Saturday, August 27, 2005

One Man's Trash Is Another Man's FREE NES!!!

Upon returning home from work today, my brother presented me with something he discovered in the trash near where he works:

1 NES System
4 Controllers
1 Zapper
1 NES Manual
Adventures of Tom Sawyer w/box & manual
Ghostbusters II w/box & manual
Snake's Revenge
Double Dribble
Legend of Zelda
Jordan Vs. Bird
Track & Field II
Magic Johnson's Fast Break
Super Spike V'Ball
SMB/Duck Hunt x 2
... and 1 AmTrak schedule.

Apparently there were 2 NES consoles and some other games, but the remainder went to the other dude who found the stuff with him. Still, not bad for f***in' FREE. Excuse me while I lose myself in Faxanadu for a month or so.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

You Never Miss It Until It's Gone

Recently, to the delight of my co-workers, I installed MAME on our pathetic office computer. Donkey Kong was specifically requested by one fellow employee, and for myself, I brought along Mr. Do! (which they all seem to enjoy a lot) and several titles from the Pac-Man series, including a vintage gem which was released to the world at about the same time I was, and which holds a special place in my heart: Super Pac-Man.

I love this game in particular because I used to own one of the cabinets. Around the time I was eight or nine years old it arrived at our house to take its place among Mr. Do! and Donkey Kong, and was greeted with open arms by this Pac-Fan. Many late nights were spent in the garage playing in my own miniature arcade. The glow of the marquees! The smell of the machines! The fact that they were all set on free play! This was my Xanadu, my Shangri-La. However, if one who has found Shangri-La ever leaves...

I took it for granted. I got a little tired of the same three games after a while, as anyone would. They found a home in our basement, where they still received attention, only... a little less. Eventually, I was the only one who would play, and even then, there were long stretches, often several weeks, between games. My father eventually decided that he would get rid of the two stand-up cabinets, without consulting with me first. I was powerless. I had lost Super Pac-Man, and I didn't even have a chance to say goodbye.

It sounds like I never touched the thing, but that's not at all true. I did play it a lot... and it made me good. When I was hot, I was HOT. 100,000 points was a bad run for me. At my peak, I was able to push past the 16th screen, though my memory is fuzzy past that. Still, I recall breaking 300,000 points fairly well. I was HOT.

After playing at work and clearing 100k while playing with a keyboard (which does not afford optimum control), I checked the high scores for Super Pac-Man on Twin Galaxies. Some of the ones there are higher than my best, but some are lower, by over 100,000 points! WHY NOT ME?! Why am I unable to take my place in the hall of heroes, the greatest Super Pac-Man players of all time?

I will join them someday, when I have been reunited with Super Pac-Man, thus ending my separation anxiety. Until that day, I will gnaw on tennis balls, hoping that I shall become a giant, like my hero... the round one.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Taking Control: Turbo Touch 360

For once, I'm back in the swing. Seriously. I got hooked up with a Flickr account and took some pictures. They're not great pictures, though, so I'm gonna try again and post them later. Until then, however, I'm finally ready to post my long-overdue review of... well, anything.

TURBO TOUCH 360 by Triax

I recall the commercials for this bad boy pretty vividly. The Turbo Touch 360 (TT360) was supposed to be worlds better than all the other controllers on the market, and Triax was pushing their product pretty hard. Their main innovation: replacing the traditional directional pad with a touchpad, not unlike the ones you'd find on iPods and other crap like that today. They developed three separate models of the TT360: one for the NES, one for the SNES, and one for the Genesis, which, appropriately, comes in Sega black.

Since it came out in the heyday of the Genesis and SNES, I never actually saw one for the NES until I popped into a Gamestop some time ago. I've managed to pick up two of them total, but I didn't really sit down and play with the thing until recently. Here's what I found:

Design / Ergonomics:

The TT360 is large, a good deal larger than the standard NES controller; it's about the size of a standard Genesis pad. It's also shaped similar to a Genesis pad. It's pretty comfortable to hold for a long period of time, although if you have really small hands, you might not like it too much, or may have problems reaching the buttons.

Directional Pad:

The D-Pad is what sets the TT360 apart from other controllers, and was also Triax's biggest selling point. It's definitely very responsive. You don't even have to press on it; it's all contact. One of the nicest things about the D-Pad is that it has true diagonals (ex: if you press UP/RIGHT, it signals both up and right at the same time). This is a nice feature for games like Contra, where diagonal shooting is a big help. There are ridges on the control pad so you know where you're pressing--lines for the cardinal directions, raised dots for the diagonals. It's also sunk into the controller about an eighth of an inch, with a raised ridge running around the outside. Because you operate it with your left thumb, sometimes it makes pressing left kind of awkward or uncomfortable. Being a touchpad, of course, any accidental touch can set your character running off in the wrong direction or throw you off a cliff.

The D-Pad responds well to games with all types of controls, stiff or loose. I had some problems with it while playing Kung Fu; sometimes my character would suddenly duck or change directions when i moved my thumb slightly, and it caused me to have to hold the D-Pad awkwardly to stop the problem. There is a neutral zone in the center of the pad for when you don't want to use it, but you'd be better off removing your thumb altogether so that there's no accidental pressing, which is also awkward and uncomfortable. Still, not having to apply any pressure is pretty nice; it just takes a lot of getting used to. In short, the super-sensitive D-Pad is both a blessing and a curse.

I had the most success with games where you're generally moving in only 2 directions, left or right. Although it works well with the 8-directional movement, sometimes I'd have a little trouble getting my ship to move in Gradius, or accidentally fly into a rock while trying to avoid shots when I normally would have missed said rock. How disconcerting.

Buttons / Turbo:

By themselves, the buttons are great. Every single one of them has a nice press. If you push the button, you KNOW you pushed the button. Working with more than one button, I found a few problems. Because of their size, shape, and placement, I found that the A and B buttons tended to stick occasionally when trying to hold one and press the other. In games like Super Mario Bros. or the later Mega Man games, where you'll often find yourself holding one of the buttons for an extended period of time, it can get frustrating. This problem didn't really occur with the turbo buttons, since they're smaller and rounder. The turbo itself is pretty standard, and is comparable to the turbo on the NES Max. Still, it's nice to have.

The Start and Select buttons are placed strangely; instead of placing them horizontally like EVERYBODY ELSE does, Start is now above Select. This caused me some problems trying when I'd go for Start and hit Select accidentally. Fortunately, not a lot of games rely too much on either button, but it could be crucial if you're playing, say, Punch-Out!!

Cord / Plug:

Not as disappointing as some other controllers I've seen, but not spectacular either. The cord measures up at a so-so 6 feet in length, over a foot and a half shorter than the stock NES controller cable. The plug feels kind of cheap, but has a nice snug fit that's not overly tight on insertion or removal. Could have been better, but could have been much worse.

So let's bring it together with the Pros & Cons:

+ Sensitive D-Pad
+ Ergonomic
+ Good size for most adults
+ Large, responsive buttons
+ Plug not overly tight

- Sensitive D-Pad
- May be overly large for some people
- Buttons can stick
- Start & Select in weird positions
- Cord could be longer

FINAL SCORE: 8 out of 10
When it comes down to it, this is a really good controller. Triax had a good thing going when they developed this. I'm sure a bit more refinement could have made it better, but there's not too much to improve on.