Retro gaming joysticks are a varied sort. Like the human race, they come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Each with their own inherent faults, each unique in its skill set. The joystick is a real nostalgia trip, an attachment that conjures up ideas of arcades, Atari and home computing. We asked the people on the facebook page to give us their top ten retro gaming joysticks and this is what we got.
We begin with the iconic controller that started it all. Although the joystick concept had been experimented with in arcades, the Atari CX40 joystick was the first one most home gamers got to know well. It is suggested that by 1983 one in five American homes had one.
Stiff? Yes. Only one button? Yes. Prone to breakdown? Yes. Does it matter? Not at all. Following on from the similar CX10, the 40 was simpler and cheaper than it’s parent. It was the primary go to for the Atari VCS (2600) and was also compatible with many other systems.
Despite a number of mechanical problems such as common breakdowns in the directional control and a less than ergonomic design for left handed players, it was a huge success. The need for more buttons as games advanced began to slow down its growth.
Who misses that satisfying ‘click’ when you moved the directional controls on a joystick? That aural orgasm was down to Quickshot, a brand of superb third party retro gaming joysticks that defined a generation.
Created by the company Spectravideo, 11 Quickshot joysticks were manufactured along with a number of peripherals. Our first of which is the Quickshot 1.
Not dissimilar to the Atari CX40 above, the Quickshot 1 introduced one element that would change gaming forever. Ergonomics. It had a ridged left side to stop sweaty hands slipping away from the unit. Not only that, the shaft of the stick had moulds for your fingers. All this was topped off with a genius extra button that could be operated using your thumb.
This one was submitted on the facebook site and I admit that I don’t know an awful lot about it. A slightly odd yet futuristic effort is the Speedking. A microswitch joystick, it had neither the standard base nor an autofire switch.
The basic concept was that your hand went around the bottom and cupped the unit. You had two buttons and your right hand could move the joystick. It was unusable if you were a lefty, though mirrored versions were reportedly advertised in gaming magazines and available.
Luckily, it looks ultra cool. Please, if you had or do have a Speedking give us some more information in the comments below.
The Neo Geo of joysticks, the Powerplay Cruiser was a piece of kit for serious gamer’s and rich kids. At retail it was 2 to 3 times as expensive as other joysticks on the market and just under the price of a game.
However, it was compatible with a range of devices, came with a number of features and a robust design that still sees many of them in operation today. Smooth 8 way directional play, symmetrical for right and left handed play and a fabled autofire button.
Not only that it was available in a number of designs. All black, transparent and an uber cool surf green and pink combo. The eighties called and it wants it’s stick back.
The truly amazing thing about our next joystick is that it is still being manufactured today.
Primarily designed for the ZX Spectrum by British electronic manufacturer Kempton, the Competition pro was less ergonomic than Quickshot joysticks but did have some major advantages.
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One of these was the huge button size, meaning that even with the slipperiest of drunken hands it was hard not to fire. It was also symmetrical, so that a left handed player had the same comfort levels as the right handed player.
The second was that huge bubble top. Who needs grip when you can just whack a huge wrecking ball on it?
The Nintendo Entertainment System had one of the most iconic controllers in gaming history. Aiming to distance itself from games consoles of the past due to consumer mistrust after the video game crash, Nintendo opted for a square, functionally designed joypad. Unfortunately, it was anything but comfortable.
Enter the NES advantage. It had an easy to grip stick with a bobble end, a larger surface area that could be put on a tabletop and bigger buttons. the advantage also had the option of turbo controls with adjustable speeds. It even had a mode to make your game go in slow motion, though I question how useful that actually is.
The advantage brought a real arcade feel to the home and is regarded as one of the top NES accessories. It is also the only of the retro gaming joysticks on the list to feature in Ghostbusters II and a Christina Aguilera video.
Sega Saturn Mission Stick
The Saturn Space Mission Stick earns it's place on the list for going against the grain. As everything else was racing to the future (even Sega who had dropped the Saturn in preparation for the Dreamcast) the Saturn riffed on a classic and brought out this awesome piece of kit that was both retro, modern and realistic at the same time.
The stick is based around a console containing the nine Saturn buttons with another three on the stick. The console can be housed on either side for left or right handed play.
One really cool trick is that you can actually attach two mission sticks in sync via a sub control on the joystick base. This gave you the ability to have a main and sub control. Oddly enough, this can only be used on one known game which was 'Panzer Dragoon Zwei'. Another mystery added to the enigma that is The Sega Saturn.
Quickshot II Turbo
Another classic from Quickshot, this time with a redesigned handle that had a trigger and thumb firing option. It also had a bobbled, traction plate on each side so that left and right handed players could get to grips with it. Add on a handy autofire function and you have a surefire hit.
This was consolidated by the fact that it was also much more robust than it's predecessors. I can attest to this. I have such fond memories of punishing this joystick on my Commodore 64 and it just did not give out. Unequivocally, my favourite of the retro gaming joysticks on the list.
Sega Arcade Power Stick 6B
There lives a very niche subset of Street Fighter II players who grew up playing the game on a three button controller, quickly flicking the start button to switch to kick mode. As younger folk, those with cash could probably have stretched out to the six button joypad. If you were very lucky, the power stick.
The power stick was as close to the arcade experience as you could get, especially with said fighting game. Whereas the standard had three buttons, the Power Stick 6B had the whole set. Light, medium and hard for kick and punch. The weight of the device and fluid stick was also perfect for one on one fighting games.
The Japanese version was superior in that it used microswitches instead of rubber buttons to give it a real arcade feel.
Ok, Cheetah take the last spot on the list with not one joystick but a whole host of them.
You see, Cheetah were responsible for a wave of licensed, novelty retro gaming joysticks that sacked off comfort and grip for looking good. In theory.....
Sometimes they did not even get that right. They had one shaped like Batman. They had a three button mouse type joystick shaped like a tortoise. A Bart Simpson one existed, as did a Terminator 2 one. My wife has the Alien shaped one in her bottom drawer.
They also did a range of standard devices that are of note, particularly the 125 which is similar to the Quickshot II turbo.