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DoctorSpuds Reviews Things - Controllers, Controllers Everywhere.


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For the past 175 or so reviews I have focused only on the games, and more recently the packaging. One element of playing games that seems to be often overlooked by anybody is the controller. We all have that one controller that we’ll choose no matter what. So I thought to myself “Do a thing about controllers dsjgbpoiubdsajln nsamldfoi” and then the static set back in. I have a decent selection of Atari 2600 and 2600 compatible controllers, so I thought I’d write a paragraph or so describing them, how they are to hold and play on, and in some cases the internals which can be rather unique. I currently own, excluding Paddle, Driving, and Keyboard controllers:
3X –Atari CX40 Joysticks
2X – Atari CX10 Joysticks
2X – Amiga Power-sticks
2X – Wico Command Control Bat Joysticks
2X – Sega Genesis standard gamepads
1X – Champ Retractable Cord Joystick (The Saucer)
1X – Competition Pro
1X – Suncom Slik Stik
1x –Wico ‘The Boss’
As far as I can tell they all work too.

Let’s start with the basic CX40 controller, we all have one or two of these, and honestly there is very little to talk about when it comes to them. Many people like these controllers but it seems that there are equal amounts that hate them, or at least greatly dislike them. CX40’s were manufactured simply and with fairly cheap parts so it’s not uncommon to find boxes and bins full of broken controllers. They will do in a pinch but I find the overall shape to be uncomfortable and difficult to hold for periods of time longer than four minutes then my hand starts to cramp up. The joystick itself, despite the cheap parts, feels fairly solid and doesn’t move to much meaning you don’t have to fling the stick around like a madman to get something to register. All in all it’s an adequate controller that will do in a pinch, but only in a pinch.

The CX10 was the precursor to the CX40 joystick; it was only released alongside the original Heavy Sixer systems and was quickly phased out in favor of the cheaper more reliable CX40. The internals are very different from a standard joystick, even among the ones I have. The joystick and button use springs set into a piece of hard plastic, which came in white and black, which rested on top of the circuit board. When you move the joystick or press the button is scrunches the spring forcing a tab cut into the plastic piece into the circuit board completing the circuit and moving you in your desired direction. The problem with this design is that the plastic piece doesn’t always press the board in the ‘right’ place meaning the movements aren’t registered; this can be fixed, or at least mitigated by swapping the original board with a CX40 board, which I have done. The controller feels the same in the hands as the CX40, and the only thing that will tell you that the controller is different is an ominous creaking noise from inside the controller and that the joystick has more travel than a standard CX40. I honestly can’t recommend using one of these, first off they’re fairly rare, and second off they just feel mushy and unresponsive, no thanks.

The Amiga Power-Stick is the oddball of my controller set. It’s small, small enough to fit comfortably into the palm of my hand, which is a nice change of pace compared to the monsters we’ll soon be seeing. I don’t know how this thing works and the last time I opened one up I spent half an hour trying to get it back together again. This is the first of the controllers to have buttons on either side of the joystick allowing the ever neglected lefty to play. The joystick itself is a tall (compared to the overall size of the controller), and skinny, but despite all evidence to the contrary it’s actually quite comfortable to use. Despite having a decent amount of travel, the controller is extremely sensitive; you can actually get movements to register by very gently shaking the controller in your hand so you can be as rough or delicate as you want. This is also the only controller I have that you can both hold and control with the same hand, and not have it be an absolute, uncomfortable disaster. This is a really good controller, if you can get one with a good joystick, they can get a bit sticky over time, but if you can find one that is suitably loose I see no reason why you shouldn’t pick one up. If it isn’t already obvious this is my controller of choice.

Wico did a damn fine job with their Bat controllers, they’re solid, they’re chunky, and most importantly they’re durable. The sticks in these things actually have a metal core, which holds up far better than cheap plastic. The Bat has the amazing innovation of having a button at the top of the stick which allows players to play more efficiently since they’re hands aren’t cramping up from having to hold the controller and press the button with the same hand. The controller just feels solid, like it could break a window or something, which is good since these things take a beating, especially at the hands of small children. The stick itself has a decent amount of travel to it but nothing ridiculous, and I really must remark upon how quiet the controller is. Most other controllers will groan and squeak as you use them but the Bat is completely silent unless you really clamp down on it. This was my go-to controller before the Power-Stick, and is still a controller that everybody should have in their collection.

Genesis Pads are perfect for players that are more suited to a modern controller, and I honestly understand why many would choose this over any other joystick from the time. The Genesis controllers are comfortable to hold, I daresay they are the MOST comfortable game controller ever designed, and most importantly they have a D-Pad and not a joystick. Honestly I’d be surprised if an Atari owner didn’t have a Genesis controller, sometimes it’s just better, though personally I still prefer by Power-Stick.

The Suacer… I saw this thing in my local game store’s basement and knew I had to have it. The only thing that sets this thing apart is its massive 10-foot retractable cord, you simply spin the joystick to retract it, unfortunately the cord easily gets snarled up inside the massive body of the controller meaning you have to unscrew the body and untangle the cord. The joystick itself is nothing too special, it has two buttons, one on the very top and one in a trigger position. It’s creaky and has a lot of travel and when you couple that with its size you have a recipe for cramp and frustration. If you really want to lighten the load you can simply take off the large body, the rest of the joystick is self contained and is still perfectly usable with the saucer section removed. It would make an excellent player two controller… If you hated player two that is.

I’ve heard the Competition Pro get lauded by several folk in the past, mainly Ashens and Nostalgia Nerd, who’ve said that it was one of the best controllers to use. I don’t know what they’ve been smoking but I find the Pro to be even worse than the Saucer. It is uncomfortable to hold, and even more uncomfortable to use, I just can’t seem to find a good way to hold this thing. I will give it credit for the righty and lefty buttons but that’s where I draw the line. I think it may be because I have fairly small hands that I can’t find a good way to hold this thing, but then I think back and realize that kids used these things, with hands half the size of mine, I guess there’s a good reason this thing has rubber feet on the bottom.

The Slik Stik is just adorable. It is positively dwarfed by even the standard CX40, but the only thing that is more unique than how the thing looks is how the thing works. It uses the standard contact points like any controller but the layout here is a bit unique. Inside the controller is a small nest of four contact points arranged in a square and the end of the joystick is round like a ball bearing was stuck on the end of it. The joystick ball fits perfectly in the nest of contact points, and what you get is a very sturdy, solid, feeling controller with very little travel. Unfortunately Suncom just had to screw it up, and they picked the hardest thing to screw up, the button. I have never seen a mechanism like this for a button before and I hope to never see one like it again. Around the base of the button there are two contact points, set opposite of one another, and on the bottom of the actual button itself is a spring and a metal washer coated in some sort of conductive metal, either that or it easily rusts. The washer must touch both of the contact points to complete the circuit allowing whatever action you’re pressing the button for to take place. Here’s the problem though, the metal the washer is made from is either getting really rusty or the conductive metal it’s covered in is wearing away since the button barely works half the time. It just seems so needlessly over engineered almost to the point of excess. If the button weren’t so stupid I’d probably rank this controller on par with the Wico Bat, but as it stands I can barely use it.

I don’t really know how to feel about ‘The Boss’, honestly it just feels like a slightly cheaper Bat controller only with the base button removed. The controller feels sturdy overall but that quiet whisper-like quality of the Bat seems to be lacking, the button is noisy and the controller makes small clacking sounds as it moves around inside the case, and when held firm on a table it squeaks ever so slightly. The joystick is modeled after a flight stick, and was clearly meant for hands smaller than mine since my fingers keep squabbling over who’s on top and who’s on bottom. All in all it’s not a bad controller, but it’s not worthy of the moniker ‘The Boss’, perhaps ‘The Supervisor’ or ‘The Manager’, but not ‘The Boss’

So… The winner today… Is you, for sitting there and reading my ramblings on 25-40 year old videogame controllers. If you have a different preferred controller, and don’t say anything about your computer keyboard we all know that’s the best one, let me know, I know I’ll never get my hands on all the 2600 compatible controllers since there are likely more types than there are games for the system. Let me know in the comments if you have a differing opinion on any of the controllers I looked at today or if you have a different favorite, I’d like to know what I’m missing out on.

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