RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Jan 21st 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (bombatomba)
Posted under Top 5, 2017, SN30 Pro, 8Bitdo, Saturn, Magic Joybox, superior, hidden gem

2017 has been gone for nearly a month now.  Any decorations that were put out are (hopefully) gone and hidden away, messes are (mostly) cleaned up, and any weight gained is (not likely) history thanks to that new diet plan.  Probably don't want to get into those resolutions, though…

Despite all this, I've had a good amount of time to play with my Christmas gifts, two of which prompted me to swap my planned January article for this one.  And after all, 2017 was a good year for me, not just for the games, but for the controllers that were used to play them with.  So, please join me as I whittle away the time gushing about my favorite controllers of 2017.

I played a lot of games this year, despite what my list says on the "Beaten in 2017" thread on the RFG forum (which was twenty eight by the end of the year).  No, I played hundreds of games last year, some for mere minutes, others for my "Three Hour Tour" rule.  My journey led me across many systems, from classic to modern gaming computers, to handhelds and consoles of every age.  Overall despite only finishing twenty eight-ish games, I would call it a productive year, and The List was filled out quite well, with far fewer instances of "Unplayed" to be found within.  Lastly, I used a great many controllers, from Atari to Nintendo and Sega, most of which will not be mentioned in this article.  My intention is to only show my favorites and nothing else, with the idea being I present my favorite controllers of 2017, then end the article with the best of the best.

The Former Champ - Sega Saturn Model 2

The so-called, "J-Type" variant released in most of the world later in the Saturns life (likely to reduce cost, as it was modeled after the base Japanese controller).  Until recently, this was my favorite controller of all time, barring none.  It has one of the best directional pads I've ever used, which I find perfect for most games from fighting to platforming, which combined with the six face buttons made these baddies likely the best non-joystick controllers available for playing most Capcom fighting games.  I played those games on other systems with "substandard"  fighting controllers, but I was a child of the arcade; the four face, four should button-thing never felt natural for 2D fighting games.

Though I was a late comer to the Saturn (maybe by 1998), it was to be my primary gateway into the joys and costs of import gaming.  Back then I was made for any possible game that I could have missed due to my global location, especially JRPGs and arcade ports. One of the strangest moments in my gaming career was when I picked up Grandia (for around $50 or $60 USD), a game that I was absolutely sure would never see release in English; after all, even back in 1998 we knew the Saturn was dying, right?  So, with my newly purchased Model 2 Saturn controller in one hand and a freshly printed walkthrough in the other (still up on GameFAQs!), I played through Grandia.  It was an amazing experience, and one I would always remember positively, despite an English version of the game being released on my native shores by the end of 1999.  Even though I eventually purchased the PSX port, though I would always grudgingly say that it was the inferior version of the game, despite never playing the PSX port more than an hour.  Of course I am currently playing through Grandia on PSX for the first time now (using my new favorite controller), and discovering all the translation errors from that original FAQ in the process.

The irony here is that I didn't play that much Saturn this year, but I've always kept it plugged into my larger CRT, so that when I feel the need I can fire up King of Fighters '97 and lay down the law with Iori at a moments notice.  Seriously, if you're into 2D fighting games and you've never handled one of these babies before do yourself a favor and find one; you won't be disappointed.

Space Sim Combo - Saitek PRO GAMER Command Unit and Saitek Flight Stick

I love me some Space Sims, though these days I tend to stick to just one small group, which is Egosoft's X series of games.  Old-school PC-style logic usually calls for one for simply pick one's favorite flight stick, perhaps using the keyboard as a supplement, but for La Nueva Generación one simply needs a keyboard and mouse to play effectively.  I guess I shouldn't knock it, but when flying something heavy (be it through space or the sky), a flight stick is the absolute minimum for my comfort zone.

Now, the confusing array you see above didn't happen overnight, but instead evolved from my original setup - mouse, keyboard, and flight stick (from left to right, in that order).  The problem was that when engaged with the flight stick, I could only use the keyboard or mouse as a supplement, and since I am right-handed really that meant using the keyboard, and the mouse only when needed.  Using the pictured configuration, I was able to keep my hand on the stick (so to speak) while also operating certain keyboard buttons and the mouse simultaneously.  The key is the goofy Saitek PRO GAMER on the left, which allows for combined usage of common keyboard keys while delegating mouse movement to the thumb.  I won't lie, it took me a while to get used to it, but in the end it won me out, and still sees use when I play games today, though it does take a while to get set up. 

Least Favorite - Nintendo 2DS XL

I know it says, Top Controllers at the top of the article, but I had to include my Least Favorite.  First, I want to singly focus on the New 2DS XL model, and more specifically on the directional pad.  At first blush the d-pad looks like any other "DS" model of d-pad:  It has very little height, is very clicky (which is very popular these days), and is slightly depressed in the middle, so that perhaps a small thumb could sit comfortably within.  It is reasonably responsive, though lacking the "mush" (or give) that defines such venerable d-pads as the NES, SNES, and DS Lite.  Still, not too bad, though not great, due to the pain it causes my thumb.

To clarify, I have large hands; more than big but less than gargantuan or colossal.  With the lone exception of the original 2DS, I haven't held a comfortable "DS" model that doesn't cramp my hands after twenty minutes of play (though I find pre-analog stick models a bit more comfy, with the DS Lite being my fav).  But the New 2DS XL is something special, its d-pad somehow manages to dig into my thumb painfully, despite it being virtually identical as its predecessors.  I was able to eventually get used to it, but only by using my thumb to slide across the d-pad and depress the ends, like some stupid virtual touchpad or something.

As you can see I am not happy with this in the least, but since I am pleased with everything else the handheld brings to the table, I decided to refer to this as, "Least Favorite" instead of "Most Disappointing."  Take from that what you will.

The Late Addition - Magic Joy Box

If I hadn't received the next entry, this would have been my Top Controller of 2017.  But this isn't even a controller, right?  I know, big deal.  But it does allow you to connect three of the best controllers of the sixth console generation, which is something, after all.

When I received the Joypad from Zagnorch's Not So Secret Santa event he does every year, I really expected to use this on my XP computers to play games, as there were suggestions on the internet that it wasn't compatible with modern operating systems.  At the time I was sitting around writing and felt far too lazy to get my XP laptop (a 10 pound XPS from 2007), so I plugged a nearby PSX controller into the Magic Joy Box and then into my "table" laptop, a Macbook Pro running El Capitan.  To my surprise it worked great, and within moments I was off playing games OpenEmu, an emulator frontend for Mac,  But I didn't want to stop there, and with my bout of laziness behind me I performed a few more experimentation,  finding that it worked out of the box on Windows 7 and 8.1, as well as multiple versions of Apple OSX.  This was a huge coup to me, as it allowed the connection of three controllers (albeit only one of each kind, that being PS2/PS1, OG Xbox, and Gamecube) up to any PC in the house for multiplayer gaming, and all I would have to do is configure buttons.  And I have to harp on the "best controllers" thing again, because for the most part gaming controllers on PC aren't all that great.  Sure the higher end stuff is good, and flight sticks of most kinds are unbeatable, but the run-of-the-mill controllers meant for basic gaming are always lacking in one or two key areas (bad d-pad, thumbsticks, or just not enough buttons).  Over the recent years the Xbox 360 controller has stepped in to fill that gap, but even then it still is not appropriate for certain games.  With the Joy Box, I get the best of the best for the sixth console generation, and also get to bring a couple of friends along as well.

Top Controller of 2017 - 8Bitdo SN30 Pro

Technically a later addition than the previous entry, I received the SN30 Pro from my family for Christmas, and despite this lateness it has sailed to the top of my list of favorite controllers with the greatest of ease.  Just looking at it and you should be able to see why.  It combines the basic design of the SNES controller (arguably the most influential game controller of all time) with dual analog setups and four shoulder buttons.  While all of that is good and well, I personally think the major coup is in the d-pad itself.  It is a great combination of old and new, in that it has just enough give in it to satisfy the schoolers of old, while also being unmistakably having modern microswitches for modern sensabilities; they aren't clicky, but they might as well have been.  This tickles a lot of fancies for me, let me tell you.

While I really think the real power of this controller is in the design, a close second is its versatility.  Using built in programming (activated by pressing start and one of the four face buttons), once can effectively use it on Windows, Mac OSX, Android, and the Nintendo Switch.  It is fully compatible with Steam as either a DirectInput device or Xinput device (if you know what that means) whether in Mac OSX or Windows, and also functions as a basic controller for each OS; in OSX it shows up as a PS4 controller and in Windows either a 360 controller or a USB controller (depending on Xinput or Direct input usage).  It works on Android, that much I know, but as I don't really game too much on Android I won't say more than that.  Now with the Switch it works well.  With it's built-in accelerometer, rumble, and Home and Screenshot buttons, it is a valid and cheaper alternative to the $70 Pro controller, especially for those who favor the symmetrically placed analog sticks of the SN30 Pro.  And the d-pad is a million times better.  Not sure how much one will use that on the Switch, but I had to sneak that in.

I can't close this out without mentioning the emulation potentials.  I played about twenty games using OpenEmu on my Mac, ranging from Atari 2600, NES, and SNES, to the PSP, PSX, and N64.  While I can't help but mention I might be getting better at the games, with the SN30 Pro I was able to finally able to finish several NES games that have eluded me through the years, as well as finally beating Psycho Fox on for SMS (which is now one of my favorite games of all time).  There are obvious issues with button placement with certain systems (Genesis, N64, and Intellivision come to mind), it still didn't really bother me.

Finally, there is one issue I had with the controller, that being the placement of the shoulder buttons.  While in a way they feel a little like the PS4 shoulder buttons, they are extremely close to L1 and R1, which for some reason are only half the thickness of an actual SNES controller.  Not a deal breaker, but when I play games that require the shoulder buttons, I always have to properly position my fingers before playing.  I haven't had a mixup-incident with said buttons yet, but I've only had it a month.

Well, that is it.  2017 was a good gaming year for me, and I anticipate 2018 will be even better.  And to be fair, since it is already upon us, I can say that it already is.

Thanks for reading!

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I have an 8bitdo N30 Pro (basically the same as the SN30 Pro except with an NES aesthetic instead of SNES) and I really enjoy it. I mainly use if for my Raspberry Pi emulator I have hooked up to my TV and it works great for older games. It's not perfect. The analog sticks feel like the ones on the PSVita so I wouldn't want to play a modern game with it, and the placement of the L1/L2/R1/R2 buttons are inline instead of front and back, so that takes some getting used to. Also, I've noticed a little bit of delay in response time, but I haven't tested the controller on any other system so I'm not sure if that's due to the wireless tech in the controller or the Raspberry Pi. I would like to get an SN30 Pro; I really like the SNES look and feel of it and the design seems a little more refined than the older N30 Pro. Good article, thanks for sharing!
@zophar53: I heard that about the analog sticks on the N30 Pro and held off. Funny thing is that when I saw the announcement I wasn't thinking at all when I asked for it, so I'm glad it turned out well.  The analogs on it feel more like a Dual Shock controller, if that helps.  Not my personal favorite (I prefer the precision of the MS sticks), but it still works very well.  As for your delay, have you tried updating the firmware?
I've been strongly considering the SN30 Pro as another controller for my Switch.  Seems like it might be a good fit, especially for retro-inspired indie games, and for when Nintendo ever gets on the ball with their online service and starts offering NES and SNES games.  Good write-up!
@bombatomba: Yeah the sticks do look better on the SN30. Glad to hear it from someone who's used them first hand. I don't mind the PS analog sticks so I think they'll be better for my taste. Updating the firmware is a good idea. I did that when I first got it but haven't checked it lately. I'll have to give that a shot. Thanks!

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