Leftfield Controllers
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

We all love console gaming – it’s probably the reason why you’re here reading this. Like us, you've probably spent a disproportionate amount of time fiddling with controllers and accessories over the years, many of which were swiftly adopted (and many just as quickly forgotten).

The NES Zapper, the absolutely mad analogue TV aerial for the Game Gear, the near-mythical Power Glove – we could go on. But as video games have risen to become the dominant home entertainment juggernaut that they are today, it feels like some of that uniqueness has been squeezed out to make room for consistent, mainstream functionality.

This makes sense; buttons work, we understand them, and a controller sitting in your hands is intuitive. Nintendo has, for the past decade or two, occasionally been the outlier, but even its very clever, detachable JoyCon fit the design pattern established back in the early '90s. Why be weird when you can just work?

Well, because we need weird. Weird is good. Weird is interesting, and can open up so many possibilities that 'normal' can’t. There was a time when an analogue stick was weird – imagine that. But even as things like that become normalised, there are some control inputs that remain weird – even if only a little. And so this list is a celebration of that – a top ten list of gaming’s weird, quirky control inputs.

The list includes both consoles and controllers and crucially, their concept works well – we're not talking about weird for weird’s sake here. We may love the Resident Evil chainsaw controller, but let’s be honest, its just a standard controller strapped to a gimmick product, and is clunky and awful to use.

And don’t get us started on when we finally got to try the aforementioned Power Glove and all our childhood dreams were shattered – The Wizard was right. It's so bad.

No, below are gaming’s golden weirdies – let’s dive in.

10. Paddle Controller (Atari Home Pong / 2600)

Atari Paddle
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

The granddaddy of home consoles – Home Pong’s paddle with fully rotating dial is in many ways the epitome of an incredibly odd but entirely intuitive gaming input – by today’s standards, anyway.

Although we're slightly loathe to include any input which only operates with a single game on this list, we just couldn’t leave this one out – having been lucky enough to play HomePong on an original machine, we can report it really is remarkably flawless for such old tech.

The dial has a satisfying amount of resistance, which means you’re never overshooting where you want to be, while the simple concept of sliding your paddle back and forth is strangely hypnotic and soothing.

Though we can’t envisage many concepts that would thrive utilising this control method, it’s certainly delightfully strange and perfect. Atari would use the same basic concept on its VCS / 2600 home console – the recently-released 2600+ even ships with the controller.

9. Samba de Amigo Maracas (Sega Dreamcast)

Samba de Amigo
Image: Sega Forever

These shouldn’t work; they really shouldn’t – and, to be honest, they don’t always. But when they do, they’re absolutely wild and a lot of fun.

Sega Dreamcast’s cult rhythm game Samba De Amigo can be played without these little beauties, but honestly, what’s the point if you’re not 'shaking it like a Polaroid picture'? Additional sensors inform the Dreamcast if the maracas are being held, high, medium or low and how hard or often they are being shaken, which allows for a great rhythm game.

They also make a genuine, pleasing maraca sound – which is titillating in itself. The maracas work(ish) with a few other Dreamcast games, but really they’re just built for this one experience. The recent Switch update does a good job of replicating the experience, but it's not really the same.

8. Donkey Kong Bongos (Nintendo Gamecube)

DK Bongos
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Continuing the instrument theme are the DK Bongos, the GameCube peripheral which, for a time, seemed to grace a shelf in every single UK charity shop up and down the high street.

After originally releasing these to play with Donkey Konga in a typical rhythm game where you strike left, right, together or clap, Nintendo then outdid itself with the excellent Donkey Kong Jungle Beat – a DK platformer played entirely with the bongos. Strike a single bongo to move DK left or right both to jump and clap to clap – this last move is used to pull in multiple bananas in one go and multiply your high score.

It strikes that wonderful Nintendo balance of being easy to play and difficult to master – with insane chaining abilities needed to earn yourself a gold crest and this entries brilliant use of the bongos alone pips it over the Samba de Amigo maracas for us.

It’s also taken on a life beyond these titles, with people using them to play all sorts of modern games.

7. EyeToy (Sony PS2)

Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Wonderfully janky and weird, the EyeToy was a camera for the PS2 that put you in the game!

Don’t get too excited, Tron this ain’t. Instead, a live feed of the player is shown on screen while things pop up around you for you to interact with. Obviously, this was later overshadowed by the technically far superior Xbox Kinect, but there’s something about the less sanitised roughness of the EyeToy that we prefer (plus, we never feel like it’s actively spying on us – which is nice).

You can head footballs, chop bad guys, and control a monkey ball as if you were in the monkey ball in Sega Superstars (easily the best EyeToy experience, if you ask us). There were quite a few dedicated EyeToy titles, but so many other games on the system embraced it as a fun add-on, too. We're particularly fond of the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban minigames – but we're a teensy bit biased as the author of this piece provided some voiceover for them (no, really).

In summary, 99% of EyeToy's games are you waving your appendages about like a nutcase, but it’s fun.

6. Balance Board (Nintendo Wii)

Balance Board
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

We still find it weird that the Wii Balance Board is such an enjoyable way to interact with video games (and carry your cups of tea around). You're just standing and leaning – why is it so much fun? It’s because of the games, of course.

We're not talking about the avalanche of fitness games – though Wii Fit Plus had some fun mini-games in skateboarding, juggling while balancing on a ball, and doing maths with your bum (no, really).

We're talking more about games that deeply integrate simple motion into compelling, complete packages – games like Mario and Sonic and the Winter Olympic Games, Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll, Rayman Rabbids Raving TV Party... you could even use it with Punch-Out!! for a slightly more immersive experience.

Though it was even better when paired with the Wiimote, the Wii Balance Board could stand on its own, and its design and sensitivity are perfectly balanced – arf arf.

5. DDR Dance Mat (Various)

Though it wasn’t the first ever rhythm game, Dance Dance Revolution is usually the first you think of – and there are two reasons for that.

The first is its dominance throughout arcades during the early 2000s – we never saw an arcade without one, and they’re still a pretty solid mainstay even now. Second is the decision to make the gameplay use an entirely different part of your body: your feet.

People who could never ‘get’ buttons but could dance had a gaming outlet and a chance to show off their moves. The home dance pads were never as good as the arcade machines as they shifted around and weren’t quite as sensitive, but when they worked, they were a lot of fun and brought all sorts of people together – a proper party game for all folks.

It’s been a long time, but we reckon we could still bust out 'Mucho Mambo Sway' on Expert difficulty – although our relatives would possibly die of embarrassment.

4. Guitar Hero Controller (Various)

Yes, it's another rhythm game input on this list, but this one is the absolute king.

Though it is more limited than the DK Bongos in that it’s only really for one series of games, its longevity (and the frankly awesome feeling you get from wielding it) elevates the Guitar Hero controller to a whole new level.

There’s been a few spin-offs – the drums, the bass, the mic, the decks – but the guitar is easily the best. Realistically, we're never going to learn the instrument for real now, and this is the closest many of us will ever get to feeling like I’m shredding with the finesse of a rock star legend – and who doesn’t want that?

Hit the coloured notes as they flash up on screen, strum the strummy thing, whammy the whammy bar (technical terms, you understand)... it really is simple, but it's brilliant.

There’s very little to add because everyone knows about this controller, which speaks to its quality and ubiquity as a weird but totally excellent video game input.

3. Wiimote (Nintendo Wii)

Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

It’s pretty hard to quantify how strange and magical this little wand seemed back in 2006.

Though it could be turned sideways and used like a standard controller, the fancy gubbins within the Wiimote opened up whole new avenues of play for people who just didn’t 'get' gaming controllers, while granting wonderous, new experiences for veterans who did.

Though it genuinely came into its own with the release of the Wii Motion Plus – a bolt-on block that allowed for greater accuracy recording the Wiimote’s position that was built into later models of the Wiimote – it worked wonders for years without it.

It could also be many things – the maracas we mentioned earlier, a light gun, a sword... many varied, hilarious things like a glass of water to chuck over your face in WarioWare Smooth Moves, the Wiimote is a truly brilliant piece of engineering. We actually think one of the games that uses it best is No More Heroes - we'll never forget playing it for the first time and putting the Wiimote to our ear to hear a phone conversation coming out of its little speaker. Genius.

In some ways, it’s a shame that the Wii was so successful that people got burned out on motion control things because when it’s done right it’s absolutely brilliant – as we’ve seen with the latest WarioWare entry, funnily enough. Perhaps it’s making a comeback?

Though the Switch’s JoyCon have very clever HD Rumble and operate similarly – they just aren’t as magical as their predecessor.

2. The Crank (Playdate)

Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

The latest edition on this list, the Playdate is a fantastic piece of kit from Panic. We are in quite an exciting time for gaming, with smaller companies bringing out products that let us faithfully experience old games, but Panic added a lovely little twist onto this.

The Playdate is a 1-bit system akin to a Game Boy – it’s got two face buttons, a D-pad, and a crank. Yes, a fully rotating crank on its side.

And we know what you’re thinking – so it’s just for fishing games, then? The answer is absolutely not – there are so many incredible experiences on it that use the crank in terrific, unexpected ways.

Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure is part of the console’s first season of games (24 titles that come free – with two dropped per week) and it is a game where you use only the crank to move your character back and forth through time to avoid constantly moving objects with a brilliantly balanced difficulty curve. Casual Birder is a sort of Pokémon Snap-style adventure game where the crank allows you to focus your camera as you solve puzzles to snap local birds (it’s incredible). Skew is a spinoff of the critically vaunted The Last Worker VR game, where you crank to stay afloat through an endless maze of obstacles (think Star Fox tunnels).

Part of the system’s appeal is the openness of the platform. Panic has created completely free, open tools for anybody to create and sell games on the system. Though the wait for one can be long, Panic is pretty transparent with lead times, meaning you never feel out of the loop. Much more than a novelty, the Playdate never leaves our side, and we urge everyone to give it a look in 2024.

1. Stylus (Nintendo DS and 3DS)

Star Fox Command
Image: Zion Grassl / Time Extension

"But this isn’t weird?!" I hear you scream. My dear reader, it is super weird. You’re using basically a pencil in a vast number of ways to play a massive variety of video games – and all of this before touch screens were as prolific as they are now.

The fact that you don’t think it’s weird is a testament to how successfully and brilliantly this unique input was used within the DS’ massive catalogue of games. Think about the breadth of games and the different uses for the stylus: Trauma Centre, Kirby: Canvas Curse, Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Brain Training, Kid Icarus: Uprising, WarioWare Touched... we would strongly suspect that at no point while enjoying these marvels did you stop and think, "It’s weird that I’m using a stylus for this," but it was.

Nintendo kept the stylus for the DS success, the 3DS, and while its successful hybrid Switch console retains touch control, it's not quite the same as usual a pen-like interface. We really miss interacting with games this way; we loved making physical notes on a map or writing numbers that magically pop up, even tapping on clues in point-and-click adventure because it’s just so much more satisfying than scrolling around.

It taps into that childhood wonder of picking up a pen and drawing pictures, creating something – it’s primal. There’s a good reason the DS is the second best-selling video game system of all time, and we think connecting the player to the console and its games in such an instinctual, personal way is a big part of that.

What weird and wonderful gaming inputs have you enjoyed over the years? And are there any coming up? Let us know what you think!