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When a joystick really counts.

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

So I've been playing some fantastic new games as of late - mostly on C64 and my Amiga - and one thing occurred to me. Modern console and PC controllers use so many buttons and combinations, that the urge to pick up retro games comes, not just from the simplicity of gameplay but the simplicity of controls. Now, don't get me wrong, I do enjoy some modern games but unlike the retro classics, they need so much more investment (in time and money!) but also in learning all the button combinations! I guess that's why now I understand why us “retro aficionados” still need to play our old games from time to time. Another obvious difference, as well, is that we used a joystick as opposed to a controller, which relies on dozens of buttons and analogue inputs.

A joystick was so much simpler back then and there were a plethora of them to choose from. I remember vividly that feeling of jumping on my BMX and grabbing my favourite controller when popping to my friend's house for a gaming session. I took my own because, (in some strange teenage boy way) it was part of my identity and my friend's Konix Speedking controller just didn't cut the 8 bit mustard. He of course swore by it. The small, elegant design and micro-switched directional control made it his “go-to”, but for me , I always preferred a more classic design. That stick of choice was the classic Competition Pro with auto fire. I loved the chunky design, the extra switches and of course being transparent, it looked "cool as"!

These days, I still have the stick but two are better than one and so I happened upon a Zipstick for those two-player classics. Now, the Zipstick also known as Zipstik Super Pro is a very similar design to the Competition Pro - just varying in colour schemes and of course the sexy red, round buttons of the C.P were replaced by yellow square ones. The Zipstik unlike the C.P also has micro-switched fire buttons (along with micro-switches for the directional stick) but is otherwise very similar.

We were lucky though to have these choices later on in our computer's lives however. Initially, a lot of sticks (including popular ones like the Quickshot) didn't even sport micro-switches at all. These were good enough for the time but didn't quite offer the arcade “fidelity” we were seeking in our gameplay. Prior to a later, more generic approach, I guess we should have counted our lucky stars as despite having a slew of “Atari style” sticks to choose from, some systems like the Intellivision and Atari 5200 pretty much failed due to poor controller design. The reason? Mostly over-complicating things. Both of these systems had controllers that in many were “ahead of their time” with analogue sticks on the Atari and far too many buttons on the Intellivision (in fact so much so, that the controller looked more like a phone that a joystick) and again, many blamed the systems partial commercial failure due to these unorthodox controllers.

Nowadays, it's still not really plausible to buy a brand new joystick to plug into real hardware. (There are modern USB sticks but obviously we're talking genuine DB9 ports) and so buying a genuine, original stick is still the best option. Whether you're a fan of Competition Pros, Zipsticks or Speedkings don't forget that your joystick really counts. The wrong controller can make the game seem "off" or with the right one "just the ticket" and that's why now that I have found the perfect controllers for me, I won't be turning back!


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