the most amazing accessory in video game history: Brøderbund’s U-Force! just kidding, U-Force, you’re terrible

as my Irish sidekick knows all too well, sometimes i get going on some ridiculous rant that seems funny at the time (at least to us), only to ultimately realize that while i’d LIKE to replicate said rant for the internet, i will never be able to. at best, i’ll try, but be unable to think of some very specific moments from the rant that were truly funny (or at the very least THINK i am unable to) and thus always having the nagging feeling of not doing it correctly. still, sometimes we must risk this level of disappointment (mainly due to a lack of other topics) and write said rants up as best as we can.

this is one of those times. and the topic is… Brøderbund’s U-Force.

the Power Glove
the Power Glove: setting new standards in over-hyped, under-performing NES accessories

so back when i was younger, i eventually had an NES, completely a widely-varied set of NES games, some awesome (Guardian Legend still rules to this day, and i don’t care what anyone says about it), some terrible. i’m actually drawing a blank on the WORST game i had for the NES, as i mostly just recall the games i liked a lot (Guardian Legend, Final Fantasy) or the ones that were completely ridiculous (Low G Man: The Low Gravity Man, which was insane AND has a clearly redundant title, and which i fondly recall buying at a yard sale in Virginia, thus proving it’s ridiculous what one remembers), but there had to be something awful. but what i didn’t have was what a lot of kids wanted when we were younger: ridiculous additional Nintendo peripherals or accessories or whatever you want to call them.

see, when you’re an adult, you realize that these peripherals/accessories/whatever –aside from improved controllers or a Game Genie or the NES Zapper light gun, which remained awesome– fall into one of two categories: either they’re for a very limited number of games (sometimes even just one), thus making them kind of lame, or they’re fucking TERRIBLE, thus making them more than just kind of lame. even the NES Zapper only had like 19 games for it, which seems decent until you remember there were about 13000 NES games out there. to run through major NES peripherals i remember: the LaserScope worked for all NES Zapper games, but constantly malfunctioned (fucking terrible); the Power Glove only had like 4 games AND constantly malfunctioned (limited games, fucking terrible); the Power Pad had 11 games, but i don’t recall people claiming it was always broken (limited games); R.O.B. was a tiny Nintendo robot that worked with two games. although let me be honest: R.O.B. is fucking awesome. i do not care what anyone says.

seriously, i do not care what anyone says: R.O.B. is fucking awesome

but when you’re a child, all you remember is the villainous kid from the Wizard rocked a Power Glove, and that every kid in the movie was in total awe of it, and that you HAVE TO HAVE THIS POWER GLOVE. which brings us to the U-Force. let’s let Wikipedia describe this thing:

“The U-Force was a game controller made by Brøderbund for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It employed a pair of perpendicular infrared sensor panels to translate the user’s hand movements into controller signals. From a print advertisement circa 1989:

Introducing U-Force, the revolutionary controller for your Nintendo Entertainment System. So hot, no one can touch it. Now you can feel the power without touching a thing. It’s U-FORCE from Broderbund – the first and only video game controller that, without touching anything, electronically senses your every move, and reacts. There’s nothing to hold, nothing to jump on, nothing to wear, U-Force creates a power field that responds to your every command–making you the controller. It’s the most amazing accessory in video game history – and it will change the way you play video games forever. It’s the challenge of the future. U-Force. Now nothing comes between you and the game.”

Brøderbund's U-Force
oh, it knows your every move alright … it just wants nothing to do with implementing them

clearly i was swayed by the fact that this was “the most amazing accessory in video game history,” although to be fair, it WOULD have changed the way i played video games forever, because it absolutely sucked at letting you play a video game. i was a pretty smart kid, so the only reason i can give for why it didn’t occur to me that this thing would be TERRIBLE is “the awesome power of print advertising, i guess.”

now, my parents were not huge on video games (we didn’t have an NES until my grandparents bought one for me and my sibling, in one of the rare occurrences where a gift meant for multiple kids titled in my favor; my parents liked me to read books and play outside; stuff like that), so i didn’t get a lot of NES stuff from them: most of my games i bought myself, which is another large reason why i didn’t have stuff like the Power Glove. for some reason, though, my mother made the WORST possible decision and decided to get me a U-Force for Christmas, which was awesome on the level of “holy shit, you got me some insane Nintendo thing i wanted,” but in retrospect was not her finest hour. she’s pretty smart as well, so i suppose she also can be victimized by the awesome power of print advertising.

so i got this U-Force, i’m turbo-excited to play with it, and i rush downstairs to my Nintendo to discover the following:

01. for the “most amazing accessory in video game history,” it was very restrained in what games it claimed to work with
i have no idea where my U-Force and/or its instruction manual are (the U-Force, at least, is PROBABLY in my parents’ house somewhere), but i recall the manual taking a very limited attitude towards the games it worked with, which i assume meant “we bothered to try it out with these 13 games and it worked fine, so go wild within those limits.” on the one hand, i can appreciate this honesty; on the other hand, it spoke very negatively about how this thing would perform. i don’t think i even tried it with any game that it didn’t claim to work with, but we’ll get to that.

02. it didn’t ACTUALLY work with the games it said it did
see if you can tell me what’s wrong with assuming this U-Force was a good idea: you’re going to end up playing Super Mario Brothers, a game commonly played with a controller, by randomly moving your hands around in a small cubic area breaking infrared beams. exactly. it’s one of the reasons people note that touchscreens are not in a rush to replace buttons: buttons (and control pads) can be goddamn effective at what they’re supposed to do. and the U-Force was pretty much worse than that: i don’t recall it working with a SINGLE GAME that i owned that it supposedly worked with. it didn’t work poorly; it just didn’t seem to do anything.

03. …except for Rad Racer
well, okay, there WAS one exception: Rad Racer, that classic 1987 NES racing game (that was, oddly enough, also played with a Power Glove in the movie the Wizard). now, i don’t really like racing games –i have MAYBE owned a few, but they were mainly stuff like Mario Kart, which is more about team shenanigans than racing, and i don’t think i have ever bought a hardcore racing fan’s idea of a racing game– so it’s a little odd that i owned Rad Racer. more odd still: you could kind of play it with the U-Force. the beams worked… a little. you could steer… vaguely. it was a game i recall the manual saying would work with the U-Force, so again, honesty points, but really, all i can play with the most amazing accessory in video game history is Rad Racer? LAME.

unrelated note: Rad Racer, all in all, was an okay game. shout out to Rad Racer for not sucking completely.

the U-Force

04. the extra control stick and buttons also did nothing
so you might have noted that the U-Force appears to have an idiotic-looking control stick and lots of buttons on it, so surely you could use THESE for something in the event that the U-Force itself did not work exactly as intended? well, not exactly, and by “not exactly,” i mean “they didn’t seem to do a goddamn thing either, aside from making me fill with all the rage tiny childhood janklow can muster up.” oh, i TRIED to use the control stick, but it didn’t seem to work with games that the U-Force had worked with (as in, Rad Racer) or the ones the U-Force had NOT worked with (as in, every other game that i owned). to this day, i’m not even sure why those buttons and/or that control stick were included. i mean, hey, they’re not related to infrared beams, so isn’t that unrelated to what the U-Force is all about.

the answer is no; the U-Force was all about “being a colossal failure” and “smashing my childhood dreams.”

ultimately, i gave up on the U-Force completely after a matter of several furious hours and never spoke of it again. the plus side to my parents not being huge on video games is that to this day, i don’t think my mother (or father) actually realizes how disappointing and worthless that gift was. it’s obviously not her fault –i really, REALLY wanted that U-Force– but it’s a little funny that she never even realized she could have given me a major ration of shit about abandoning the gift i so wanted.

even worse is this: when my mother was shopping for that Christmas, she had a bunch of gifts stolen while shopping … including the FIRST U-Force she’d bought me for that Christmas. she actually ended up buying TWO of the goddamn things that year. would i have forgotten this anecdote if the U-Force hadn’t sucked completely? it’s very likely.

…and there you go; hopefully this contained some of the comedy of the original rant, if not any of the insane gesticulation with which i punctuate my real-life rants. so it goes.

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