Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Game Players' Power Glove GameTape! (VHS Review)

Because watching people try to play NES games with the ill-conceived peripheral is a whole hell of a lot more fun than actually using the damn thing to play Nintendo in the first place ...

By: Jimbo X

Give Mattel some credit, there's no denying they did a hell of a job marketing the Power Glove as the be-all, end-all Nintendo accessory. Back in 1990, every kid in America wanted the damn thing, and why wouldn't they? It was basically Thanos' gauntlet for 8-bit software, and next to the Game Genie, I don't think there's ever been a consumer product that's made kids feel more like video Jesus

Of course, by now we all know the Power Glove was a worthless chunk of shit that didn't even work half the time, but back then, it had a fuckin' aura like you wouldn't believe. All the kids in school wanted it, but nobody seemed to own one; the peripheral took on this nigh-mythical status, and after The Wizard came out in 1990, it became THE video game artifact we'd all gleefully murder our parents to possess. I mean, it was a glove that ALLOWED YOU TO CONTROL MARIO BY MOVING YOUR HANDS LIKE PROFESSOR X AND SHIT. How could that thing NOT be on your Christmas list?

But like I said, though, despite the peripheral being so coveted, very few gamers seemed to own it. I guess that's because the big retailers like Toys R Us and Walmart probably didn't stock it in high quantities, and the smaller chains didn't even bother ordering it at all. In fact, I had to wait until 1998 before I even saw one in person, and by then it was a worn out piece of shit being hocked for $5 at a scummy flea market. So, naturally, I bought the thing, went home, reconnected my NES and ... couldn't do fucking shit, because you actually needed these little plastic hit detection thingies to connect to your TV for the thing to work. But I didn't know that at the time, so I just thought my glove was straight up busted and never monkeyed with it again. So yes, here I am at the ripe old age of 30, and I still haven't actually played a Nintendo game with the Power Glove.

I guess the thing isn't too hard to find nowadays - all you have to do is hit up eBay and you can get one relatively cheap, with all the essential parts included - but I can't say I'm really all that besotted by the prospect anymore. After all, we've had motion-sensing controls out the ass for the last 10 years, so the whole premise of the Power Glove hardly sounds novel anymore (not that it was even that unique an idea in its own heyday, considering competing peripherals like the U-Force.)

Thankfully, however, the fine folks at Game Players magazine did their due diligence as video game historians and technology culture curators and released a full-fledged video back in the day giving all of us the proxy Power Glove experience. 

I find it hard to believe it's taken me this long to write about "GameTapes." Growing up, I had about five or six of them, and I watched them religiously. For those of you not in the know, they were pretty much the pre-Internet versions of "Let's Play" YouTube vids. Each tape was about an hour long and featured a whole bunch of footage of popular NES games, with a guy with the greatest voice of all-time giving out tips and tricks on how to beat bosses and solve puzzles. Pretty much every third party Nintendo game got some kind of coverage, ranging from Narc to Tecmo Bowl to A Boy and His Blob. While oftentimes the tapes could hardly be considered all that informative, the sheer novelty of watching other people play video games better than me had such an immense appeal, and as apparent by the fact they did about 10 volumes of the fucking things, quite a few other early '90s NES addicts as well. 

Which brings us to what is probably the most inevitable thing in the history of things being inevitable - the Game Players Power Glove GameTape. The barely 40-minute long cassette was released around the same time the Mattel product hit the market, and it's really more of an extended video tutorial than anything else. Still, the folks who made it nonetheless thought it would be for the better if it included something that kinda' sorta' partially resembled a storyline, and we do get some pretty lengthy segments on the few NES games that were designed explicitly for the Power Glove - yep, all two of 'em.

Best let the tape speak for itself, eh, kids? 

We begin with the Signal ABC video logo and the standard Gameplayers Game Tape intro, complete with the soothing tones of announcer Neil Ross, who per IMDB, has lent his voice to every movie, TV series and video game ever made since 1980.

Fittingly enough, we begin the tape with a commercial for the Power Glove itself. It features a dude wearing a leather jacket playing Punch-Out!! in an abandoned warehouse with a gigantic TV screen. Then the announcer tells us how to "master the power" of the peripheral through a video table of contents, complete with on-screen time stamps.

We transition to this kid drinking Hi-C and watching the Rad Racer scene in The Wizard. He sure does think that Power Glove is cool, man, and wishes he had one. And then, the leather-jacket-wearing dude from the earlier commercial magically materializes out of the TV and introduces himself as, and I quote, "the Glove Master!"

He promises to tell us the history of the Power Glove and how it implements "virtual reality." Per the tape, the glove is allegedly based on NASA technology - which, yeah, is kind of bullshit. From there, we get a quick overview of the keypad, the directional pad, and the center button (which the announcer describes as "one of the keys to the steps of power.") And at this point, we learn the POWER acronym, which stands for:

P - program your fuckin' game before you start playing it
O - open and close your fist a few times to calibrate the glove (be sure to tuck your thumb in!)
W - watch and centering (yeah, I don't get it, either)
E - extra info is in the manual, so read it you motherfucker

Yep. Because this kid just exudes sheer force and strength.

Up first, we see the turbo button demoed in 1943. There's a convenient time stamp on the bottom corner of the screen, so if you ever forget how to increase your rate of fire, it's about 7 minutes into the cassette. 

If you're wondering how to momentarily turn off the Glove so you can use the select button, it's super-easy. All you have to do is switch to program 14, then press enter twice. Which is WAY simpler than, you know, just putting a fucking select button on the glove to begin with. Oh, and before you can start playing with the glove again, you'll have to recalibrate it, which our gracious hosts demonstrate by pretending to butt-fist their Nintendo consoles. 

Oh, but it is ALL worth it once you see how radical THRASH MODE is in Bubble Bobble. All you have to do is bend three of your fingers in a really, really uncomfortable position and your little dinosaur buddy will start spitting suds left and right like crazy. Then they demonstrate the importance of switching programs by showing off Blaster Master, and yeah, that looks clumsy and cumbersome as all fuck. 

Then it's time to highlight the all-important "AB swap," so we get to see 1943 in action again. Did you know you can turn on slow-motion by pressing the "5" key? Well, you can. It's a good thing there were no competing peripherals that offered that same function, in cheaper and more effective controller models, no?

Time to see how the Glove is utilized in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! Here, you switch to program 7 and it actually allows you to faux box your TV! Of course, this being the post-Wii age, such sounds astonishingly rudimentary, but at the time, it was simply fuckin' mind-blowing. That is, until you realize how convoluted the control scheme is; to dodge, you have to open your palm and to duck, you have to slightly lower your hand. And your fist has to remain clenched to throw punches, which, naturally, means at least half of your blows never even register. That said, they did manage to improve one element of the game by getting rid of that annoying rapid button pressing mechanic to get up off the mat. Here, all you have to do is give a big thumbs down gesture and Little Mac magically springs back up. Fuck, wouldn't that be awesome for a game like Track and Field? Everybody else is giving themselves carpal tunnel syndrome on the hurdles mini-game, and you're just sitting there pulling your pud and giving a thumbs down with your Power Glove and smoking all their asses. Man, the Power Glove really is bad, man.

You'll use program 9 to play Rad Racer - you know, the game that Power Glove using asshole in The Wizard played. To accelerate, you make a fist,  to brake you lower you fist and to kick on the turbo, you literally have to punch the screen (well, not literally-literally, but you know what I'm trying to say here.) Of course, actually maneuvering the car sounds like a big pain in the ass, since it appears you have to pretend to turn an invisible doorknob to move your vehicle. But clearly, that's WAY more fun and responsive than just using the standard NES controller, and you'd obviously have to be a retard to think anything to the contrary.

More footage of 1943 follows. You know, I've always wondered something about those old games from Capcom - are you playing American troops or Japanese forces? Since they never included a kamikaze option, I suppose you were supposed to be playing as the U.S. of A, but hey, you never can tell with them wily Japs, can ya? So yeah, you just use your hand to control the plane. To fire, you have to curl your index finger and you can increase your firing rate with button 3. Oh, and you can activate stub bombs by using a "thumbs up" motion. The exact same setup is also used for Xevious, so if you feel like playing those two games only with shittier and less responsive controls, don't say you don't have your options.

Program 8 allows you to play Baseball Stars (and presumably, the 254 other baseball games on the NES.) You bend your thumb to pitch and bend your thumb and your index finger to throw to second base. Man - that sounds about as intuitive as taking a shit standing on your head. At this point, they finally show off that three pronged motion-sensing contraption you have to anchor to your CRT for the thing to work. And to say that shit looks primitive as a motherfucker is an insult to actual primitive motherfuckers

To play Ice Hockey, we're told to use program 14. The narrator lets us know that if you hold start, A and B at the same time, the opposing goalie will disappear. Because man, who ever wants to play a sports game that provides a challenge, of any kind? Speaking of sports games, you'll need program 1 to play Double Dribble. After learning they can bend their thumbs to pass the ball, the kid and the leather jacket-clad teen high-five to celebrate the game's iconic slam dunk cinematics.

Of course, you really can't talk about NES games without bringing up Super Mario Bros., so to make Mario move with the Glove you have to pretend to wax a car and fondle invisible breasts. Oh, and you can click your thumb against your palm to shoot fireballs, which doesn't sound like it would get annoying after ten minutes or anything like that. 

You just know the controls for Double Dragon are going to be pure shit when the narrator opens the segment by saying gameplay "takes some practice but it's worth it." You have to bend three fingers for "a turbo kick" and clench your fist and pretend to punch the screen to climb up ladders. Yep - you have to punch ladders to use them. Makes sense to me. All of it.

Trust me, having to weld a gaudy, three-pronged connector set to your tube is TOTALLY worth being able to use hand motions to play Bases Loaded

We get to see Bubble Bobble's "thrash mode" one more time, because holy hell, is it hilarious watching that little kid lose his shit. To play R.C. Pro-Am (and I'm guessing its sequel) you'll have to use program 10 and go through all the aforementioned "steps of power." Your index finger turns the car left, and the other three turn the car right. "With the Power Glove," the narrator tells us, "you have total control." Holy fuck, that is literally the worst possible control set-up you could have for a game that's already frustrating and unmanageable enough with the standard NES control pad.

Speaking of games with notoriously Allah-awful controls, to play Top Gun you have to literally pretend you're holding a make-believe flight stick (now, as to why you wouldn't use any of the other NES peripherals geared for precisely that, the video never tells us.) You push forward to move up and click your thumb to control the machine guns. And to land the plane? You'll have to move your index finger left and right. Yeah - I'm pretty sure that makes the game impossible to play. Well, even more impossible than it already is, I reckon

And now, it's time to turn our attention to one of a grand total of two NES games released specifically with the Power Glove in mind. I actually remember picking up Bad Street Brawler at a flea market when I was a kid, and even for a $3 acquisition, it was a waste of allowance money. But surely, had I played it the way it was intended to be played with the Power Glove, I would've realized its true potential as a gaming masterpiece, right? 

The good news is that, since the game was made by Mattel, you don't need to program anything to play it with your Glove. The controls are quite basic: move your thumb to throw punches, twist your wrist to kick, drop your hand to duck and shoot a bird to do "ear twists." No, honest to God, that's what they say - you actually have to make an obscene gesture with your middle finger to do your secondary attack. And nobody brought this up during the Q.A. phase? Like, nobody, at all? 

But, using the Power Glove DOES have at least one advantage. If you play the game with the Glove on, you can hit a button on the controller to watch your avatar put on his own Power Glove for a screen-clearing attack! Of course, you can only use it once per stage, but that alone makes the game worthy of the peripheral's original MSRP of $75. Hey, speaking of, why didn't Mattel include any games as pack-ins with the Power Glove? Oh, that's right, because you'd rather have consumers spend another $50 on a shitty game before realizing the whole thing is a colossal fuck-up of an add-on. A good marketing move on their end, if I may say so myself. 

The narrator lets us know you do have the option of pre-programming other games and you have 30 seconds to swap out cards before the programming resets. Funny they would bring that up, though, in the middle of a playthrough of their own proprietary, peripheral-selling video game. Funny, indeed

We get some very, very quick looks at Knight Rider and Defender II, then a preview for the never-released Tektown, where you would've used the glove to control an on-screen robot hand that grabs metal pieces and shoots at other robots. So yeah, odds are, it was going to suck triumphantly. Then there's a preview of Super Glove Ball - more on that one in just a sec.

So, the little kid - who has a Back to the Future poster displayed prominently on his bedroom wall - wishes for a Power Glove and, of course, one magically materializes on his hand. His hitherto unmentioned older brothers walks on in talking about seeing The Wizard and how impressed he was by the Power Glove scene. Naturally, he's in fucking awe that his younger brother somehow has one in his possession, but then again, I like to think people in 1990 were a whole lot stupider than people today.

We take a trip to the Game Players lab, where "an expert players" shows how he uses the Glove to help him kick ass in Bad Street Brawler. Here, in abridged form, are the highlights from the sequence:

  • If you hold the glove down, you can duck the midgets who throw bar bells at you. 
  • The ear twist is your best move - just be sure your opponent is tall enough you can use them on it, though. (If you try it on a dog, all it does is give them a belly rub, although it looks for all the rubles in Russia that your avatar is trying to jerk 'em off.)
  • You can easily defeat the gorilla with an ear twist (note: this probably doesn't work in real life.)
  • All the bad guys look like Lenny from The Simpsons, and you learn new attacks - like headbutts and leg sweeps - later on in the game. 
  • Speaking of new moves, you can start using the "Stooge hit" in level three, as well as the "arm spin." Well, since it's goddamn impossible to get past stage two with the game's shitty-ass broken controls, I guess it's cool to know you could do all of that in theory
Actually, the game had an entirely different release date - the fifth of Never.

Hey, how about an ad for Game Players magazine? You can get 18 issues for $25.99, because there will never be this thing called the "internet" which shows up in five years and makes print media obsolete! And after that, we'll take a gander at Road Blasters and show everybody how holding up your arm accelerates your car, and to hit top speed you're going to have to pretty much scrape the ceiling with your thumb. Of course, that's going to be hard as hell to do since you also have to gently control the horizontal movement of the car by moving your hand left to right while constantly shifting the same hand up and down to control your speed. How about a few more tips on getting the most out of Road Blasters with your Power Glove? 

  • If you begin swerving off course, "don't try to jerk your mean machine back onto the road."
  • The long straightaways means the stage is almost over, so even if you're almost out of gas keep coasting. 
  • Bubble City is, and I quote, "for beginners."
  • If you try to attack the blue cars, "you will pay the price."
  • And last, but not least, just use the regular control pad to input your high scores. Hey, you worked hard beating your best lap time using the clunkiest peripheral known to mind - there's no reason to fuck it up by using the very same peripheral for virtual record-keeping purposes. Shit, did gamers even care about high scores that late into the 1980s, anyway? 

Oh hell, now it's time to watch these poor fucks attempt to play the first Ninja Turtles game with this stupid fuckin' thing. I'll just bullet point the highlights for this segment, too.

  • You can duck into man holes to avoid enemies on the overworld map. 
  • Direct quote: "you may need to practice jumping with your Power Glove." 
  • You can use "thrash mode" to easily dispatch Bebop (even though the in-game footage shows Bebop beating the fuck out of said player.)
  • You can spam the pizza power-ups to recharge all your Turtles. 
  • You know those motherfuckers with the chainsaws? Yeah, don't run into them. 
  • They refer to Rocksteady as Bebop and don't even point out how you can use Donatello's staff while standing atop the boxes to finish him off like it was nothing.
  • And then, there's the dam stage, in which these Game Players motherfuckers have the audacity to commit the king of all lies to videotape: "you'll find underwater travel easy with the Power Glove." 

Time for an ad for the Game Players hot line. At just 25 cents the first minute and 75 cents each additional minute, not only is it a bargain, it's practically a steal

The next 20 minutes of the tape is dedicated solely to Super Glove Ball, and if you've ever played it, you know it's one of the most abstract video games ever manufactured. Basically, it's kind of a video game version of squash, only with a bunch of sci-fi trappings. I guess you could describe it as first-person Breakout, but that kind of suggests the experience would be worth, well, experiencing. Admittedly, I never thought Super Glove Ball (even without the Power Glove) was that bad of a game, but by that same token, I never considered it much to write home about, neither. That, and it's really, really hard to write about, so I'm going to skip a whole shit load of filler and hit the high notes: 

- Per the announcer, "the 3D effect in Super Glove Ball may take some getting used to, but it is really unique and fun."
- Be careful! Super balls travel at hyper-speed and can't be lost. 
- You can fire "robo bullets" by pointing your finger at the screen. Yep, just like you were firing a gun at the TV. Like Elvis
- If you're playing the game with the regular control pad, you have to press "select" to shoot. Uh ... what?
- Punching enemies actually drains your life bar.
- There's this one tile you can hit that automatically warps you back to level one, so fuck that tile.

And that, kiddos, is the production. A concluding message lets us know the video was funded in part by Hi-C (well, no shit) and then, the end credits roll.

Throw in some M.C. Hammer pants and a $4 minimum wage and this picture couldn't possibly get any more 1990.

Well, there's not too much to add to that, is there? Even this early on in the Power Glove life cycle, I think Mattel and company knew the peripheral was a big old stinkin' pile of dookie and there was little they could do to salvage the failed experiment. I've always found it odd that - despite being one of the most coveted, mass-marketed toys of the early, early 1990s - the thing just didn't sell worth a damn. Maybe it was the $75 asking price, maybe it was the specter of the new 16-bit consoles, maybe it was some sort of miscommunication between Mattel and retailers, but you'd THINK something that ubiquitous in TV ads would have had a much higher adoption rate. Really, the only other possible explanation is negative word of mouth spread faster than herpes at a nudist colony once people actually saw the Power Glove in action (inaction?) and the commercial desirability of the product plunged like that

Still, the Glove is one of those unforgettable marketing ploys from the waning days of the NES and is more than worthy of remembrance. Yes, the product itself may have been a dog shit taco wrapped inside a cat shit burrito, but man, did those guys know how to PROMOTE a piece of shit like it was filet mignon. The concept just looked so cool and futuristic, and there's no way anybody under the age of 15 circa 1990 DIDN'T want to experience playing Nintendo with a telekenetic Dr. Claw glove wrapped around their wrist. The Power Glove was the definition of a "can't-miss" marketing campaign - albeit, one anchored around a product that was the definition of a "can't succeed" peripheral. 

And that's what makes this tape, in particular, such a weird relic of yesteryear. The whole point of its existence is to shamelessly pimp the Power Glove, but in demonstrating its convoluted and counter-intuitive control setup - in turn, demonstrating the inherent pointlessness of the peripheral - the video actually works as a stringent criticism of the product itself. These fuckers had a full hour to convince the masses the Power Glove was every bit the awesome add-on the commercials made it out to be, but by the 20 minute mark everybody realizes just how over-hyped and unnecessary the thing really is. Not only does the viewer recognize that the Glove doesn't make the games any more fun to play, the crappy set-up actually makes the games more frustrating, and in some cases, totally unplayable. By the time the tape is over, you come to the realization that Mattel wants you to give them money to make the games you already own shittier, and outside of the Glove itself infecting players with hepatitis, I can't think of a better way to sabotage a company's own advertising campaign.

The Power Glove, as stupid as it may have been, no doubt has its place in video game lore. And this tape - by proxy of being one of the worst marketing misfiress in the history of electronic entertainment - certainly warrants at least a footnote. And how proud I am to be the person who - quite possibly - stamped the asterisk at the bottom of the proverbial page ...


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