N64 Controller Showdown

This year has allowed me to spend more time with my Nintendo 64 than ever before. This extra time allowance also helped me to decide that acquiring more games and controllers for the console would be a beneficial move. After thoroughly enjoying most of the games I’ve acquired, I have to admit that I’m also quite fond of the controllers I now own. After giving each of my new controllers quite a bit of play time I feel I can now discuss the three different N64 controllers and how I feel about them.

First up I’ll discuss the unbranded fire orange N64 controller. With its OEM design this controller stirs up a lot of nostalgia from all the great memories I’ve had using the trident shaped controller. The controller feels great in my hands, the buttons have a good snappy response when pressed and the analog stick is something I wish I had for all my OEM N64 controllers. However, this controller is not perfect. A small gripe is that the sleeve on the controller plug is grey instead of a matching fire orange. I also don’t like the area where, on the OEM controllers, the logo would be. I feel they should have just left that area out of the casting entirely. The real problem with this controller though is that after a week of minimal use the plastic by the analog stick started cracking. I’m not sure whether more cracks will start in the future, or even whether this crack will continue to grow and ruin the controller entirely, but if the crack never happened I honestly wouldn’t have anything negative to say about this controller.

Next is Retro-bit’s Tribute 64. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? From its comfortable yet compact Hori mini style design to the satisfying feel of pressing the buttons and even the analog stick that feels almost exactly like a Gamecube, this controller just ticks all the boxes. At first I was afraid it might be a bit too small for my hands, but that never became an issue. This controller is almost perfect, almost. My only real complaints are that plugging the controller into, and removing from, the console is a bit of a hassle. It’s just too tight. Also, if you plan to use a rumble pak you’re in for a bit of a balancing act. That’s not to say it’s unbearable, but it does become noticeably top heavy when a rumble pak is inserted.

Finally we have the Retro Fighters Brawler64. If you’re looking for a more modern design with complete functionality for the N64, the Brawler64 is your controller. Very comfortable design, buttons are easy to access and the layout is very modern. The analog stick is really nice, but nothing more extraordinary than the two other controllers. The Brawler64 does have one feature the other two don’t, and that’s a turbo function. I’m not always a fan of turbo but each button can be programmed or cleared individually at your will. If I had any complaints about the Brawler64, personally, it would be that the design is a bit too modern for my liking. Don’t get me wrong I love modern controllers, but somewhere in my brain there is a bit of a disconnect where a controller has to fit the console I’m playing. One extremely small thing to note is that the analog cap made my thumb sticky for a little while after using the Brawler64 for the first time, other than that this controller really is amazing.

I personally feel all three controllers serve their purpose and have their own strengths and minor weaknesses, but I truly like them all. If I were forced to pick one and only one of these I would most likely pick the unbranded fire orange, even though it’s the lowest quality of the bunch. I know, I can hear your sighs of derision from here, but hear me out. While the Brawler64 and Tribute 64 are both absolutely amazing controllers, my brain just has that muscle memory of holding the trident design of the original controller when I play N64 games. This may be what has put me off using any of my other third-party N64 controllers more than the OEM controllers. Without a doubt I will definitely be using all three of these controllers at one time or another, but I just feel there is no substitute for the weird controller design Nintendo originally released with the console, love it or hate it.

Posted July 20th, 2020

GT64: Championship Edition

A short while ago I reviewed World Driver Championship, a game I played in an attempt to find out if the Nintendo 64 ever had a Gran Turismo killer. Although I’ve come to really enjoy World Driver Championship, the game that caused me to start this quest was GT64 Championship Edition. I had played GT64 through an emulator quite a few years ago, but due to limitations in the emulator I never really got into the meat of the game. After acquiring a real cartridge I felt it was time for me to fire up the console and give the game a play through to see what it contributed to the racing video game genre.

The first thing I noticed was how similar the GT64 and Gran Turismo title screens are, with GT64 even seeming to be trying to upstage Gran Turismo. After pressing start it’s time to select a mode, of which there are three, along with records and a very sparse options menu. The main part of the game is the Championship Mode, which is pretty self-explanatory, but there is also Time Trial and Battle Mode. Both of these modes will pit you against the clock, except in battle mode with the added competition from AI or another player. Once the mode has been selected it’s time to pick your car. The game tries to trick us into believing there are fourteen to choose from, but there are really only six different licensed cars. Twelve of the fourteen teams are real 1997 All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship teams, the other two are there to represent the game developer and publisher.

Title screen comparison.

After you’ve selected the mode and chosen which car, team and style of transmission you want you’re given the option to modify the Com Team Entry, a feature I didn’t bother much with after I found out I couldn’t fill the field completely with the exact same car. Next you’ll be allowed to select your racing parameters in the form of which level you want the AI to compete at (Easy, Normal or Hard), how many laps (3, 6, 12 or 24) and how you wish to qualify (3 Laps or Special stage). Special Stage puts the player on the track with a singular warm up lap and a singular timed lap to determine where you’ll start. The three lap option gives the player three laps to make the best time. If qualifying is available in a racing game I usually forgo it to get to the action quicker, that’s not possible with GT64. You must qualify and that’s all there is to it.

If you thought now was when you would be allowed to qualify and finally get to race, you would be wrong. The next menu is where the player is given the chance to adjust their car’s setup, do some testing on the track in free run, start qualifying, load a car setup file from the memory card, or quit out completely. Allowing a car setup to be saved and loaded from a memory card felt the most like a Gran Turismo feature throughout this game. Something to keep in mind is that you can adjust Transmission, steering, brakes, tires, front and rear suspension, front and rear downforce and gear ratio, but only in a very simplistic way. Each item has a set of numerical values at the bottom of the screen, which is essentially just a more complicated slider, that explains how each number selected will affect the car. After dialing in your car you can test it in free run or qualify as-is.

Finally, we’re on the track and ready to go, and let me tell you, after a few weeks of playing World Driver Championship I have to say I can’t remember the last time I played a racing game that made me battle the car more than the AI. In World Driver Championship drifting could be used as an effective way to overtake or corner any given turn, not in GT64. Just as turning seems to be effective enough to make the corner your car throws itself into a drift that nobody asked for and will remain as such even when you let off the gas, causing you to wrestle for control to get the car pointed straight ahead again. At first I was frustrated but I eventually started slowing down at each corner, to the point I thought I was losing time for sure, and feathering the throttle until my car hooked and could make it through. Although I felt I was going too slow, apparently the game felt that was the perfect tactic, and it works. Sadly the fun that I learned to start having was short lived as there are only three tracks with a few variations. That’s not to say they’re not fun, but it wouldn’t have hurt to add a fourth or fifth track.

The visuals of the game look nice, I wouldn’t say they are top notch but I feel they would pass for a mid-life PS1 game in terms of quality. There is some pop up on items in the distance but finding my way around a track was never an issue. I did believe, for a short while, the fog to blur the render distance was pretty bad, later I realized that was only that particular race’s weather conditions and not always the case. Car shapes look fairly decent, even though half of them are merely rectangles with rear spoilers attached, but they do represent that vehicle pretty well for the time.

GT64 Championship Edition started out with noble intentions, but like so many other games it missed the mark. In my opinion World Driver Championship is the superior game between the two, but GT64 is still a decent racing game, once you learn to handle the car. If you took the good qualities of World Driver Championship and combined them with the good qualities of GT64 Championship Edition I think that game may be remembered today as a decent Gran Turismo clone. Even a simple combination such as choosing cars and rise through the ranks like in World Driver Championship coupled with the ablity to adjust the car’s settings before a race like GT64, probably would have been something remembered fondly today.

Posted July 17th, 2020

Peripheral Vision: Third-party Fire Orange N64 Controller

Ever since I bought and reviewed Retro Bit’s Tribute 64 I’ve wished they made one in the fire orange color. Sadly, they do not, although an orange version was part of the 2019 color poll on their social media — and it lost.. to Classic Grey! So what is a person to do when they’re too cheap for their own good? Go to Amazon and buy a third-party controller in the exact same color to tide them over until they can find the genuine article. I could have purchased the OEM fire orange controller, but for under half the price I chose the third-party option so I didn’t have to worry about spending all that money on a controller and getting one with a worn out analog stick.

I’m just going to guess all third-party N64 controllers that look like the OEM controller are probably coming out of the same factory and just being branded differently, so I bought the cheapest one I could find. Once it arrived I plugged it into my N64 and immediately noticed that the plug slid in like a normal N64 controller, as opposed to the Tribute 64 which took a bit of force to press in and pull out of the console. I also noticed the oblong oval Nintendo used for their logo is still embossed into the controller, but there is no logo within. I have seen this on many third-party N64 controllers in the OEM shape, but the controller would do just fine without it. It would feel wrong for a third-party brand to use this for their logo, so I think it should be removed entirely. Just my two cents.

This controller feels pretty much how I would expect a brand new N64 controller to feel, with the plastic’s texture being more pronounced and not worn down from years of use, like my used controllers. In terms of durability it seems durable enough for normal use, but I wouldn’t dare torque it too much or spike it on the floor in a fit of anger. This controller is definitely NOT as durable as a real N64 controller. For some odd reason the A and B button’s edges are slightly more sharp than the OEM buttons, but all the buttons do have a crisp and satisfying pop when they’re pressed down. When compared to a genuine N64 controller they’re approximately the same weight.

The analog stick is where this thing shines. Compared to even my best OEM N64 controller this thing is absolutely amazing. Very smooth, seems very precise, although I’m used to used N64 controllers, and it always returns to 0 when I let it go, with no wiggle or wobble. Upon close inspection it seems the analog stick is actually metal covered in plastic to make it look and feel like the original analog stick. I don’t know what the insides look like, but analog stick technology has come a long way since the N64, so I’m hoping this thing holds up for many years to come.

I truly wish this was an OEM controller, but for what it is I think it’s $15 well spent. The orange color of the translucent plastic, I think, is absolutely beautiful. My only real complaint is the plug being grey plastic instead of matching like the OEM controllers do, but even then it’s really just a minor nitpick. Currently I don’t see any down sides for this controller, but if any do arise I’ll be sure to add an addendum to this review and make them known. Until then I think this has become my go-to N64 controller, allowing my OEM yellow to take a bit of a vacation during my current N64 game stints.

Posted July 13th, 2020

Peripheral Vision: ASCII Pad PS No.800 Controller

Along side the Interact Barracuda and Nuby’s “The Rock”, there sits yet another controller I own for the Playstation that baffles me as to how it passed the R&D stage. I’m more familiar with ASCIIWare’s SNES and Genesis era controllers, and many of them are actually really nice. The slim, boxy design of the PS No.800 controller just leaves me scratching my head as to who thought this was a good idea. With the official Playstation logo on the front I first thought this was an odd Sony controller, but later I finally noticed the ASCIIWare logo at the top.

With its thin, boxy edged design I originally thought it was going to be difficult to hold for long periods of time, and while it is unorthodox I can’t say it’s completely uncomfortable. There is a massive air gap between my hands and the grips, but it did get more comfortable the longer I held it. While we’re comparing the controller to the Nuby “The Rock”, it seems ASCIIWare also used the wafer thin L and R buttons, but yet again they are spaced in such a way that you know which one is which. For durability I gave the controller a twist and didn’t hear so much as a single pop, now I didn’t really wrench on it but I would say this controller would hold up to being tossed angrily at the TV a few times.

The layout of the face buttons are pretty much the same as an official Playstation controller. The buttons feel a slight bit cheaper, but they all respond and act as they’re suppose to. The D-pad however is a full faced cross, which I actually grew to like while testing this little thing out. Sony’s four section D-Pad works perfectly fine, but there was just a more tactile connection with the full face D-Pad of the PS No.800. I can say with complete certainty this controller won’t be replacing any Playstation controller with the comfortable, round handles. It’s a fully functional controller, but it’s not something I would even pass to a sibling or friends to suffer with. ASCIIWare, what were you thinking?

Posted July 3rd, 2020