Controller Review: Nintendo Pro Controller (Wii U)

 

wii_u_pro_controller

 

Controllers are a fickle thing. in the world of gaming input devices controllers are by far the most ubiquitous but also the most polarizing. Most gamers can agree the Logitech G27 is a good wheel. Jumping into an online forum and stating as much wont start a flame war, but get on the topic of console controllers and things change pretty quickly.

 

As long as I can remember there have been bitter arguments over which controller offers the superior gaming experience. Some say Sony’s Dual Shock is the benchmark for controllers. Others prefer the ergonomics of Microsoft’s controller for the 360. And then you have the weirdos who think the golden age of controllers was the Sega Saturn 3D controller…..I normally ignore those types. One thing I am sure of is that when it comes to good modern controllers, one name you never hear is Nintendo.

 

The bad, and the good.

 

 

 

Why is that? Well put bluntly Nintendo hasn’t had a good controller in a long time. I would go as far as to say since the SNES actually. For some reason 3D gaming controls seem to confound Nintendo. The N64 controller required 3 hands, the GameCube controller was design by someone with a hangover and the Wiimote was made by someone on lsd.

 

The Wii U’s pro controller is an honest attempt by Nintendo to rectify this massive flaw and it looks like they may have redeemed themselves. Unlike their past attempts this one is a very conservative and contemporary take on gamepads. It’s so contemporary it almost looks like they used Microsoft’s old molds for the 360 controller. The resemblance goes pretty deep, as far as my hands can tell the weigh the same, are the same size, almost exactly the same shape, and aside from the location of the right analog stick and face buttons have exactly the same layout.

 

The WiiU pro controller side by side with a wired 360 controller.

The WiiU Pro controller side by side with a wired 360 controller.

Not to say that’s a bad thing. The 360 controller is a good one and not a bad place to draw inspiration from. In fact the Pro is better in a few areas. For starters the D-Pad is a proper D-pad. The 360 had a monolithic D-pad that had a very vague and squishy feel to it. ┬áMost controllers use a similar membrane switch system for their digital buttons and as someone who uses an 80’s vintage IBM Model M as his personal keyboard I think they all suck. The question then is to what degree they suck? The pro definitely comes on top here, Even though its still a membrane (as far as I can tell) switch with a single mold key it does feel firmer and more direct than the 360. The other place where the Pro shines is with it’s face buttons. Unlike the 360 which used glossy jelly beans that had a habit of sticking the Pro has rougher matte face buttons that provide a good griping surface. They are also better raised from the face of the controller making them easier to feel out with your fingers.

 

Now remember when I said they may have redeemed themselves? Well the Pro is not perfect, in fact its very flawed and these flaws prevent it from not just being good but great. The first complaint I had was almost immediate. The controller face has a gloss finish, not only does this expose my amateur photography skills but it also attracts finger prints like you wouldn’t believe. What started the night as a handsome controller ended up as a shiny smear. Many companies have tried this, even Apple the masters of making electronics look cool, and they all failed. Glossy plastic just doesn’t work for something you are meant to touch. They would have been better off with a normal finish.

The second irritating flaw was the obvious corner cutting. The shoulder and trigger buttons are digital, not analog. Anyone who has played a racing game with a gamepad knows having analog input for all of your controls is necessary to achieve proper control. To achieve this Sony gives you pressure sensitive face buttons and Microsoft gives you analog triggers. Both work well, but with the Pro its another story. While playing Mario Kart I found myself really wanting that fine grained control. Sure Mario Kart isn’t exactly Forza, but it doesn’t have to be to notice the loss.

Now both of these complaints are pretty minor in the grand scheme of things and if they were the only flaws I would declare the Pro a great controller in a heart beat. But they aren’t, and they are dwarfed by the third and final flaw. The controller’s system integration sucks. I don’t know how Nintendo pulled it off, but they did. On the PlayStation and Xbox if you want to disconnect a controller what do you do? Hold down the center button and wait for the system menu to pop up. The Pro has no such ability. If you want to disconnect a controller or reorder your controllers then you have to back out of the game completely back to the home screen and resync from there. The Power button does not turn off the controller, well it does but it also turns off the WiiU and the other controllers as well and you don’t even have to be P1 to do this! How Nintendo could manage to screw up such a simple and well established interface convention is beyond me. Over the period of the evening our group managed to accidentally power off the WiiU at least 4 times because of muscle memory from the PlayStation and Xbox. It’s a really frustrating and baffling flaw in the controller. I’m not sure what Nintendo’s goal was. Even the Wiimotes can be resynced from the controllers.

 

So after a drunken night of nearly friendship-ending shenanigans over Smash bros and Mario Kart I walked away with mixed feelings on the Pro controller. It is a step in the right direction and generally a massive improvement over other Nintendo controllers but it has a massive flaw with its power on/off function. That, mixed with a few other minor annoyances kept me from falling in love with it even though I would choose it over the alternatives on the Wii U in a heartbeat.

 

Rating IV-V

Controller Review: Sega Saturn Twin Stick

This is the front cover art for the Sega Saturn Twin Stick controller.

This is the front cover art for the Sega Saturn Twin Stick controller.

 

Name: Sega Saturn Twin Stick
Manufacturer: Sega
Release Date: November 29, 1996 (Japan Only)
Launch Title: Virtual On: Cyber Troopers (SAT)

 

For those who were gaming in the mid to late 90’s, the Sega Saturn is a system that is remembered by some to limited capacity. Though a fascinating system with some great titles, it never garnered the success that the Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64 found during the same console generation. Issues pertaining to poor business decisions on the part of Sega, the sheer difficulty of software development, a lack of substantial third party support and other related problems hampered the Saturn from being a great video game system.

This is truly unfortunate because there were titles for the Saturn that, in terms of their overall design, were very unique and helped to forge a great identity for the system from a software perspective. This is something that is of the utmost importance for any game platform and is something that even modern game consoles wrestle with. There are plenty of exclusives for the system that differentiate it from most of the games that characterized both the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. One such game is Virtual On: Cyber Troopers.

Virtual On is an important game in the progression of fighting games as a genre because it essentially goes against all the tenants that cemented it in the 3D era of gaming. As a result, this title has aged well because of it. It is essentially a nontraditional fighting game that centers around fast paced action in a 360* battlefield that features bipedal mechas as its combatants. For the time this was what most fans of mecha anime or manga wanted out of a game featuring them.

However, the only aspect of this game that is lacking in the North America version of Virtual On is the controls. It does not take advantage of the Sega 3D controller analogue pad, which is compatible with select Saturn titles. During the time of its initial release the only way to experience Virtual On was with the standard control pad which functioned, but felt a tad clunky at the same time.

Curiously enough the section in the game’s US instruction manual that shows the control pad layout also has a section showing a layout for something called the Sega Saturn Twin Stick controller. The Twin Stick is a peripheral that was designed specifically for the Sega Saturn incarnation of this game. There is even a prompt at the game’s beginning that asks the player which controller he or she wishes to use. This only mystified gamers outside of Japan back then.

Fortunately, through the powers of the modern day internet, we North American gamers can finally learn about this great peripheral. The Twin Stick literally consists of two identical joysticks which are both outfitted with a trigger button as well as a shoulder button. For the sake of fighting game enthusiasts it is important to note that this is a square gate as opposed to an octagonal gate controller. The last thing to add about the controller is that there is a start/pause button on the upper left corner of the controller’s chassis. The build quality of this peripheral is incredibly solid with the sticks and top facing of the frame being constructed from a thick and durable plastic. The bottom facing is a metal slab with rubber nubs attached to prevent the controller from sliding around on surfaces.

 

This is the Sega Saturn Twin Stick in all of its glory.

This is the Sega Saturn Twin Stick in all of its glory.

 

The overall layout mimics that of the arcade fore barer where your Virtual On robots, often referred to as Virtuaroids, partially control like vehicles with dual drive transmission systems (i.e. tanks). The manipulation of both joysticks dictates how your Virtuaroid maneuvers and traverses throughout the battle arena. Pulling the sticks away from one another will make your character jump into the air and pushing them toward each other engages the guard feature for melee combat. Pressing the shoulder buttons with the sticks pointed in the same direction will make your mecha dash in that respective direction. Finally, pressing the trigger buttons will execute attacks. With this controller Virtual On plays exactly like the arcade version with no exceptions. After playing this game with the Twin Stick you will never want to go back to using that standard control pad again. The controls feel visceral, fluent and natural. You actually feel like your are in the cockpit of a giant robot and, simply put, there is nothing quite like it.

If you are interested in acquiring a Virtual On Twin Stick there are a few things you need to know. As mentioned previously, the Twin Stick was never produced or distributed in the United States, so you will have to import this controller straight out of the land of the rising sun. With that, Twin Sticks are pretty expensive and command prices ranging from $80 to $140 when factoring in the initial controller cost coupled with the shipping cost. Also, you do not need to purchase a Japanese Saturn and copy of Virtual On in order to use it. There is no regional lockout protection on peripherals for the Sega Saturn, so you can simply plug your Japanese Twin Stick into a US Saturn without worrying about this potential issue.

The make or break as to whether or not you take the plunge and buy a Twin Stick is the software support for it. As it stands, the only US Saturn title that supports the use of the Twin Stick is Virtual On: Cyber Troopers (of course). However, there are some Japanese only Saturn games that make use of the Twin Stick. You will need to either modify your system’s hardware or use an Action Replay cartridge to play import games. Here is a list of all titles that are compatible with this peripheral:

Virtual On: Cyber Troopers (US/EU/JP)*

Virtual On: Netlink Edition (US/EU/JP)*

Gun Griffon 2 (JP)*

Mobile Suit Gundam Side Story 2 (JP)*

Mobile Suit Gundam Side Story 3 (JP)*

*: To play Saturn games from different regions a hardware or software based modification is required to negate the regional lockout protection feature of the Sega Saturn.

This is a fantastic controller that makes Virtual On play like a dream and the support for a few other games is a plus. Keep in mind that there is a pricey barrier to entry and to play every supported game you will have to do some importing. This alone makes it hard to recommend to just anyone, but if you are an avid fan of Virtual On or mecha anime/manga then you owe to yourself to pick up this controller and fill out your VO experience.

 

 

 

Rating IV-V