The Gratuitous Rainbow Spectrum

More Power Pad Please

More Power Pad Please

Kris Randazzo
7 minute read

Use Your Feet

Time for an “old man yells at cloud” moment, but to heck with it. There aren’t enough games these days that make you use your feet! And no, I don’t mean games like Ring Fit Adventures or Just Dance where you’re encouraged to use your feet to move in place but the game is only really tracking your arm and leg movements at best. I mean use your feet to press gigantic buttons! The Power Pad did it way back in the 80s and it was fantastic. Sadly, it died with the NES and never returned.

In the years following the Power Pad, many others tried to imitate it. The Sega Activator was a mess that was supposed to pick up your movements without the need for giant foot buttons, but that was wishful thinking at best. Of course, Dance Dance Revolution was a fantastic return to button stomping, but for as great as it was, it never hit the same level of creativity that the NES Power Pad did.

In case you’ve never seen one, the Power Pad is a big soft mat that you place on the floor and use your feet to control games. It started life as the Family Fun Fitness Pad from Bandai, but at some point Nintendo brought it in-house and rebranded it as the Power Pad, renamed the game Stadium Events as World Class Track Meet to use as a pack-in title, and eventually even included the whole bundle in with the NES itself, complete with special cartridges that had Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, and World Class Track Meet in one! It was quite a time to be alive, and while parents loved it because it got kids off the couch, kids loved it because it was absurdly fun.

Sports Mania

World Class Track Meet is a super simple game. It’s loosely based on Olympic events like the 100m Dash, Long Jump, Hurdles, and Triple Jump. These are all pretty self explanatory, except there are some rather silly ways to cheat in most of them. Some kids thought it was easier to get down on the floor and beat the buttons with their hands to make their characters run super fast, and any of the jumping events can be cheesed thoroughly by literally jumping off of the mat and letting your character fly through the air for some rather absurd distances.

There were a couple of games based around athletic competition, but a few stepped pretty nicely outside of the box. Take Dance Aerobics, for example. The basic game itself is exactly what you’d expect, and it isn’t even remotely fun. However, there’s a whole music-making program built in where you can use the Power Pad like the giant keyboard in the movie Big. Again, it isn’t exactly spectacular, but it is pretty neat.

Or how about Street Cop? This weirdo game is almost like a brawler, and you have to play it with a combination of the Power Pad and standard controller. You move your cop character around with your feet, and you perform various attacks with the controller. It requires a weird level of coordination, and I’d be lying if I ever really felt like I got the hang of it, but it’s such a bananas experience that it’s still well worth playing today, and there’s still nothing else quite like it on the NES.

2 in 1 Madness

My favorite power pad games though are Short Order and Eggsplode. These two were bundled together in a single cartridge, and they’re both a heck of a lot of fun, especially in a crowd. Short Order is basically Simon. A customer walks into your burger restaurant and you have to make them food. You do this by jumping on various buttons which are assigned to tomatoes, burger patties, cheese, and lettuce. The customer will tell you what they want, and you have to follow their instructions in order or you lose. It’s very charming and while it’s a simple concept, it’s really quite fun.

Even better though is Eggsplode. This game is completely ridiculous. On the screen there are a number of chickens lined up in the same pattern as the buttons on thePower pad. Foxes then come running across the screen placing bombs under the chickens, and you have to step on the corresponding buttons to protect the chickens from the exploding bombs. Red bombs are normal, but eventually you’ll get orange bombs that explode twice as fast, and blue bombs that you have to step on twice to break. You also have to be careful not to step on the wrong thing. Sometimes chickens will lay eggs, and if you step on those instead of a bomb you'll lose a life. Levels keep getting faster and faster as you go, and it’s just pure chaos. I’ve always had fun with a sort of makeshift multiplayer mode where two people play co-op. Each player takes one half of the power pad, and well, it’s just a good, chaotic time.

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These are very specific gaming experiences that can’t be replicated in any way other than using a Power Pad, and I can’t help but wonder why controllers like this went away.

DDR more or less ran its course, but this other kind of stuff? There has to still be a way to market it because these games are still a blast to play today!

Modern technology could be very helpful in making a new iteration of the Power Pad a much better experience than ever before. Obviously things like button accuracy and durability have never been an issue as the Power Pad itself was pretty tough, but there are other issues that could be improved on. First and foremost is the mysterious Side A. As far as I know, no games released in North America even used Side A, which begs the question, why does it exist? I imagine scrapping Side A and replacing it with some extra grippy rubber would make the whole experience far more usable, and possibly even less expensive to produce.

Making it Dance Pad compatible would be a great thing as well. The Power Pad was 4 buttons across and 3 buttons down, and DDR dance pads only need to be 3 by 3, so making them fit wouldn’t be a problem at all. Bring on DDR Mario Mix 2!

Having them be wireless would be great too. A problem that sometimes arises, especially when playing with kids (and over-excited adults), is that they get all excited and jump around while playing. It’s pretty easy to lose one’s balance and trip over the cord. A wireless option would be a big benefit. Especially in multiplayer affairs. Naturally most Power Pad games only used one mat, but think of the possibilities of multi mat play! DDR already did that, and it was great.

There’s a lot of potential left in the world of Power Pad gaming, and a brand new iteration would be super cool for sure. Will we ever see the return of mat-based gaming? I somehow doubt it, but I’d sure like to be wrong. What do you think? Would you play a new Power Pad in 2023? 

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