10 Best And Most Memorable Uses Of Video Game Hardware
Video game hardware often serves as a hurdle for developers to overcome. Whether it's running out of memory or figuring out how to translate a player's interactions with a controller into a dynamic 3D world meant to emulate real life, just getting things to work smoothly is an accomplishment in and of itself. But with some games, developers take things further, and the end result can be better off for it.
There have been countless memorable moments in games, whether it's a well-designed boss fight, an unexpected character death, or an awe-inspiring view. But many of the best moments stem from the way games use hardware in unique ways to deliver something unforgettable. In other cases, special hardware or accessories are used to deliver an experience that otherwise wouldn't be possible with a typical controller or keyboard and mouse.
We've rounded up some of our favorite examples of the best uses of gaming hardware, one that saw fans use technology to turn an existing game into something very different, and a few others that were certainly original, if not very good. Be sure to share those that stick out in your memory with us in the comments below.
The Psycho Mantis Fight from Metal Gear Solid
For a series chock-full of noteworthy bosses, it's a testament to the creativity of the original Metal Gear Solid that Psycho Mantis remains so memorable. That comes down in large part to the way the sequence utilized the PS1 in ways I had never seen before. The psychic FOXHOUND villain screws with Solid Snake--and the player--by manipulating the PS1. For instance, the screen goes black, which caused me a brief moment of panic where I thought something had gone wrong with my system.
In an even more brilliant moment, Psycho Mantis looks at the save files stored on your memory card and comments on them. He remarks on the number of times progress has been saved in MGS and points out certain games that you have save progress in. (Years later, this led to one of my favorite parts of Metal Gear Solid 4, where Mantis can't pull off the same tricks due to the PS3's hard drive and vibration-less Sixaxis controller.) At one point, you deal with with his powers by switching the port that your controller is plugged into, which I still find an astoundingly bold choice for a game.
Sadly, some of these things were specifically tailored to the PS1 and GameCube versions, and have thus been lost to time if you don't play them on the original hardware. Still, there was nothing quite like getting to experience all of this in the moment without any warning about what to expect. | Chris Pereira
Boktai's Solar Sensor
Famed designer Hideo Kojima could do no wrong during the late '90s and early 2000s. He won my young heart with the cinematic stylings of Metal Gear Solid and the fast-paced robot action of Z.O.E: Zone of the Enders. So when I found out that his next non-Metal Gear game would be a GBA game that utilized a solar sensor on its cartridge to fuel an in-game mechanic, I was instantly intrigued.
Titled Boktai, the game stars Django, a young vampire hunter on a quest to avenge his father's death. Equipped with his trusty solar powered gun, the Gun Del Sol, Django takes on all sorts of undead foes. This is where the game cartridge's solar sensor comes in; your gun only holds a limited amount of energy, and once depleted, you need to charge it by holding the gun up to the sun. But in order to do this, you literally need to hold the game up towards the actual sun, so the solar sensor can detect its warming rays. Of course, this means you actually have to play the game outside.
Boktai is a strange yet entertaining action-RPG made all the stranger by its solar sensor functionality. I recall spending hours playing the game outside--or occasionally cheating by opening my window to briefly charge Django's gun before retreating indoors to play until I needed another charge. In my experience, the only real drawback to the game is that you couldn't effectively play the game during the colder seasons--for obvious reasons.
I thoroughly enjoyed Boktai's sunlight mechanic as a kid, and it remains a joy to play even now thanks to compelling dungeon crawling and a slew of clever puzzles that took advantage of the game's real-time clock and day-night cycle. To this day, the game remains one of the most memorable and innovative uses of GBA hardware. If you can track down a copy, I highly recommend it--if only to experience one of Kojima's quirkier and more adventurous game concepts. | Matt Espineli
Image credit: donpepe
Anyone who played console games in the early '90s is well aware of how many gimmicky controllers made it to market. Of the wacky lot of plastic trinkets that cluttered our basements, you'd be hard-pressed to find one as over-the-top as Sega's Activator for the Genesis. The octagonal ring promised to let you punch and kick in the real world and have it translate to fighting games like Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter II.
Sounds amazing, right? Well, while not an outright lie, the advertisements for the Activator may have been stretching the truth a bit. In practice, you couldn't simply punch and kick as you would hope; to execute a specific action, you would have to send your hand or foot over a specific part of the octagon. Each section of the ring corresponded to a button on the Genesis controller and contained a light sensor that detected when you crossed its invisible threshold. Imagine waving your palms frantically around your body trying to move your on-screen character, throw a punch or two, or god forbid execute a complicated combo attack, and you can easily understand why the Activator was derided by early adopters (read: suckers) who fell for Sega's brief marketing blitz. It is, at best, an interesting footnote. | Peter Brown
Image credit: TechnoBuffalo
People still debate Pokemon Go's quality as a video game, but there's no doubt that it uses smartphone technology in an inventive and powerful way. By utilizing your location and some fiddly but capable AR, the mobile game turns your local area into your very own Pokemon adventure. It means you can explore your own neighbourhood in the same way you explored Kanto all those years ago. It's immediately nostalgic and emotional for anyone who played the mainline games and wants to be the one catching Pokemon and venturing across the land.
To some people, Pokemon Go might just be a throwaway mobile fad, something that went viral overnight because The Internet and that's that. But to others, including myself, it allows us to finally achieve what we'd always wanted: To transport ourselves inside a Pokemon game and be the very best, like no one ever was. | Oscar Dayus
Let's Tap is a game, but it deserves an entry here for the interesting way it made use of Nintendo's Wii Remote. At a time when every studio under the sun was working on the next great motion-controlled game (bless their naive hearts), former Sonic Team head Yuji Naka conceived a game that utilized the Wii Remote's accelerometer, but without the user having to hold the controller in their hand. Instead, you would lay your Wii Remote face down on a cardboard box, and tap the box with your fingers to interact with Let's Tap's collection of mini-games. These included a Jenga-like deconstruction game, a multiplayer sprint race, and a basic rhythm game, among a few other simple applications.
Let's Tap and Naka get bonus points for originality, but the game failed to make a splash despite its inventive spirit. As former GameSpot reviewer Luke Anderson pointed out, "Let's Tap certainly offers a different way to play, but the games don't completely mesh with the control scheme and, with the exception of Rhythm Tap, could have worked every bit as well with a more conventional control setup." | Peter Brown
Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck
As someone who likes to tease and bug my friends, it makes a lot of sense in retrospect that I had such a great time with Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck, a game all about annoying Daffy Duck. Based on the classic cartoon of the same name (pictured above), which sees an off-screen animator mess around with Daffy, Duck Amuck tasks you with generally tormenting the character. It's a creative idea for a game, but what makes it special is the way in which it leverages the DS hardware.
Some of the ways of interacting with Daffy are pretty straightforward--you use the touchscreen to poke and prod him or to pick him up and launch him off the screen. Where it really blows my mind is in the way that it allows you to physically close the system, something which would normally suspend what you're playing and put the handheld in sleep mode. Instead, the game keeps going, and Daffy shouts out at you, allowing you to continue playing a mini-game using the shoulder buttons. It's a feature that I'm still glad that Nintendo allowed, and it made for an experience I still remember vividly more than a decade later. | Chris Pereira
Namco's legacy took root in the arcade, a place where games and hardware often combined in surprising and unexpected ways. This innovative spirit stuck with Namco; in 1995, it fundamentally reinvented the standard PlayStation controller in hopes of improving the experience of playing racing games at home. The result was the unusual NeGcon controller, which was split down the middle from top to bottom, allowing users to twist the controller's two halves. Compared to the digital inputs of a d-pad or the short throw of an analog stick, this wide range of motion allowed for more finesse when turning the wheel of a virtual car. Despite its odd appearance, the NeGcon found wide support from other publishers and could be used with games like Gran Turismo, Rally Cross, and Wipeout (including Wipeout Fusion on PS2). It's an odd-looking controller to be sure, but it fulfilled Namco's promises. It was such a success, that Namco would follow-up with another racing-centric controller only a few short years later... | Peter Brown
Image credit: Wikipedia
Rather than iterate on the NeGcon, Namco went back to the drawing board for the development of the Jogcon, a controller with a force-feedback-enabled wheel crammed into the middle. It was marketed alongside Ridge Racer Type-4--the final entry in the series on the original PlayStation--but would also be compatible with PlayStation 2 games like Ridge Racer V. Not one to forget its past, Namco allowed you to trick the controller into a NeGcon mode, which allowed for wider support, albeit without the force-feedback feature. While it didn't enjoy widespread success like the NeGcon, the Jogcon still deserves respect for packing force-feedback into a standard controller, allowing players to experience the push and pull of the road without having to invest in expensive and bulky racing wheel setups. | Peter Brown
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Twitch Plays Pokemon
Okay, Twitch Plays Pokemon wasn't technically a unique use of video game hardware, but it was still one of the most creative moments in recent video game history. It allowed those watching the stream to control the protagonist of a number of Pokemon games, starting with Pokemon Red and continuing with sequels such as Pokemon Crystal, Emerald, and Platinum, among many more. Viewers achieved this by typing in commands--"up," "down," "B"--to make the main character move and perform actions.
As you can imagine, that made actually playing the game very difficult. Trying to beat a Gym Leader, catch an elusive Legendary, or even walk in the right direction is tricky when dozens of thousands of people each have a controller.
However, as we all know, give enough typewriters to enough monkeys and they'll eventually beat the Elite Four, and that we did. And when the moment came that this cacophony of monkeys finally beat the first game, pure joy ensued. We'd done it! Twitch Plays Pokemon had made us the controller and we didn't mess it up. It merely took us a brief 16 days, 9 hours, 55 minutes, and 4 seconds. | Oscar Dayus
Plastic Instruments for Guitar Hero and Rock Band
The plastic instrument revolution led by the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises came and went, but its impact on rhythm games (and games in general) is unforgettable. GuitarFreaks in Japan preceded other instrument-based music games, but it never matched the reach and influence of Guitar Hero. In 2005, developer Harmonix nailed the feeling of shredding in Guitar Hero by simply pairing five notes as frets on the guitar neck with a small lever that acts as the strings in the packaged instrument. The other key ingredient was obtaining hit songs that captured a Western audience regardless of the diverse tastes in rock music, whether it be classic, punk, metal, or indie rock.
Seeing Guitar Hero in action for the first time with the plastic guitar immediately makes perfect sense: follow the pattern on screen and pluck the lever while holding down the correct note(s). In this regard, the game is accessible to those who have never picked up the instrument before but also challenges those actually knew how to play a guitar. The series provided an avenue to not just discover new songs but build a rhythmic connection with the melodies and harmonies of songs you already loved.
In 2007, Harmonix topped themselves with Rock Band, which cranked the concept up to 11. Not only did it retain the intuitive guitar gameplay, but the game included a microphone for vocals, a full drum set, and the option for a second guitar to cover basslines. The game really lived up to its name. It was the perfect blend of karaoke, Taiko Master, and Guitar Hero with the continued tracklist of diverse rock songs that satisfied nearly all tastes in music.
Unfortunately, the genre lost its appeal over time and the accumulation of plastic instruments became a burden for both retailers and consumers. The concept is still more than a novelty; dusting off those old guitars and drums can make a good party great. | Michael Higham