Nintendo Has Tried Detachable Controllers Before (In 1984)

Total RecallTotal RecallTotal Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.

There’s a report from Eurogamer today that the Nintendo NX will be a handheld featuring “detachable” controllers. It’s a neat idea, but it’s also one that Nintendo have a bit of experience with.

When I was a little kid, I would always bug my parents for a video game console like a Master System or NES, because those were the kind of games you’d see on TV ads and in magazines, and they were the ones my friends were always playing.


We had a Commodore 64, though, and for my parents, that was enough. The idea that I’d want some other kind of machine that also played games was just...beyond them at the time.

I was persistent, though, and so one year (I think I was 5? 6?) they came up with a compromise. For my birthday they bought me...this:

Image: Evan-Amos

It’s a Game & Watch Micro Vs. System. Specifcally, the Donkey Kong 3 version. It wasn’t a console, in that I couldn’t change the game, but it was a Nintendo, and it had this insane feature where it would open up like a clamshell and you could pull out two little control pads. Because they were wired, you’d actually have to unwind them, with the cord stored inside the controllers while you had them stashed in the game case.

Video source: Dr. Retro

I loved it. Yeah, the game—a simple little thing where one player would control Stanley the Bugman and the other (or AI) Donkey Kong as you tried to...move some bees around—was crude and repetitive. But the novelty of pulling this thing out of my schoolbag cannot be understated. This was, in a tangible way, like having a tiny little NES you could take anywhere (this was before the Game Boy was released), and me and my friends would huddle around it for hours taking turns on the controllers. It felt like a small piece of the future.

Image: Lulu Berlu

This would have been around 1985-86, which was a little late considering Vs. System Donkey Kong 3 was first released in 1984. It was one of three such machines released in that same year, the others being Donkey Kong Hockey (above) and Boxing (which was re-issued as Punch Out!), below.

Image: Japon

That’s over 30 years ago, and is an idea we haven’t really seen since, so it’s not like Nintendo has been hard at work perfecting the same idea just for the release of the NX. But it’s just another example that whatever weird shit you can think of when it comes to video game tech, you can bet Nintendo has at least thought of it before, if not brought it to market.

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.

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Luke Plunkett

Luke Plunkett is a Senior Editor based in Canberra, Australia. He has written a book on cosplay, designed a game about airplanes, and also runs