Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Power Glove

The Power Glove
The Power Glove with Sensor Bar and Super Glove Ball cartridge
The Power Glove was released in the United States in 1989. It sold approximately 100,000 units in the US but the two games made specifically for it, Bad Street Brawler and Super Glove Ball, were commercial failures. The Glove as well was considered a failure because it was difficult to use and did not work properly most of the time. 
Power Glove Commercial from the 80's
How it works:
"The glove has traditional NES controller buttons on the forearm as well as a program button and buttons labeled 0-9. A person presses the program button and a numbered button to input commands, such as changing the firing rate of the A and B buttons. Along with the controller, the player can perform various hand motions to control a character on-screen."
-quote from The Power Glove article on Wikipedia.org

There are two ultrasonic speakers built into the glove above where it says "Power Glove". Those emit signals that are picked up by the 3 ultrasonic microphone sensors that sit on the top and side of the TV. The signals change depending on what fingers are bent on the glove, which have flex sensors built into the thumb and 3 following fingers (the pinkie finger was not equipped with sensors to save money, since it usually follows the movement of the ring finger). The flex sensors are carbon-based ink on plastic. Bending the flex sensors causes the carbon to compress, decreasing the resistance, which causes the signal for that sensor to change.

There are 14 different program codes to set up the Glove for different types of games. It changes the way the Glove interacts with the Nintendo and the game you have in it. Here's the Program Code Guide for the Power Glove.

Where it went wrong:
The main problem with the Power Glove, aside from having to learn how to use a completely new controller (with a 35 page manual no less!), was it had numerous problems even if you read the entire manual. First off, the sensors had no way of staying in place on your TV, so unless you taped them to your TV or weighed them down, they would slide off the tv and screw everything up. If you aren't in the "sensing zone" (basically inside the area of the sensors), the Glove wouldn't work at all. 
Second off, every time you turned the system on with the Power Glove hooked up, the A and B buttons default to having the Turbo setting on. Let me repeat that, every time you turned it on, the A and B buttons default to having Turbo on. So every time you had to input codes for both buttons to turn Turbo off, or you could barely play any game you tried. 
Lastly, you had to put in a specific program code for each type of game you were going to play. So you turn the NES on, punch in the code for whatever game and then play it, right? Well the problem is that there are 14 different codes in the guide, and while it gives suggestions for the type of game each code can be used with, most of the time it gave you problems even if you were using the right code. This was usually because either you weren't close or far away enough from the sensors, or the gestures or finger movements weren't being read correctly, or some other problem
 

Historical significance:
-The Power Glove, while being a failed controller, actually it had quite an impact on popular culture. The first time anyone heard of the Power Glove was in the movie The Wizard, with Fred Savage. It was introduced by Lucas Barton, pictured above, who uses it to show off his gaming prowess to Corey Woods (Savage), Jimmy (his brother), and Haley. The Wizard also was the first time the gaming public got to see Super Mario Bros. 3. 
-While not being developed or produced by Nintendo, I believe that the Power Glove was somewhat of a precursor to the Nintendo Wii, which also uses a motion controller and a sensor bar that interprets the IR signals from the Wii-mote and its movements as motions and actions in the game. This is very similar to the original design of the Power Glove.   
-The Power Glove also appeared in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare. He uses a Power Glove version of his blade glove to kill people. This was during the cheesy version of Freddy, so it's rather goofy:
-There is a power metal band called Power Glove. They play metal covers of classic video game themes, and display a Power Glove at the end of their concerts. 

How easy is it to find today?:
The Power Glove unfortunately is not as easy as you would think to find today. Usually the Glove itself is sold without the sensor bar, and finding someone or somewhere that is selling both is tricky. The Glove by itself usually can be sold anywhere from $10 up to $90-$100, but the complete set, even out of the original box can go for $150-$200 or up. Since it seems the Gloves themselves are somewhat common, but the sensors people seemed to lose or misplace, so they are harder to come by. Also a lot of the time even if you can find one with both the Glove and sensors, it doesn't have the Instruction Manual or Program Code Guide. I'll provide the Instruction Manual for download here.
I own two complete Power Gloves. The original one I bought on ebay for $18 (including shipping) so I was rather lucky on that. The second a friend gave me because he was cleaning out his storage unit. The recent ebay auctions for Power Gloves are rather high, so you might want to wait a bit before buying a complete one.

Helpful Links:

-Power Glove Instruction Manual: Here it is, in all of its cheesy glory. The "Glove Master" and "Lil' Digit" take you step by step in showing you how to use the new controller you bought. 

-Power Glove Program Code Guide: Here are all 14 program codes for the Power Glove, and how to use the Glove with said codes.

-eBay search for Power Glove: Pretty self-explanatory. 
-Angry Video Game Nerd's review of the Power Glove: The AVGN puts the Power Glove through its paces, with hilarious results.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The UForce

Front of the Box
Back of Box

The UForce is a rather strange controller for the NES. It was released in 1989 by Broderbund to little fanfare, and as people decided to try it out, more often than not they got tired of it quickly because of the somewhat bizarre way you used it. It is now considered an oddity of the NES era. It came with a Power Bar (for Mike Tyson's Punch-Out) and a T-Bar/Flight Stick that you can use for Top Gun and various other games. It has both Select and Start buttons on the main unit, as well as switches to turn Turbo on or off for the A and B buttons (at least in the game).
 Original UForce Ad

How the UForce Works (directly from the manual):
"UForce uses an array of sensors to create a three-dimensional Power Field about 8 to 10 inches above or in front of each sensor. The Power Field senses the position and motion of objects within it by combining information from all its sensors. 

The Game Switches on UForce's bottom panel adjust UForce to provide the right on-screen response for each game.

UForce responds to the position and movement of your hands, arms and body. It can sense your motions equally well whether you're using accessories or just your hands."

Basically, the UForce has 10 sensors on it (5 on each panel) that read your hand movements and translate them into movements and actions in whatever game you're playing. You can use it in three different ways:
1. The 85 degree position is used for most of the games. You also use this position with the T-Bar/Flight Stick. 
2. The 110 degree position is used with the Power Bar for Mike Tyson's Punch-Out. The position is mainly so you don't end up punching the screen while playing.
3. The flat out position is mainly used for platformer games such as Super Mario Bros. and Contra
UForce in 1st position with the Power Bar, T-Bar/Flight Stick and Instruction Manual

You need to put the 4 switches in various positions to make the UForce work for various types of games, as shown below:
 Does it actually work?
Well, yes and no. It depends on what games you play and how patient you are. 

I tested out the Power Bar on the UForce and it worked almost perfectly. When you punch at the upper or lower left and right sensors, it registers as a head shot or body blow on the left or right. But on the other hand when you try to block (by putting your hand on the left or right of the Power Bar) it only recognizes it about half the time, and when you try to uppercut (by slowly moving your hand up past the top sensor) it works intermittently. 

With Top Gun the flight stick works perfectly, even with the Flight Stick not even being attached to the unit.
 Of course I couldn't get the landing right, but usually you can't even get that working with the regular NES controller. 

Super Mario Bros. is another matter. You put the UForce in the flat position and basically use the 4 sensors that are on the side closest to you. The two on the left are used to move left and right, and the two on the right are used to run and jump. You hold your hand over the sensor to move in either direction and you wave your hand over the jump sensor to make Mario or Luigi jump. All of the sensors work well, but the jump for some reason doesn't make them jump to their full height. It's almost like the turbo is on. You can use the first position with the Flight Stick as well which I'm sure would work much better since it works well with flying games. 

The main thing with the UForce is that you have to get used to playing in a completely different way, since you wave your hands around or hold it over the various sensors. While it does come with the T-Bar/Flight Stick which you can use like a normal controller, the instruction manual basically tries to get you to stop using it by teaching you how to play only using your hands in certain positions in front of the various sensors.

Historical significance:
While the UForce and also the Power Glove were definitely a precursor to various gaming technology that we have today, like the Nintendo Wii and the XBOX Kinect. Sega tried something similar with the Sega Activator, which was a octagon with an infrared sensor in each part of it that translated your movement into a button press.

How easily is it to find one today?:
I currently have two UForces. The first one I bought was from Video Game Wizards for $10, and it was just the main unit. The second one I found was someone selling one. It was $30 and came with the box, T-Bar/Flight Stick, Power Bar and the instruction manual. It works great and I've had no problems with it. 

Unfortunately, the UForce is rather hard to find. I just looked it up on eBay and there were only 5 available, starting at $26 and jumping up quickly to $60 and then well over $150. I've seen them go to over $250 with or without all the parts and manuals in various states of repair. I've never seen one in a Goodwill or second hand store though. 

Helpful Links:

-The UForce Manual
Here it is, in PDF format. Before I had an actual copy of the manual I had to hunt it down and could only find a image scan of it, so I chopped it up and made a PDF for easier reading. Enjoy!

The AVGN covers the UForce in this video, as well as several other accessories for the NES, like the Miracle Piano, the Rock 'n Roller, the LazerScope and the Power Pad.

This guy is rather amazing. He's hooked up a UForce to his computer and has several videos showing him playing games with the UForce through an emulator. Probably the best example of how you can play games using the UForce.


Monday, March 26, 2012

NES Power Pad

 Power Pad Side A (8 buttons)
                           Power Pad Side B (12 buttons)
The NES Power Pad is definitely a historical accessory. It's the grandfather of the Dance Dance Revolution dance pad, the Wii Fit and the new Family Trainer mat for the Wii as well. It was originally released in North America under the name Family Fun Fitness, and after Nintendo bought the rights to it they released it in 1988 under the name Power Pad and it came packaged with the game World Class Track Meet.

The Power Pad is probably one of the more well known accessories for the NES, but also one of the ones that is rarely used. It only had 11 games that it could be used for (only 6 of which were released in the US), and most of them were running/jumping games that would cause a hell of a lot of noise when someone would use the Power Pad. Most of the time people would give up on actually trying to run or jog on the thing and get down on the mat and slap the buttons with their hands, which actually seemed to work better for some reason.

Construction/Durability: The Power Pad is rather durable, can fold up pretty easily and stored in most shelves and drawers when not in use. One of the rather odd things about the Power Pad was that you needed to make sure to put it away immediately if you had pets, especially cats, because there was something about the material it was made out of that made it irresistible for them to use as a bathroom.

Power Pad compatible games:


NES games:
- Athletic World
- Stadium Events/World Class Track Meet
- Dance Aerobics
- Street Cop
- Super Team Games
- Short Order/Eggsplode!

Famicom Games (Japan Only Releases):
- Jogging Race
- Meiro Daisakusen (a maze exploring game)
- Totsugeki! Fūun Takeshi Jō (based on Takeshi's Castle, a game show)
- Fūun! Takeshi Jō Two (second Takeshi's Castle game)
- Rai Rai! Kyonshis: Baby Kyonshi no Amida Daibōken (based on a Japanese tv series called Rai Rai! Kyonshis)



Stadium Events/World Class Track Meet: Originally when the Power Pad was released as the Family Fun Fitness pad, it came with a game called Family Fun Fitness: Stadium Events. When Nintendo bought the rights from Bandai and re-released the pad as the Power Pad, they re-released Stadium Events as World Class Track Meet. Now you can find World Class Track Meet pretty much anywhere, but Family Fun Fitness: Stadium Events is one of the rarest NES cartridges on the market today. Last year a sealed copy sold on eBay for $38,000! That's more than most Nintendo World Championship cartridges, and there are only 116 of those, between the gray and gold carts.

How easy is it to find today?: The Power Pad is relatively easy to find on eBay from about $8 to $15 for a loose one. A boxed one generally goes for about $30-$90 depending on the seller. I've never seen one on craigslist, and the one I found was at a thrift store for $10 and it was practically brand new.

Helpful Links:

- NES Power Pad @ebay - Under "System Accessories"

- NES Power Pad Games @eBay

- NES Power Pad @Amazon.com

- NES Power Pad@Google Shopping

NES Zapper

The NES Zapper aka "The Gun" was released in North America in 1985 with the launch of the NES. It came packaged in the Deluxe Set with R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy), Duck Hunt and Gyromite. When originally released the Zapper was gray and white, to match the NES console, but was later changed to orange and white because of US Federal Regulations for toy guns. There were numerous games in the NES library that the Zapper works with, and it was later followed by the Super Scope for the Super Nintendo.

The Zapper is one of the NES accessories that practically everyone knows, partly because of the distinctive noise that the trigger made when you pulled it, and because you could never use it on one of the biggest bastards of the NES era:


How it works: The Zapper worked with a relatively simple process. In whatever game you were playing that worked with it (Duck Hunt, Hogan's Alley, Wild Gunman, etc.), when you pulled the trigger, the screen turned black for a split second and any targets on the screen would turn into white blocks. The Zapper had a photoreceptor in it that recognized if it was pointed at one of the white blocks, and would register a hit in the game. So when you're playing Duck Hunt for instance, and there are two ducks on the screen. You point the Zapper at one and pull the trigger, the screen flashes, the game registers that it's pointed at a target and the duck falls down and the game gives you a point. Simple.

Because of the technology involved, the Zapper will only work with a CRT tube television, not an LCD, plasma or other newer flat screen TV.

The Light Bulb Trick:  After awhile, the Zapper can start having issues where it won't register a hit or hit/miss alternately. I have never had this problem with the 3 Zappers I have, but for those who do have the issue, you can use the Light Bulb Trick. Basically when playing a Zapper game, point the Zapper straight into a lit light bulb. Pull the trigger when there are targets on the screen and it should register as hits in the game, since you fool the gun into thinking it's constantly pointed at a target.

Zapper compatible games for the NES:

- Baby Boomer (unlicensed)
- Barker Bill's Trick Shooting
- Chiller  (unlicensed)
- Duck Hunt
- Freedom Force 
- Gumshoe
- Gotcha! The Sport! 
- Gun-Nac
- Hogan's Alley
- Laser Invasion 
- The Lone Ranger
- Mechanized Attack 
- Operation Wolf
- Shooting Range
- The Adventures of Bayou Billy
- To The Earth
- Track and Field II
- Wild Gunman


How easy is it to find today?: The Zapper is probably one of the easiest accessories to find apart from the original NES controllers themselves. At Goodwill you can usually find them for about $5, on eBay you can find them from $5 to about $18 or higher. Usually you will find the orange version, but occasionally the gray ones pop up as well.

Helpful Links:

- eBay search "nes zapper gun"

eBay search "nes zapper gun" under the category "Games"

- NES Zapper @Atari2600.com

- NES Zapper @Google Shopping

Sunday, March 25, 2012

NES Advantage

The NES Advantage was released in 1987. Nintendo was trying to bring the arcade experience home to the gaming public. It was and still is probably the most popular home controllers for the NES ever made. It was also featured in the climax of the 1989 movie Ghostbusters II, when the Ghostbusters use it to control the Statue of Liberty to break into the Museum of Art.

Features: The Advantage comes with adjustable turbo settings for both the B and A buttons, as well as a "Slow" button that acts like rapid repeated presses of the Start button. It has two controller plugs as well as a switch that lets you play two player games with one controller.

Construction/Durability: The Advantage is rather sturdily built, with a solid metal base and one piece top, with large buttons, a joystick and dials for the turbo setting. You are supposed to use the Advantage on a tabletop or desk, because it is rather awkward trying to use it in your lap. I found that while all the other features (like the turbo and such) are well placed and work well, the joystick is rather stiff and isn't the same as using any of the other controllers Nintendo came out with. I'm sure the numerous others that have bought and used the Advantage, you can get used to it over time.

How easy is it to find today?: This controller is rather easy to get a hold of nowadays. I've seen several at Goodwill for about $5, and the local retro gaming store I go to, Video Game Wizards, I'm sure has several for cheap. If you have a NES, go pick one up and try it today!

Helpful Links:

NES Advantage @Atari2600.com
 These are a bit more than I've found them ($14.95+s/h) but still it's better than some other places that have them close to $30
- NES Advantage on Google Shopping
That's a bit more like it. Ranging in price from $9 to $20, it's another option.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

My original Nintendo Entertainment System

Ah, the NES. The first console I ever owned. It was first released in the US in 1986 but I didn't end up seeing it until about 1989 when I received The Action Set for Christmas. It came with the console, two game controllers, a Zapper, and the dual game cartridge: Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt. While I do have numerous other game systems and handhelds, the NES is still my most favorite one of them all.

There are two types of the NES: the original front loader as pictured above, and the top loader that was released in 1993, which fixed problems with the original tray mechanism. I'm on the lookout for a top loader, but they are somewhat rare since they were released only 2 years before the NES discontinuation in 1995.

     The NES-101 Top Loader

Here are my thoughts about the NES.

Construction/Durability: The original NES console was a mostly durable system, but it did have a reoccuring problem because of the front loading design and the lockout chip.The front loading design was supposed to be similar to a VCRs zero insertion force setup, but the reality was that when you inserted a game into the system, the connection would bend the pins slightly. This would cause the contacts on the cartridges to wear out over time.

Any sort of dirt or dust in the cartridge or in the system itself would cause problems with the lockout chip. It would cause the system to reset every few seconds if there wasn't continual communication between the system and the game cartridge itself. That's where the blinking power light and screen flashing problem comes from. The good news is there are still NES Cleaning Kits available online through various sources which fix the problem.

There also is the method most people use for both the cartridges and the console where you blow into it to clear it of dust or dirt. While I've used this before and never had a problem, this actually can cause moisture from your breath to get onto the contacts on either the cartridge or inside the console which can cause problems.

Power and TV hook-ups: The original NES had both a RF hookup, which was standard, and a A/V cable hookup on the side. The RF hookup cable, funny enough, can not only be used for the original NES, but also most other game systems that have a RF port, like for instance a Sega Genesis. Pretty cool.

The power hookup is a brick. Most game consoles from the 70s and 80s had these large power plugs, so you could only have a couple plugged in at any one time even with a power strip. The good thing about it is that they're rather hard to lose.

 The Power Brick and RF Switch cable

Controllers: The standard NES controller is a classic one. A 4 way d-pad, A, B, Select and Start buttons. It's relatively comfortable to use over extended gaming sessions, not too big like various controllers that came later for the NES and other systems. The top loader NES came with a slightly different version of the standard controller with rounded sides, earning it the nickname of the "Dogbone" controller.

Apparently using the controllers for too long could cause what was known as "Nintendo thumb" to occur, which was the possibility of blisters, calluses or even stress injuries to form in your hands. I've never had any of this happen, but it definitely increased your hand eye coordination! There are other controllers that Nintendo came out with, like the NES Advantage, the Power Glove and several more that I'll be covering in later reviews.

(Left to right) Standard NES controller, a NES controller signed by Pat the NES Punk, and a NES controller with a Nintendo Power sticker applied.       

Game Media: The NES cartridge or GamePak is well known manly for being able to be recognized on sight and it being extremely sturdy. You have to try pretty hard to damage one, like taking a power drill to it or running it over with a car. Even without the black dust covers they come with, the NES cartridges will work pretty much every time. The NES cartridge was also the first to have battery backups for certain games, like The Legend Of Zelda.

If you do have problems with dust or dirt on the cartridge contacts, you can use a Q-Tip dipped in Windex or a half water/half isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) to clean the contacts. Wipe off any excess liquid off of the contacts with the dry end of the Q-Tip and then let the contacts dry before trying it in the console.

    Rad Racer game cartridge

Visuals: The NES, while being an 8-bit system, had some great graphics for the time. Very colorful and sharp, if a little blocky at times. In some games if there were too many sprites on the screen, it could cause the game to slow down for a moment or some of the sprites could start flickering, but this rarely happened, so it wasn't a major detraction from the system. Most of the main character designs for the major Nintendo titles (like Mario, Zelda, Metroid, etc) have stuck close to what they looked like on the NES over the years.

Audio: While the music and sound effects on the NES were memorable, such as the theme for Super Mario Brothers, the pause music for Battletoads, the music for Legend of Zelda and sound effects too numerous to mention, there wasn't much in the way of voices or complex audio on the system. But for the system to bring video games back out of the crash of 1983, it still had some great sounds and music.

Accessories: The NES probably had the most varied and extensive collection of add-ons and accessories compared to any other game console. The Zapper, the Power Pad, R.O.B., the Miracle piano, the Konami LaserScope, the list goes on.

Some were rather strange like the SpeedPad(a hunk of plastic you put your controller into in case you didn't want to hold it while playing), or the Roll 'n Rocker (a odd balance board object you plugged your controller into so your feet controlled your movement, but you still had to use the controller for everything else). Others like the UForce you had to fiddle around with it before you could get the hang of it. But Nintendo tried just about all of the different ways to play a game and found out what hit and what missed.

How easy is it to find today?: The good news is for the most part, the NES is rather easy to collect for. The original front loader is rather easy to find on eBay, craigslist, in thrift stores and at your local Goodwill store. The original controllers are also easy to find. Boxed systems tend to go for higher prices and are somewhat harder to find in good shape, but they are still out there.

The prices for a complete system can vary wildly. I've seen some go for as cheap as $10-15, and unboxed systems going as high as $100 to $200 or higher depending on if they come with games or accessories. The average for a bare bones system (Control Deck, power supply, RF cable, 1-2 controllers) is about $30-$45

The games are pretty easy to find loose, and some are easy to find in box, but the more rare ones are harder to find cheap, or at all (such as the Nintendo World Championships grey or gold cart, which only 116 total were made). Games can range in price from $3-$4 to $50-$100 depending on the retailer and the rarity of the game.

I would definitely suggest the NES as a starter system for beginning collectors though!

Helpful links:

- Cinemassacre - Home of The Angry Video Game Nerd
The AVGN has done numerous video reviews of NES games and accessories, as well as many other retro game systems. A definite must see!

-The Punk Effect - Home of Pat the NES Punk
Pat has a practically complete collection of the NES library of games and his video reviews of numerous games, as well as his series Flea Market Madness (which covers Pat's adventures finding retro gaming items at various flea markets) is worth checking out.

-The Video Game Critic -Nintendo system and Game reviews
This guy has a lot to say about pretty much every retro system out there. Here's the Nintendo part of the site. Good info!

-Rare NES Games on eBay
While it's generally easier to search for games by title, this list is over 100 pages of NES games, some rare, some boxed. Check it out!

-Nintendo Games, Systems and Accessories @ Atari2600.com
Even though this is mainly a site for older systems than the NES, it does have a rather large section on the NES for games (both loose and boxed), systems, controllers and other items. All at rather decent prices!