Some call it a controller, some call it a peripheral, some even call it a gimmick. I would say it is all of these and more.  The Nintendo PowerGlove is one of the most talked about pieces of the juggernaut system we know as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).   Critics have said it was a failure, but hardcore gamers and programmers knew it was ahead of its time and would change the way we play home console games forever.  There were so many ways to use the glove, but when it was released to the public in 1989, it did not have enough software created to display its full capacity.   One reason was that Nintendo really wanted this item to ship before the holidays of 1989.   They knew they had another year or so to make the games for the glove but were forced to release it without any games to really play on.   The one game the glove was designed for and the commercial showed, was a game called Super Glove Ball.  The game was not completely ready to release so the gamers were disappointed to pay for the glove and not be able to play the game.  What designers had to do was to use the current games released to interact with the glove.  Games like Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, Super Mario Bros, and Metroid.   The problem was that it was very difficult to make the PowerGlove as accurate as the standard controller that was used for the system.  This made gameplay very hard and frustrating and gamers felt like they wasted their money.   Before we talk about what games worked and how to use the PowerGlove, lets break down how this futuristic glove worked and where the idea originally came from.

The idea of the PowerGlove start long before the release in 1989.   Designer and programmers had the idea of an interactive glove since the late 1970’s.  The idea was first called the “DataGlove”. It was an interactive glove that was used for big corporation testing such as NASA and highly secretive government agencies.  When the growth of home consoles became mainstream, the idea of using the glove as an interactive toy was appealing to companies such as Mattel.   The design and feel of the glove were tested and tested many times over.   The final product had a RoboCop feel to it and responded well to the designers.  Like I said earlier, the problem was software.  That was not designed perfectly to the release of the glove and that was its ultimate downfall.   Games were not as interactive as they were told.   In fact, it made games a lot harder and less fun.

A couple games did make it to the public after the glove was released.  One of these games is Super Glove Ball.   This 3-D puzzle game came out in 1990 from the publisher Rare.  The plot was mainly about the player saving the shuttle commander who is trapped in a maze. The only way to win is to throw the Energy Balls at the walls and break the commander free. To do this would involve incredible timing and skill.  Practice was the ultimate key in this game.  The glove itself controls the hand on the screen.   The first-person perspective gives an almost virtual reality feel to it.  The player is not allowed to have the ball pass the hand the game is over.  When a ball hits a tile, it is destroyed. The player will get five chances (balls) to defeat the wall. Another way to battle is to hit the select button on the glove to shoot Robo-Bullets.  These can destroy the walls with one hit, but still need to maintain the ball from passing you.  When all the walls are destroyed, the game progresses to the next level.  Other items that can be used in your favor are Ice Balls, Bomb Balls, and Super Balls. If anyone wants to use the glove in the way it was intended, Super Glove Ball is the game to play.   It was designed specifically for the glove. You can play the game with the standard controller, but it is not that much fun.   It really needs the glove to get the full experience.

A totally opposite game that was created for the NES as well as other systems was Bad Street Brawler.  Mattel tinkered in the gaming world by developing this fighting game for multiple platforms.   The NES version, however, was more realistic using the PowerGlove.   This beat ‘em up game took place on the streets where gagsters are getting in your way.   The object is to, well, beat them up.  This Double Dragon like feel was difficult to handle with the PowerGlove. The reaction time of hitting the bad guys to the actual timing in the game seemed to be a bit delayed.  Using the buttons on the glove with the idea of punching your way through levels, was frustrating at best.  Once you get past the gangsters, each level brings new trouble to the streets such as Guerillas and Circus Dwarfs.  All in all, there are 15 stages to this fighting game.   It is not the game it was set out to be, but it did give the PowerGlove a run for its money.  Being one of very few games to use the PowerGlove, it still was not flying off the shelves.

Once the PowerGlove hit the consumers, the first thing a lot of technically savvy people did was to hack the glove.   Like the world today of hacking consoles and loading hundreds of game roms on it, the PowerGlove was one of the first items to have the gamers program it and use it in different ways.   The glove could be seen used as a musical instrument, a DJ turntable, robotic arm to move household items and of course the use of the glove as normal clothing attire.  One of the most recognizable people to wear the glove, even today, is Isiah TriForce Johnson.  TriForce is historically known for his Zelda knowledge, his week long waiting in lines for the new Nintendo product and an advocate for Esports in the U.S.A. and other countries.   However, most people think of the PowerGlove when they hear or see TriForce.  It is with him always and is like putting on your socks, he puts on the glove wherever he goes.  It’s a status symbol for him and is proud to wear it and talk about its history.

Here is a little story from TriForce about the PowerGlove: “The power glove has played a significant role shaping who I am as a gamer. When I was a kid in the late 80’s going into the 90’s I use to hang with my group of friends, and we call our group ‘Videoland’. Yeah, that was before Captain N the Gamemaster. Our group leader and GameMaster Kevin got a PowerGlove and I always thought it was cool. In 91 though he just wasn’t into games the way he used to be in the 80’s. He then told me I was the group’s GameMaster. He gave me his PowerGlove and told me that it was like the crown for being the GameMaster so wear it so long as you represent the group. 30 years later, I still wear it and Videoland has now become an Empire with my eSports Brand Team Empire Arcadia. I still wear it but not just as a GameMaster but the Emperor of Arcadia. It is the symbol of my history growing up as a gamer and I still wear it to this day”.

The PowerGlove has been the pioneer of wireless controls.  When the Nintendo Wii came out, it really looked like similar technology the PowerGlove used to control the Wii remotes, then Sony came out with the wands that are wireless.   Now, today, there are multiple controllers that in some way, got the ideas from the PowerGlove.  Nothing has come close, however, to the design and the coolness of the glove. Nintendo was definitely playing with Power in the 1980’s.


Todd Friedman Todd Friedman (396 Posts)

Todd Friedman is heavily involved in the retro gaming community and has co-promoted the Video Game Summit in Chicago, IL for the past 16 years. He also has published 2 books and written for various different gaming magazines including Old School Gamer.