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This week on Ask Kotaku: What one accessory vastly improved your gaming experience?
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 adapter 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.
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 adapter 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.
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 analog 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 analog 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.
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 $1150 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.
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 favor of the more socially acceptable optical mouse.
Then I got paralyzed. 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.
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.
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.
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 $18 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.
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 10 feet 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.
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.