What One Accessory Vastly Improved Your Gaming Experience?

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Image: Nintendo
Image: Nintendo

Welcome to Ask Kotaku, a new weekly feature in which Kotaku’s rank and file weigh in on the burning questions of our time. Each query is a crucible on which nerds and giants clash, monumental contests of wit, that…well, OK. It’s just another excuse to talk vidya games. You down?

This week on Ask Kotaku: What one accessory vastly improved your gaming experience?

Ari: GameCube Controller Adaptor

There are two ways to play Smash Bros.: with a GameCube controller, or with a third-party GameCube controller. A big concern with SSB4 was that I’d have to play with whatever Nintendo tried to pass off as a viable gamepad for the Wii U, so imagine my relief when I learned that adapters for GameCube controllers existed. I picked up this particular adaptor when Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U came out, in 1899. I’ve used it at least once a week since, to play that game and, ultimately, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The sheer dollar-to-time-to-fun ratio makes it the most invaluable gaming accessory in my arsenal, without question.

Image: Retromags

Alexandra: Tyco Power Plug

When I find the rare, comfy controller with a just-right d-pad, crisp buttons, and dead-on response, that thing becomes my new best pal, the one I swear by. So it was with the standard SNES pad (pretty darn good) and the Sega Genesis 6-button arcade pad (glorious). Their only issue, if being unreasonably critical, was that as standard controllers they lacked frills.

Enter the Tyco Power Plug. This cheap 1993 adaptor from a now-defunct toy company sat between your controller and the SNES/Genesis. It had buttons that beeped, and pressing the right ones imbued your formerly bog-standard gamepad with surprising new capabilities.

In fact, half of them were duds. Built-in Street Fighter II moves (“Thrash”) was dumb, “Power Steering” just feathered the left/right inputs, and so on. But I loved the ability to add variable-rate turbo to any controller button. Even better, it let me swap button mappings in games that normally wouldn’t. It even had macro programming, or uh, “Pro Thrash.” (It was the ‘90s.) Being able to add these fancy QoL features to an already top-tier controller meant zero compromises in form or function, letting my best pals become even bester.

Image: KontrolFreek

Riley: Analogue Stick Covers

I still use a cheap, wired Xbox 360 controller for my PC, but that’s come with a price: About a year into owning it, the plastic on top of the left analogue stick wore off, making it hard to control characters in games. Past Kotaku deputy/editor-at-large Kirk Hamilton gave me a set of KontrolFreek analogue stick covers — I don’t remember why he was in town, or why he had them — that I could snap on top of my busted stick to make it usable again. The caps all have different patterns, which I guess are either meant to enhance your gaming performance somehow or maybe just look cool, but I can’t really tell the difference besides that my thumb doesn’t slip off the stick anymore. I have one of the original set left, and I dread the day I have to buy them myself and get mistaken for some kind of elite gamer when really I’m just a cheapskate who refuses to upgrade to a sturdier PC controller.

Photo: BeckFoley LLC

Chris P.: Aeron Chair (Plus Atlas Headrest)

It is an agreed-upon fact that the Aeron is the endgame chair for design nerds and people who sit at a desk for extended periods of time. I’m sure there are gamer chairs that do a great job, but the Aeron’s classic for a reason: It feels like you’re sitting on a cloud and doesn’t look like the chair version of a racecar bed. It’s also like $1,647 bucks new and honestly, fuck that dude.

Here’s the thing, though: Most people get them used. Rich dumbass startups with premises like “what if Uber for escalators” buy a fleet of them, run out of money, and then need to unload them, so if you’re patient and check Craigslist and such you might be able to score one. In my case a nice guy was liquidating his photo studio, and the chair was untouched.

The only thing the Aeron lacks is a headrest. Some people cobble together DIY ones using clamps and generic headrests, but that seems like more trouble than it’s worth and looks kinda hideous. So I bit the bullet and used the savings from buying a secondhand chair to get the pricey Atlas Headrest, and now I’ve ascended to gamer chair heaven. It allows me to go into a full recline from my desk, and now I won’t have to worry about a new chair for like 10 years or until my apartment is destroyed by climate change, whichever comes first.

Photo: Michael Fahey

Fahey: L-Trac Laser Trackball

In an apartment filled with computer mice, the glowing red trackball is king. I’ve had an affinity for trackballs as computer pointing devices since my earliest computing days, but in recent decades I’d left my rolly, spinny friends by the wayside in favour of the more socially acceptable optical mouse.

Then I got paralysed. Suddenly the movement in my right arm is somewhat restricted, and I spend a great deal of time working on very small surfaces like bedside trays or over bed tables. I have no room to fling a mouse when I want to select a card or move a unit. My L-Trac laser trackball is now my constant companion, its glowing red ball my guide to PC adventures. It’s a home for my hand. It may never be as fast and responsive as a precision-engineered laser mouse, but I don’t see myself participating in competitive esports any time soon.

Image: Mad Catz

Ian: Mad Catz Tournament Edition Fight Stick

Growing up, I was much more comfortable with an arcade stick than regular controllers thanks to my obsession with fighting games. But as arcades began to disappear, I found myself without a dedicated space to compete against like-minded players. My interest in the genre waned, relegated to random sessions with friends on regular pads.

When Street Fighter IV rolled around, I suddenly found inspiration to play fighting games competitively again. Unfortunately, the Xbox 360 pad wasn’t working out, and to be a serious player I needed something that would replicate the arcade experience. Imagine my surprise upon learning that competent arcade sticks were being mass-produced for the American market, and by Mad Catz of all companies.

Mad Catz’ Tournament Edition fight stick — specifically the version that coincided with the release of Super Street Fighter IV — was a massive boon for my return to fighting games. Its quality Japanese parts instantly transported me back to my arcade days and made landing Sakura’s execution-heavy combos that much easier. Nowadays, I can’t look at an arcade stick without my hands cramping up (thank you, years of typing for work), but I probably wouldn’t even be at Kotaku if not for this amazing little peripheral.

Image: Corsair Gaming

Ash: Corsair K55 RGB Gaming Keyboard

For a long time, PC gaming was all I did, yet for an equal amount of time, I played on a sub-optimal keyboard. When it was time to upgrade, I didn’t want a mechanical keyboard for fear I’d drive my own self nuts from the oppressive taka taka taka click of the keys. But I still wanted something powerful and cool-looking with hotkeys I could bind to my World of Warcraft macros. Enter the Corsair K55 RGB Gaming Keyboard. It’s got the sleekness of a mechanical keyboard without the oppressive clicking noise, and 6 macro keys that come in handy for all my Warcrafting needs.

Photo: Zack Zwiezen

Zack: Skullcandy Earbuds

For way too long, I used the mic that comes bundled with the PS4. It was…fine. Eventually, about three years ago, I got tired of relying on that cheap thing and decided to splurge on something better. But I’m a cheap bastard and I hate complicated or fancy things. So many “good” headsets were wireless, cost a ton of money, and seemed too cumbersome. Then I found a nice pair of Skullcandy earbuds at Walmart. They cost me $26 and I use them nearly every day.

I often play my PS4, Xbox One, or PC with earbuds. And these do the job, with no fancy frills or unnecessary hassle. They plug in, you stick them in your ears and they work. There’s a small button on the cord that lets you mute the mic and that’s it. Yet for being so cheap and simple they work great. They sound as good as more expensive earbuds I’ve tried and they look nice. Also, the mic works and according to friends I play with, my audio quality isn’t any better or worse than other players. After three years of daily use, they still work, and ultimately that’s all I care about.

Photo: Evan Amos / Public Domain

Chris K.: A Pair Of Pliers

I suggested this as a joke but now I apparently have to do it? I’m not much of an “optional accessory” person. I tend to use standard controllers; I rarely void warranties. But the best thing that ever got within 3.05 m of my Super NES was a standard pair of pliers, which I inserted into the cartridge slot in order to tear out a pair of plastic tabs that were part of the system’s housing.

The internet (such as it was in 1995) had assured me that this process would happen smoothly. Instead it was absolutely brutal, and it looked like a crime scene in there when I was done. But that simple pair of pliers turned out to be the ultimate SNES add-on, as the removal of those tabs opened up a whole new world of gaming — Japanese Super Famicom cartridges would now play in my SNES. Those pliers, in other words, changed my life.

How About You?

Kotaku’s weighed in, but what’s your take? Has a video game accessory ever made you swoon? (Get that checked, sounds like narcolepsy.) The conversation continues below, so have your say. We’ll see you in the comments, and will be back next Monday to take on another no-doubt nerdy head-scratcher.

Comments

  • The Wavebird. Still the greatest controller ever made, and a portent of the future. Being able to just play Gamecube games from anywhere in the room was a revelation, and I still have the thing lying about because it’s still amazing.

    • I hear ya, the worst part of playing a Playstation is using what feels like a cheap plastic uncomfortable turd in your hands. There’s a reason all the new controllers since the 360 have been copying the Xbox style…

  • I bought a NTSC/PAL converter for my SNES. Although if I had’ve known a pair of pliers could get the job done I probably would’ve done that as well.

  • I have to agree with the chair for PC gamers. I got a $1k ergonomic mesh chair with headrest about 7 years ago and haven’t looked back. At times coming home from work it honestly felt so comfortable I could feel my muscles relaxing like I just sat in a massage chair.

  • Mine was 3 plain keyring hoops, my TV at the time was a crappy crt that only had one AV audio input so my 13 year old ingenious self concocted a method of using 3 keyrings and a spare av cable and turned it “stereo” it still only had one speaker but both channels were playing. It worked for about 8 months before i got a new TV for christmas with proper stereo speakers.

    Then i learned from a mate that Dick Smiths at the time (this was about 13 years ago now) sold adaptors for a couple of bucks each.

  • Memory card for PS1… still remember FFVII had an advert for it saying “try beating the game without it”!

    Also loved the guitar grip for the NDS guitar hero / band hero games!

  • My Secretlab Titan. Never had such a comfy chair with great support. Used dozens of ergonomically designed chairs at the office, $1k plus things with mesh and levers everywhere, never liked them, but I bloody love this thing.

    • can only provide anecdotal support to this but ive been buying officeworks “office” chairs in the $200 price range for so long. eventually got one that fits the “racer” chair type within that price range. its alright. but i then tried my brothers titan. nothing compares.

  • Does the introduction of a gamepad count? I started playing games as a kid during the joystick era… was fun but the amount of deaths in the ye olde atari games because of lack of precision was painful

    Fastforward the Famicom/SNES the introduction of that D pad changed EVERYTHING!

  • The super boring answer is just extra charging cables/docks. They aren’t fancy but they make life a lot easier.

    When I was a kid I used to do a bunch of stuff like building controller holsters into my bed frame but none of it was really that useful.

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