Add-ons for video game consoles are an expected part of the hardware cycle. A console comes out, it starts to age, and add-on hardware is released to breathe a little more life into the platform. We’ve already discussed the future of add-ons for the PS4 and Xbox One, so let’s take a moment to reflect on the history of console add-ons.
There have been an absurd number of accessories released in the thirty-odd years of home consoles, so it’s impossible to fit every single one into this article. Even so, I’ve picked the most interesting, important, and just plain silly add-ons to highlight exactly how console add-ons have changed the face of gaming.
Famicom Disk System
Released in Japan in 1986, the Famicom Disk System added support for proprietary floppy disks to Japan’s version of the Nintendo Entertainment System. After release, high-profile games like The Legend of Zelda and Metroid took advantage of the format’s ability to easily save the player’s progress. Sadly, the add-on never made its way to North America, so ports of Disk System games had to be made on traditional NES cartridges with either battery-powered volatile memory or elaborate password systems.
Robotic Operating Buddy
The Robotic Operating Buddy — better known as R.O.B. — was a small robot released in 1985 for the NES. This crazy console add-on worked with two games: Gyromite and Stack-Up. As specific events took place on the screen, R.O.B. would react accordingly in the real world. It was a very novel concept at the time, but was ultimately just a gimmick to market the NES as a toy instead of a video game machine.
The NES Zapper wasn’t the first light gun accessory, but it certainly was the first to gain widespread use. With the success of titles like Duck Hunt, this gun-shaped accessory made the NES seem like a much more approachable console for video game initiates.
The Power Glove was a terrible add-on. It looked very futuristic and nerdy, but the functionality was actually quite limited. Infamously, it was featured prominently in The Wizard, but it ultimately failed in the market due to its impracticality and lack of software support.
The TurboGrafx-CD was a compact disc add-on for the TurboGrafx-16, and was the first of its kind when it hit store shelves in the late ’80s. While the platform never took off in the United States, it performed quite well in Japan. Without a doubt, this accessory helped fast-track the move towards optical media.
Consoles usually came with just two controller ports, so an add-on was needed to enable four-player games. The TurboGrafx-16, NES, and even the PlayStation all took advantage of multitap add-ons. It wasn’t until the Nintendo 64 era that consoles actually started to ship with four controller ports.
The Sega CD was a bizarre add-on to the Sega Genesis. It offered substantially more storage space for games, but it was ultimately a failure due to the large price tag and limited library. While the core idea wasn’t bad, Sega ended up suffering due to the poor implementation.
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