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.

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