joystickery

Having been introduced to videogames through arcades and the Atari 2600, I have largely lived my gamer life feeling that videogames should be played with joysticks. I mean, naturally I’ve gotten used to control pads, and I do think that the SNES controller and the DualShock are two of the best game controller designs of all time, and there are plenty of games with control schemes that cannot be executed efficiently on an arcade-style joystick setup. But I’ve always been a sucker for adding arcade sticks to my consoles; to me, there’s always been something better, more formal, more serious, more proper about using a joystick whenever possible.

It all started on the NES. Not my gaming career, of course — I was 8 years into videogames before I even got an NES, but after those 8 years spent playing in arcades and on the 2600, the NES control pad took some getting used to. My dad agreed; he wasn’t exactly a big gamer, but he did really enjoy first-person flying games like M Network’s Air Raiders on the 2600, so one of the first NES games we got was Top Gun by Konami. He didn’t like using the pad, so he suggested we get the NES Advantage. Not that I needed convincing.

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From the time I brought the Advantage home and plugged it in, I don’t think it left the NES until I moved out of the house. I pretty much played the NES exclusively with the Advantage — so much so that when I’d play at friends’ houses, I actually had a little trouble using the standard pad. And it wasn’t just because of the Turbo or Slow-Mo functions, although those were handy; I was just better with the stick and the pushbuttons.

Metroid, for example, was great with the Advantage. I could really feel a connection with Samus’ control, not to mention the Turbo function made the infamous door jump glitch super easy, allowing me to explore the “secret worlds” to my nerdy little heart’s content.

When I moved into the next generation and dove into the Super NES, I was stoked when ASCII announced the Super Advantage. The home versions of Street Fighter II brought about a renewed interest in arcade stick setups to help duplicate the arcade experience in your living room, and having been a big fan of both SF2 and the original Advantage, I eagerly picked up the Super Advantage as soon as I could.

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Unfortunately, this is when I realized that the complexity of some games were beginning to outpace the traditional arcade stick setup. As much as I loved playing Metroid with the Advantage, Super Metroid did not work well with the Super Advantage. The need to use the shoulder buttons to aim while holding the dash button while jumping while shooting resulted in a miniature game of Twister played with your right hand. The SA was okay for SF2 (although the button setup was not perfect), and worked nicely for shmups like Gradius III and Axelay, but overall I wasn’t as happy with it and eventually parted with it during the Great Downsizing.

On the other end of this 16-bit spectrum of usefulness was the Neo-Geo. Being a home/arcade hybrid platform, the Neo-Geo’s game lineup was all arcade-based. How totally badass was it that the Neo-Geo AES — with its $650 price tag — included not one, but TWO arcade sticks as its standard controllers?

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No pads included with the need to buy sticks separately, this thing came with arcade sticks right outta the box. A nice clicky ball-top stick with four action buttons in a subtly-arced row, the NG AES sticks were so well-loved that they continued to produce replicas of them for later console generations, such as the PS2 and Wii.

Despite the 32-bit generation’s movement toward 3D polygon-based games, this generation (much moreso the Sega Saturn than the Sony PlayStation, honestly) brought an amazing lineup of fighting games and shmups — arcade-perfect conversions that excelled with joystick control panels. Capcom’s fighting games on the Saturn were the gold standard, and playing Street Fighter Alpha or Vampire Saviour with the Saturn Stick was a sublime experience. Add in the shootemups like Sokyugurentai, DoDonPachi, and Radiant Silvergun, and you can start seeing why gamers may have thought staying home was just as good as going to the arcade. (They were wrong, of course, but a Saturn and an arcade stick was definitely the next best thing.)

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Sega’s arcade love continued onto the Dreamcast, where shmups and Capcom fighters continued to shine. ASCII’s Dreamcast stick was a thing of beauty, a sturdily-constructed slab of arcade-quality control that helped me practice my Ibuki game on SF3 Third Strike and weave my way through Ikaruga.

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It actually wasn’t until games were well into the PS3/X360/Wii generation that I got around to picking up a stick for PS2. With a few classic arcade compilations in my collection from Capcom and Taito, and some solid shmups, I felt it was worth getting one to enjoy games like Elevator Action Returns and Final Fight. I ordered an affordable, fairly basic Hori Fighting Stick 2 — not a high-end Real Arcade Pro model or anything, but good enough for me. It works well and also is compatible with the PS1, so games like G.Darius, RayStorm and Geki-Oh got an added dimension of fun.

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The stick I most recently added to my arsenal was a Hori Fighting Stick EX2 for Xbox 360. My 360 library is utterly microscopic, but 5 of the 8 games I own are shmups like Raiden Fighters Aces and Death Smiles, so there ya go. But the real reason I picked this unit up was to use with my Raspberry Pi, as it’s USB-wired and works great with the Pi for playing MAME and other old arcadey titles.

Oh, I almost forgot — I also have this great ASCII stick for the Famicom. I think I got it in a bundle with the Famicom itself, which I purchased from someone online back in the ’90s (this was when deals were made between collectors on Usenet groups like rec.games.video.collecting). It’s a stylish, solidly-built stick with cool LEDs that light up when you hit the directions.

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It also has some interesting switches and hookups on the back:

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The “second stick” is just an input for a Player 2 stick because the Famicom only has one accessory port. The “Tape” switch and I/O has to do with the Famicom Data Recorder, a cassette tape deck that was used to save game data and could only be controlled by some combination of the Famicom Keyboard and controllers that contained certain circuitry. Or something. I wasn’t a kid in Japan in the ’80s, I don’t know how it worked. There’s more information about it at this link which also mentions this stick, if you want to nerd out over it. And I have no idea what the “Option” connector is all about. My only concern is the fact that this stick looks rad and works great!

The last part of my arcade stick obsession I wanted to mention I’d like to mention is a project I had the ambition for once upon a time but I never finished: I was going to build a cool arcade stick for the Atari 2600. I got as far as ordering the parts and wiring it up to work, but I never built the enclosure. 20180109_072520

I do want to finish it someday — hey, that’d probably be a good project to blog about!

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