I’m going to change gears for this post and talk about some old hardware. I’ve been working on my (ahem) office at home, including a little retro setup with a bunch of old consoles. This inspired the following.
I’ve been playing video games for a very long time. I don’t remember the first video game I played, though it was probably on an Atari 2600. I have fond memories of Pitfall, Adventure and The Empire Strikes Back.
In the mid-80s, my parents bought a Commodore 128. This was when I really started to play games. Games I got into included Bard’s Tale II, Wizard’s Crown, Summer Games II, Defender of the Crown, Ghostbusters and Agent USA.
My parents resisted buying a Nintendo (NES). A computer at least had education aspects to it. Sure enough, I learned to program BASIC on the Commodore. But I did get some exposure to the NES. We’d visit some cousins in South Dakota who had one. I remember playing Dragon Warrior and being blown away. It was an RPG, like Bard’s Tale II, but on a console. It didn’t have the long load times I was used to on the Commodore. It also had a bit more story than BT II had, as I recall, and it was certainly less tedious.
Anyway, even though I really wanted a NES, my parents wouldn’t budge. Somehow, though, when the Super Nintendo (SNES) came out, my parents gave in. To this day I’m not sure why they caved, though I’m glad they did.
The SNES was like nothing I’d seen. It was light-years beyond the NES, of course. But it also left the Commodore 128 in the dust, which surprised me at the time. And games like F-Zero (and later, Star Fox) were just crazy. To this day, if I turn on a SNES with Super Mario World in it, a weird switch gets flicked in my brain. It’s hard to describe, because SMW looks primitive by modern standards. But it was a huge jump, graphically and gameplay-wise, from the Mario games on the NES.
The real killer game, though, was Street Fighter II. The SNES version was very faithful to the arcade version, though I think it had the blood removed. It played pretty much exactly the same. The graphics were slightly degraded, but it really felt very, very similar to playing the arcade game. Back then, arcade games were on the cutting edge. Home consoles typically had dumbed-down versions. But the SNES and Genesis versions of SF II (Championship Edition for Genesis) were pretty damn faithful.
Their controllers, though, left something to be desired. The SNES controller had enough buttons, but it didn’t much resemble the arcade layout. The Genesis controller did not have enough buttons — Sega had to release a new controller with 3 extra buttons. As I recall, you could play with a standard Genesis controller, but I think you had to use the Start button in combination with the A, B and C buttons to toggle between punching and kicking. I and the other Nintendo kids used to point and laugh at the Genesis kids. Well, in my head. Those Genesis kids could beat me up.
The point is that the controllers were not up to the task. The game was basically identical to the arcade version, but the controllers were alien. The button layout wasn’t right and the directional pad was no substitute for a joystick. So manufacturers started putting out arcade-style joysticks geared specifically for Street Fighter II and similar games.
I don’t remember the magazine I used to read. I think it was EGM. I really don’t know. Maybe Nintendo Power or Gamepro? Anyway, I remember seeing a review of the C&L Championship Joystick. The review gushed over it, claiming that it had real arcade parts and was encased in the same kind of plastic that telephones were made out of. Telephones back then were big, heavy and sturdy.
I don’t actually remember how I got this joystick or where I got it from. Probably as a birthday present. I remember it was rather expensive. I think it was $60 or so. But man it was nice. It still is.
Look at that bad boy. This sucker has lasted me 20 years, and it’s got only minor wear (though it should probably be cleaned with a q-tip). The buttons each still make nice, satisfying clicks. The stick itself is still sturdy. It’s a great controller, and I wish I could use it more often. As arcade sticks in its category go, it was actually fairly small. That said, it’s still large — it sits comfortably on my lap, but it’s larger than a SNES console.
It’s hard to describe just how satisfying it was to use this controller. It really was very similar to the controls on arcade games. All of me SNES control pads are worn out and mostly useless. This controller is still as good as it was in 1993.
I was able to pick up a SNES -> Game Cube controller adapter, which also works for the Wii. So I’m able to play old SNES games on the Wii with this controller, which is a blast. I should pick up a SNES -> USB cable too.
Aside from the various Street Fighter games, I remember playing Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, Chrono Trigger, Star Fox and Mario Kart with this joystick.
No other controller I’ve ever owned got as much use as this sucker, and it’s in better shape than some of my current controllers. Of course it doesn’t have the right controls to play a lot of modern games, so it’s only really useful for retro gaming.