Defending The Power Glove

by Kevin on

So, if you’ve been keeping track of the recent Nintendorks updates (the new game for me is counting how many DRCs are written saying “OH GOD IT’S TOO MUCH” because this is proof of Internet Rule 8.34 that states that “You will never please anyone on the internet ever.”), you know that I own a working Power Glove. I know that I’m not the only one, as close to 100,000 were made and sold to the public. After pulling it out again after years of it sitting safely in a large trunk in my room, I decided to do a little research on it, and realized that everything there is to say on the internet about the Power Glove is divided into two camps: a) “The Power Glove…It’s So Bad!” That is from The Wizard! Do you remember The Wizard? I REMEMBER IT.

b) The Power Glove is a piece of shit! Look, I said shit! I am going to drink a beer.

I call (a) the “It’s Cool To Remember Things From The 80’s!” response, and (b) the “I Find The Angry Video Game Nerd Funny” response. Either way, these both reflect a very poor view of the Power Glove, and I realized that it’s been given a short shrift since it’s inception. So, after taking it through it’s paces, I took a few deep breaths, and decided to play Devil’s Advocate. If someone is going to stand up and defend the peripheral, it’s going to be me.

First, let’s regurgitate some Wikipedia. The Power Glove was made in 1989 by Mattel. It was based on a more functional dataglove used by NASA to help pilot robots in space or something, and Mattel realized that they could throw out a whole bunch of functionality, make it sleek and gray, and sell it for 75 bucks to Nintendo owners. The original $10,000 V.P.L. Inc. Dataglove on which the final design was based, collected all kinds of data, including pitch, roll, yaw, and the finger movements to a resolution of 256 positions. The Power Glove on the other hand, could only send data on motion in 3 dimensions, roll, and a meager four positions for each fingers. The way it managed to work it’s magic was through an ultrasound emitting L-shaped “sensor bar” that sat on your TV.

If this all sounds familiar, then you are reading ahead. Calm down, we’ll get there in a bit.

So, back to the Power Glove. The sensor bar emitted ultrasound which was picked up by sensors in the Glove, and the on-board Glove computer translated the data into meaningful signals that went to the NES. On the Glove itself was a full controller, including control pad and the four buttons that we all know and love: A, B, Start, and Select. What a lot of people didn’t know was that above that was a keypad that was used to input codes for various controlling styles.

Let me stop here. A lot of what makes the Power Glove actually fun was that it came pre-programmed to work with different games. For instance, in Rad Racer, you know how our man Lucas controls the car by steering a fake wheel? This is an actual setting, where you would also put the car in gear by moving a fake gearshift. It’s one of many. There is indeed a Punch-Out control scheme where you punch various places and dodge via the glove. There’s even a kind of bizarre RC Pro Am setting where you just twiddle fingers around and the Glove’s movements don’t come into play at all. While some decry this as being too complicated, I think that those people are morons. Is it really that hard to look something up on the internet? Shit, people. Shit. It takes me literally eight seconds to type in “Power Glove Instructions” on Google and find these codes, and they’re much, much easier to input than the Konami Code:

“To enter PROGRAM 5, press: (PROG) (5) (ENTR) (ENTR)”

Done and done. Now my hand “becomes” a plane! It is all the best parts of heaven!

There were actually two games that loaded the correct game scheme automatically: Bad Street Brawler and Super Glove Ball. I own Super Glove Ball, and while it’s a shitty-ass game, it’s an excellent tech-demo. Basically, it’s a 3D breakout clone, but because it was made by Rare, they included a shit ton of things you need to shoot and collect that make no goddamn sense. The thing that makes it kind of fun (for maybe 30 seconds) is that because it’s 3D, you can move up, down, left, right, and if you move your hand towards or away from the TV, the on-screen gauntlet follows your movement in the 3D padded room. Grip slightly, and the virtual hand grips too. After you play with the game for a while, shooting starfish and shit, you realize that it’s incredibly repetitive and boring and you turn it off. It is essentially a proto-Wii Sports, but much, much more lonesome.

So, as a wrap up of how it works, you turn the NES on, center it by pressing a button on the top of the Glove, and input a code. Depending on the code, the system will recognize certain gestures and finger squeezes as being differing inputs, and you play the game as best as you can. These last two sentences? Failure to understand these important bits of knowledge is probably about 80% of why the Power Glove is seen as being so crappy. On the initial boot-up, the controller starts with Program 1, which was made for side-scrolling, run-and-shoot games, and as such, if you bend any of your last three fingers, the game assumes you want to “turn and shoot.” This makes playing Super Mario Bros a little tough for the layman owner of the Power Glove. No, if you want to play SMB, you want program 12, which actually offers the ability to walk forward slowly left or right! Again, if this is a tough thing for you, this “reading of the manual,” shut the fuck up.

So, the other 20% of the Power Glove’s problems is that most people assume that it’s really, really unresponsive. I will admit, here, that it’s nowhere as good as using a regular controller. But the Power Glove is actually a lot better than it’s made out to be. See, another little detail most people don’t know about is that on the sensor bar are a set of lights that indicate what you are inputting. There is a diamond of lights for the control pad inputs, and an A and B light. If your hand is right of your self-defined center position, then the rightmost light will turn on. Are you inputting up? The top light turns on. By watching this out of the corner of your eye, you actually stand a good chance of doing well in the game instead of awkwardly stumbling around. You can control Mario a lot better with the Power Glove than The Big Blue Boy Scout in Superman 64 using a control stick. Mattel even programmed in a program where the Glove beeps when you are not centered, so you don’t even have to look!

If that paragraph was too long, I am going to restate my controversial claim: The Power Glove controls well.

Now, you look like a goddamn retard when you’re playing, so whatever. You win some, you lose some.

What I really like about the Power Glove is what I’ve been hinting at the entire time, which is that the Power Glove is like the Wii in a lot of ways. Yes, the Power Glove isn’t as technically fancy as the Wii Remote, but it’s fun to play video games in new ways. In the above-linked video I did have a really fun time, no matter the fact that I resemble a moronic cat who just saw a laser on the wall. Video games don’t always have to be about a controller in your hand. They can be about a big gray robo-glove from the future. And yeah, sometimes the glove doesn’t respond as well as it should, but the same goes for the Wii Remote, and in the end I figure, it’s not brain surgery. If the Rad Racermobile crashes, nobody dies. Not even the titular rad racer. I’ve played enough shitty games to have a kind of thick skin to video game failure. Also, it’s kind of trite to blame the controller. Sometimes, it’s just you.

So, I like the Power Glove. I think it’s a fun peripheral that puts a new spin on some of your older games. If you use it correctly, it is actually quite functional. It doesn’t beat the standard NES controller, but it could be worse. Like, it could randomly kill one human being every time you use it. Or, it could be the original X-Box controller. There’s a timely joke!

Next time, I’ll defend the motherfucking Virtual Boy. That’s RIGHT, BRING IT ON.