It’s been a few years since the days that I would shove my entire hand down into the cereal box of yellow corn pops to get my fingers on some cheap toy wrapped in cellophane near the bottom of it all. But the feeling of exhilaration when my sticky hand came out clutching the prize was undeniably one of giddiness and extreme satisfaction. And it still amazes me that I could actually talk my mother into buying one of the most unhealthy dietary consumables ever devised by mankind for the sake of that plastic toy that some might call a holy grail.
It’s not hard to imagine why a cereal company would tempt little kids with a piece of plastic shaped into the form of a baking-soda-powered submarine. That dangling carrot can end in selling 20% more boxes of cereal while the promotion goes on. Video game companies have realized this and have provided us with some pretty interesting toys in our game boxes. So now a perfectly mature adult can get the same feeling of giddy exuberation they got when they were a sugar-addicted kid.
Here are my top ten.
There’s nothing better than letting kids play with guns, so in 1985 Nintendo packaged their Deluxe NES console with their “Zapper”, Rob the Robot, 2 controllers, Gyromite, and Duck Hunt cartridge and called it a Deluxe Set.
This wasn’t the first time a company provided a package deal with a gun, but it was arguably the first time a company had great success putting that kind of peripheral in the box containing a game (The robot was a first, though). This was after the video game market crash of 1983, and at the time retailers were not so inclined to buy into another game system. These “Toys” were part of Nintendo’s plan to revitalize an entire industry that was on its deathbed!
But before there was a Nintendo Zapper, Milton Bradley had packaged a couple different kinds of platform-mounted controllers with their Atari 2600 games Spitfire Attack and Survival Run which were actually just glorified joysticks disguised as cross-hair-aimed guns. Other games that have had pack-in guns you could actually aim at the screen are the Virtua Cop “Stunner” Saturn titles, the Playstation “GunCon” Time Crisis and Elemental Gearbolt titles, Cabelas Big Game Hunter (multisystem), as well as the PS3 game, Socom 4 with Move bundle (Sharp Shooter gun included).
Nintendo eventually combined Duck Hunt with Super Mario Bros in a single cartridge which seemed innovative at the time, but there were Atari 2600 and Colecovision cartridges called “double enders” which preceded Nintendo’s duo-game. The difference being that with those, you would have to pull out your cartridge, flip it over, and reinsert it from the other side. One of these “double enders” made by Xonox featured Chuck Norris Superkicks on one side and a game having to do with firing weapons at targets (Artillery Duel). Sound familiar? Maybe Nintendo took a note from them when making the combo Super Mario/Duck Hunt dual cartridge. If only Chuck Norris could have been the mascot for Nintendo instead of Mario. . . When Mario punched a brick it exploded, But Chuck Norris would do a roundhouse and wipe out all of Mushroom land! Okay…maybe we were better off with Mario.
There have been many games packaged with communication devices, and among the first was B-17 Bomber which came with the Intellivoice peripheral for speech synthesis. Commodore 64 gamers enjoyed the first pack-in sound-recognition peripheral back in the eighties with their space flight game, Eschelon. Speaking a word into the “voice-activated” headset would trigger the second fire button, and what made it really cool was the fact that the headset could be used with any and all games that used a second fire button. The voice recognition wasn’t too picky- any chosen word would do the job. Approximately 15 years later the N64 VRU (Voice Recognition Unit) was packaged in with Hey You Pikachu! and it allowed for specific word recognition, but the downside was that it only worked with a couple games. Another microphone peripheral (inserted into the controller) was released for the Dreamcast game system along with Sega’s Seaman and Alien Front Online. The one I spent loads of time on was Seaman and I will never forget sharing my life with that sarcastic fish with a heart of gold. I think he recognized about half the words I spoke! More recently, Nintendo got back into the voice recognition game with their Wii Speak peripheral packed in with Animal Crossing: City Folk and Endless Ocean: Blue World. It is compatible with over a dozen games which far surpasses the number of games you could use the N64’s VRU and Dreamcast’s microphone for.
The advent of console game system single-ear chat headsets/Stereo-Surround headsets/Bluetooth devices occured when Sony introduced the gaming single-ear chat headset for its Playstation 2 system which was packed in with the game Socom U.S. Navy Seals. The Socom game with headset was a very hot seller at the time once again demonstrating the point that throwing an extra toy in with your game maximizes profits. The latest advance in game chatting is the 360 Throat Communicator (with connected ear-piece) available from various third party manufacturers which offers that extra cool factor you might want to have. So far, no game has come with one of these as a pack-in.
Sony packaged the game, Play, with their Eye Toy camera back in October of 2003 and since then the world of gaming has never been the same. Their device also had a built-in microphone enhancement, as does the Playstation Eye Camera used with the PS3 Move peripheral (packed in with the game Sports Champions or Little Big Planet or Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12). Another example of a company packaging a camera with their game is Microsoft with Kinect which, along with Kinect Adventures, has sold fairly well (over 20 million). Curiously, Nintendo chose not to have a pack-in game with their 35mm N64 Camera peripheral, though they did with the Gameboy Camera (Space Fever II had been programmed into it).
The future is bright for camera peripherals, and there is evidence that Microsoft is planning its next generation camera to be integrated with projectors that will fill the room with images akin to a holodeck. Admittedly this technology will have to advance considerably before we reach a Star Trek-like experience, but you have to start somewhere. One has to wonder what the pack-in game will be for the first camera/projection game. . . if there’s a phaser involved and it’s massive multiplayer, I’ll meet every one of you in my living room sometime in 2014 hopefully- except for those of you who insist on playing the game in your briefs.
Some games have come bundled with masks, helmets, and clothing/outfits/jewelry so hardcore collectors can get their cosplay on. One example of this is Capcom’s Resident Evil 6 (PS3/360) packed in with Leon’s genuine leather jacket (Japan only) for $1300. Now that’s a real-man’s pack-in! The gamers outside Japan got a hoodie in their RE6 Collector’s Edition box (among some other things), and I suppose that’ll have to do.
If you like helmets that are too small to actually wear you’ll want to get the Killzone 3 Helghast helmet or Master Chief’s helmet (Halo 3 Legendary Edition). For those who like the idea of walking around looking a little scary there’s always the skull mask that come packaged in Darksiders II Collectors Edition for the Xbox 360/PS3, and don’t forget the bloody Gears of War 2 Lancer gun/chainsaw for those trips to the airport. For the girls there was Lucia’s pendant that came with the re-release of the PS1 game, Lunar 2 (along with a music cd), and then there’s the game, Catherine, which comes with white boxer shorts with pink polka dots. If you have very long blond hair, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s a 2 foot long arrow quiver that you can get with the Xbox 360 game Lord of the Rings: War in the North.
If you like toys or random items in your game box there are plenty of examples of companies doing this. Typically the cool items tie in with the game that they come packaged with. Borderlands 2 had a bobblehead figure packed in, but Assassins Creed went to the next level by giving you a flag and a belt buckle. Back in the 80’s things got a little odd when Infocom’s Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure game came with pocket fluff, a Don’t Panic button, a pair of Joo-Janta Super 200 Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses, and a microscopic space fleet in a little plastic baggie. Grand Theft Auto 4 provided you with a keychain, bag, and safe deposit box to keep your goodies in, but Call of Duty Black Ops went one better with it’s included RC car. Packed in with the Halo Reach legendary edition was a really nice team statue to put on your fireplace mantle when your mom or wife isn’t looking. Bioshock 2‘s Collector’s Edition came with its orchestral score on a vinyl record. Among the most popular pack-in items lately are the highly collectible Skylander toys which come with the most recent Spyro game. Fallout: New Vegas came with a deck of cards for those times when gamers want to rest their eyes from all that tv-viewing. One of the best pack-ins was the fully-functional night vision goggles that came with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 ‘Prestige Edition’. You just never know what you’ll get in a collectors edition box. . .
Some games have been packed in with controller add-ons. A great example of this is the Atari 2600 joystick fit-over device called the Booster Grip which was utilized with Omega Race (CBS Games). While all other Atari games were played with one button, this allowed two button functionality (one for forward thrust and one for weapon firing) and had a great ergonomics for the Atari joystick controller. It was also supposed to come packaged with Wings but the game never made it out due to the video game crash of 1983 and to this day no one has ever found a prototype of the aerial-dogfighting game. Another classic game controller add-on was the Atari 5200 Robotron 2084 controller connector which allowed two 5200 controllers to be put into action for some two-fisted gameplay like in the arcade.
Nintendo’s Starfox 64 came with a pack-in Rumble Pak, which got us all into feeling every bump and every hit. Another controller rumble enhancement pack-in that came with the Japanese version of Rez for the Dreamcast was an external rumble device to supplement the standard controller rumble for those who just weren’t getting enough buzz out of their games. More recently we’ve seen the Wii MotionPlus attachment packed in with Wii Sports Resort enabling more precise controls for the wand-wavers among us. Later on, the Wii motion plus became standard in all Wii remotes. Speaking of the Wii, there are sports-related attachments for the remote that come packaged in with various games like NHL Slapshot which can add to the fun.
Another unique controller attachment that allows Guitar Hero fans to go portable is the guitar button adapter packaged in with the Nintendo DS game, Guitar Hero: On Tour.
Getting a little more fun out of your controller is always a good thing, but imagine how great it’d be to get a game that comes with a game system enhancer. In the early 80’s a small company by the name of Arcadia released their game Phaser Patrol (similar to Star Raiders) with something called a Supercharger, and gamers were blown away by sharper and more detailed graphics that it offered. The cassette games which were compatible with Arcadia’s product (AKA Starpath Supercharger) were loaded via a cassette player hooked up to the device, and the loading times were under 30 seconds so impatient gamers wouldn’t get too upset. Other companies released enhanced games with connecting devices including Sega (Sega CD with Sewer Shark and Sega Genesis 32x which had no pack-in game- just a $60 coupon) as well as Nintendo (N64 Expansion Pak with Donkey Kong 64) and Atari (Jaguar CD which came with Vid Grid and Blue Lightning). All of these games were supposed to be better than the regular games on the initial game systems and sometimes that was true, while other cases are more of a mixed bag (ie. Jaguar).
In 2001 Nintendo released an attachment for the GameBoy Advance that didn’t necessarily enhance games with better graphics, but allowed cards to be read that enabled gamers to add new items to Gamecube games (ie. Animal Crossing) when connected by a cable to the console. The E-Reader was a novelty that also provided classic NES titles, like the pack-in game Donkey Kong Jr, to be played on the GameBoy Advance if you didn’t mind wasting 60 seconds on the load-in. This system add-on didn’t sell very well in Europe and North America, but did in Japan. On the whole, system enhancers may not be as successful as one would like them to be, but they give gamers a sense that their game system is still going strong despite its age.
We all know that video games are an artform and all artists need instruments by which to express their creativity. Musical instrument controllers and instruments by which one can draw or paint on an electronic canvas have been a major part of the video game industry for over 25 years. One of the first examples of this was the Vectrex Lightpen which came with Art Master for the Vectrex game system in the early 80’s. With this pen one could draw pictures, play connect the dots, and even compose music on the screen of the game system. Other similar titles have had pack-in instruments of art like SNES Mario Paint (with mouse peripheral) and uDraw Studio with the uDraw Tablet included for the Wii.
There have been quite a few games for aspiring musicians, and these are often games based on rhythm and exact timing. Percussionists have been treated to games which have you banging on a single drum (Taiko Drum Master with Drumcon), full drumsets (Rockband for Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360), dual bongos (Donkey Konga for the Nintendo Gamecube), foot-tapping pads (the DDR games), as well as maracas (Samba de Amigo for the Dreamcast). And for those of you who want to take it to the next level in the rhythm department there’s DJ Hero and DJ Hero 2 with turntable (Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360).
Most video gamers have enjoyed rocking the house with the electric guitar controller that came with one of many Guitar Hero titles, but there’s an instrument you may not have heard of that I think is worth a mention here. In 1990 a company called The Software Toolworks produced a musical keyboard along with a cartridge entitled Miracle Piano Teaching System for the NES, SNES, and Genesis for a whopper of a price- $500. This keyboard produced a variety of different sounds through its own speakers and could interact with the cartridge by being plugged into the console through the controller port. These are very hard to come by, but happen to be a great example of an actual musical instrument produced for a video game console. For those of you who want to spend a little less money on a keyboard you can use on your console, Rockband 3 offered a pack-in keyboard to add to your garage band experience in the most spectacular, 80’s, keytar style possible!
So, now you know- It has been done and most recently was done again with the launch of Rocksmith, which allows gamers and musicians alike to plug in and play a real guitar. It even came in a bundle, Guitar included!
This next category has a tie-in with the previous musical category. We can consider the Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) dance mat to be not only a percussive instrument to enjoy with music-based games, but also a peripheral that enables a great cardio workout. Since the early 1980’s companies have been packing in hardware to help couch potatos get up and work up a sweat for once. During the Atari 2600 era Amiga released the Joyboard (just slightly smaller than the Wii Fit board) for their skiing game Mogul Maniac, while Exidy released the Foot Craz Pad for their titles Video Reflex and Video Jogger. Apparently people didn’t want to use their reflexes or jog to their video games in the 80’s because the Foot Craz Pad and the Exidy cartridges are rarer than a Nintendo Tengen Tetris game now. Nintendo actually had the first real success with an exercise peripheral, the Power Pad, which happened to be packed in with the game World Class Track Meet. This mat is the true predecessor to the DDR dance mat and actually could be used to play music-based titles by stepping around on the mat. The next game system to get in on the exercise bandwagon was the Genesis with its infrared laser Sega Activator which had you waving feet and arms around to control games that would be more easily controlled with a simple gamepad. The Activator is now known as one of the biggest flops in the annals of video game history.
As everyone knows, the Nintendo’s Wii Fit with pack-in balance board became a very hot seller starting in 2007 (one of the top video game titles in history, actually) so a number of competitors wanted to follow suit. EA put a number of goodies in the box of their EA Sports Active title, including an elastic resistance band and a pouch to hold your Wii remote. The sequel, EA Sports Active 2, even included a heart rate monitor as well as motion sensing peripherals. When it comes to video game fitness we have come a long way since the Atari Foot Craz Pad.
Some games need authentic arcade controls to maximize a truly fulfilling video game experience, and what better way to do that than to offer a special controller as a pack-in? When Atari released Star Raiders they also included a numeric pad controller with it for use on the 2600 console… not exactly exciting, but it did add to the experience a bit. Atari also included a paddle called the Driving Controller with their Indy 500 game for analog steering control. Atari’s pack-in controllers weren’t flashy by any means, but they all got the job done and were compatible with multiple games. One of the first companies to get an exciting controller in the box with a racing game was Coleco. Colecovision gamers got to play their racing game, Turbo, with a genuine steering wheel with pedal attachment. The Colecovision gamers also got a Roller Controller packed in with the game, Slither (a bit like Centipede), so all who wanted the arcade experience could have it.
During the Playstation/Saturn era Sega’s Nights into Dreams included a special 3D control pad. Not to be outdone, the Playstation front-runner, Namco, produced a pack-in force-feedback driving controller with their game, Ridge Racer Type 4 called the JogCon. Unfortunately, the JogCon was not well-received, so I guess you can say that Sega’s 3D controller was truly the winner here. Another popular pack-in controller was the fishing reel controller for the Playstation game Reel Fishing which got gamers closer than ever to that cast-your-line feeling. Sega chose not to include pack-in controllers for the Dreamcast games Sega Bass Fishing (fishing reel) and Virtual-On: Oratorio Tangram (twin sticks), which really needed these specialty controllers. If only Sega would have thought it all through a little better, the Dreamcast might have… Oh, never mind. For the Wii a custom remote came packaged with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and you can plant your feet on a sketchy skateboard that came with Tony Hawk: Ride and Tony Hawk: Shred (but buyer beware, those skateboarding games are in that bargain bin for a reason).
Also, there have been arcade fighting joysticks packed in with recent releases of Mortal Kombat and Tekken. A more obscure PS1 fighting game, Wu Tang: Taste the Pain (the European version of Wu Tang: Shaolin Style), had a specially made gamepad packed in shaped like the logo of Wu Tang Clan.
Lastly, for those of you who want to know what the ultimate pack-in item of all time is, I will declare it here. This controller came with the 2002 Xbox game Steel Battalion and rules over all other controllers in existence. It’s a one-of-a-kind monster controller with scads of illuminated buttons, two joysticks, three foot pedals (because two just weren’t enough), a gear shifter, a communication dial, and even a protected-access eject button! No puny thumbsticks, no girly-man d-pad, no feeble “shoulder buttons” here. Just raw steel and highly complex, impenetrable electronics for the pro who instinctively knows just what to do with it all. Capcom really outdid themselves with this one, and there may never be a pack-in item that comes close to rivaling what was created by them in 2002.
We all want a good video game, but when it comes packed in with something innovative, experimental, or artistically appealing it gives extra motivation to thunk down the money. In fact, if the game isn’t all that great, at least the extra prize one got in the box might prove to be extra valuable. For some it’s the unprecedented pack-in itself that drives the purchase more than the game it came with, and that may lead one to call it more than a pack-in, but a lead-in to a new triumph in gaming. Everyone likes to see things like that happen because it’s the driving force that generates hope for where it all is going. Unexpected turns on the route of advancement keeps the air from getting stale, and we all know this is an industry that thrives in an atmosphere of innovation.