontinued by Nintendo. But he came back in a big way when he was added, unexpectedly, as a playable fighter in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and has been included in the roster ever since.

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5. Rumble Pak

Modern controllers pretty much universally have some kind of experiential features — built-in speakers and microphones, LED lights that change colors depending on what’s happening in a game, etc. But one of the earliest examples of controllers bringing the action directly to the player was the N64 Rumble Pak, an optional piece of hardware that could be inserted into the bottom of the N64 controllers and produce a series of vibrations that mimicked the action of the game. Initially included with StarFox 64, it was also sold separately and compatible with many of the N64’s biggest games. While not as inventive as the previous items on this list, it gets a higher place because it actually worked, and was so successful that the vibrating feedback technology is an expected feature in modern gaming systems.

4. NES Advantage

There have been any number of controller iterations throughout Nintendo’s history, but from our perspective, none provided a bigger gameplay boost than the NES Advantage. Replacing the NES’s D-Pad with responsive joystick, it allowed for arcade cabinet gameplay on the home console. The biggest boon, however, were the Turbo options for the A and B buttons, which allowed you to continually fire them — at a rate you could set via a dial! — simply by holding them down. Who knows how many carpal tunnel injuries were spared because of that feature? While never massively popular — the NES Max brought the turbo buttons to a more handheld option — those who had the NES Advantage understood its allure. In fact, it was so swell the Ghostbusters chose it as their means of piloting the mobilized Statue of Liberty in Ghostbusters II!

3. Super Game Boy

If you owned one of the OG Game Boys — which we did — you know that Nintendo’s first portable system had a slew of outstanding games, like Metroid II, Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, and Super Mario Land 2. But if you had that original system, you also know that the visuals — just black pixels on a tiny green/brown screen — were incredibly hard to see in the best of conditions, and in the wrong light? Forget it. Help arrived a few years after the Game Boy’s launch with the Super Game Boy, an ingenious adapter shaped like a Super Nintendo cartridge that allowed you to play ANY Game Boy (or Game Boy Color — unless they were made with translucent plastic) right on your Super Nintendo, giving you options to colorize the games that were originally presented in black-and-white. It was a literal game changer and well worth the minor investment.

2. Balance Board

The Wii completely shifted the paradigm for Nintendo in many ways. Among them was rebranding a video-game — excuse me, “home entertainment system” — as a kind of fitness device. And Nintendo actually pulled it off with the Wii, thanks in no small part to Wii Fit and the Balance Board. This pressure-sensitive peripheral became the spiritual successor to the NES Power Pad, but could do so much more. In addition to using it for yoga, calisthenics, and a variety of balance-improving mini-games, it also weighed you, provided a BMI rating, and gave feedback on your center of gravity. It sounds corny, and maybe it was, but within five years of release the Balance Board had sold more than 40 million units. It was especially successful with older audiences, many of whom saw Wii Fit and Wii Sports as an accessible way to be active. (Except for my mother, who after getting her BMI results for the first time — and watching her Mii gain weight in response — immediately stepped off the Balance Board and never, ever used it again.)

1. Zapper Light Gun

While there were a great many bonkers ideas for NES peripherals, most of them featured technology that wasn’t quite ready to live up to the developers’ concepts. Not the case with the Zapper Light Gun, which delivered on exactly what was promised. In games including Duck Hunt and Hogan’s Alley, players could point the plastic gun at the screen, pull the trigger, and *blam!* you would “shoot” the target. It was absolutely mindblowing at the time in the early 1980s, and still feels almost like a kind of wizardry. To understand how it worked, watch the video above. All I know is, as a kid, I could point a plastic gun at my TV and shoot a duck in real time. Absolutely nuts. The original NES Zapper was compatible with over 15 games, and Nintendo tried to replicate its success with the SNES Super Scope, with less success. The Zapper was also immortalized as the preferred accessory for Captain N, in the now-forgotten Nintendo cartoon, Captain N: The Game Master.

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