Why You’ve Never Heard About Nintendo’s U-Force

90’s kids think that the Power Glove was the coolest game peripheral of the epoch. We might have thought so too, until we heard about Don’t Touch: The Story of the U-Force from [The Gaming Historian].

The device itself folded up like a laptop, and on the two surfaces had four IR LED/sensor pairs. All of these combined would localize your fist in space for playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, or would work with various other passive controller add-ons like a flight yoke for playing Top Gun. (One of the coolest bits is the flip-out IR reflectors triggered by the buttons in the yoke.)

All-in-all, the video’s take is that a number of factors doomed the U-Force to play second fiddle to the Power Glove. Battling Mattel’s marketing prowess is obvious, but other things like manufacturing problems due to bad hinges and inconsistent IR sensors delayed release and added cost. In the end, though, [Dave Capper], the U-Force’s inventor, puts it down simply to non-convincing gameplay. There were no blockbuster games that used it to its full potential.

At the time, the U-Force utilized more IR LEDs than any other consumer electronic device.

We think there’s interesting hacker potential in a simple interface like this. Perhaps its biggest Achilles heel outside of the lack of a killer application was the fact that it required calibration. We can imagine all sorts of awesome interactions, and we’re not afraid of a little tweaking. Or maybe we would update the sensors to something more modern, like those inexpensive time-of-flight distance units.

Thanks [Karl Koscher] for bringing this documentary to our attention in the comments about the very similarly interesting laser theremin project we featured last year. It’s definitely opened our eyes to an old interaction of the past that would seem no less magical today.

21 thoughts on “Why You’ve Never Heard About Nintendo’s U-Force

  1. These interfaces always suffered from the “gorilla arm syndrome”, where you quickly tire of holding your arms up front and develop shoulder, arm and back pains in prolonged use. It works for some games like tennis, but not for anything where you have to keep pointing at stuff continuously.

    1. That’s the same reason why all of the “3D” mouse input devices have been flops. It doesn’t matter how light the thing is, it’s still tiring to hold your arm up and wave it around *and* make precise movements to do tasks like move a mouse pointer.

      One thing that can ease it some is writing the software to gently ‘adjust’ the movement, use large-ish hot spots, and damp out jiggle. I set up a TV the other day where the remote acted like a ‘magic wand’ to move a pointer around on the screen. It worked quite well for typing things on the on-screen keyboard. I could tell there was some fancy software work smoothing things out and the large ‘buttons’ made precision unnecessary.

      Video games should use similar tricks. Watch someone playing Beat Saber, they don’t have to make super-precise swings with the controllers to hit the cubes. If the game required the level of precision of using a mouse on a computer, hardly anyone would be able to stand to play the game.

    1. That’s probably how most have heard of it. I know I have at least. Same with the Power Glove. Yeah Americans may know it better from The Wizard, but over here in Europe, we had no such thing afaik.

  2. I still have mine, almost brand new that I got very cheap from Goodwill many years ago. It looked like someone played with it for about 5 minutes and decided it sucked put it back in the box, and forgot it for about 20 years before finally donating it to Goodwill.

    I played with it and decided it deserved the negative comments.

    1. I don’t have one anymore but I agree. It was a massive pain to use and was well before its time for adoption and usability. I also had a Virtualboy for a while.. That red-only “vr” that made you feel like your eyes were being burned out. Another idea that cam to be long before the tech was really there to make it usable.

      1. I still have it and I still play em now and then. I took off the stand, lay in bed, and place the headset on my face. Then I could play a long time without neck issue. Still have eye strain though.

  3. The U-Force had nothing more to do with Nintendo than a controller connector. Broderbund made it, and it didn’t work. Consumer IR tracking in a well illuminated room was spotty to be kind at the time. It failed because it sucked, not because there wasn’t any software for it. I didn’t see any “consumer” level IR tracking with any accuracy personally until the arcade game “Police 911”. Don’t attribute the failure to lack of interest – the interest was there for motion controls – but the implementation was poor.

  4. I distinctly remember being, what, 10 or 12 years old and seeing the Power Glove in The Wizard, a Nintendo-sponsored (I think) movie with Fred Savage. Finally got to play with one a bit later at a friend’s house and it super sucked, even to very young me. I think we were trying to use it for an airplane shooter game of some type and I remember him saying “don’t move your pinky AT ALL or it will shoot all your missles.” Looked rad AF though, but was entirely unusable as a video game input device. So when I saw the Uforce and got similarly pumped, you can imagine my letdown when, yeah, it also super duper sucked. I remember the ads specifically showing it for Mike Tyson’s punchout. I feel bad for my friend’s parents that parted with their hard earned cash to purchases those things. Fully admit my memories could be totally false. It’s been a while. Oh, Super Mario 3 that also (I think) debuted in The Wizard didn’t at all suck and has to be a top-5 of all time video game.

    1. Which was also not great. Gorilla arms aside, on release it’s cpu usage was pretty heavy and it wouldn’t work with a lot of usb controllers (also a problem with the kinect 2) due to it’s usage of a brand new higher speed standard… (I don’t think it was just usb 2 at release, it seems to be now though)

  5. What’s really fukin irritating is stupid people acting like a headline is directed only at them and veiled a poke at their intelligence, which by your rection proves that your not that intelligent. Just a troll….

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