Spending a few hours on my Atari STE playing games and I think I finally reached a point where my trusty Atari CX40 joystick just doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s not so much that it’s not working but more that after years of using ergonomic controllers the cramping my hands are now getting from long play sessions isn’t fun. The concern of being gentle on the CX40 for fear of busting doesn’t help either. Thankfully there’s a modern alternative that solves these issues using the best components.
Monster Joysticks sell an Atari/Commodore compatible stick consisting of a Sanwa arcade stick and buttons with a custom interface board, all bundled up in a kit case that you assemble to your needs. The stick and buttons are of a quality that was rarely seen back in the day so having it now is a real treat for playing old games. When your order arrives all the parts are bundled in a box with a two page set of instructions on how to put it all together. The steps are mostly straightforward with the controller board getting screwed to the baseplate, then the sides screwed in and finally the stick and buttons attached to the top before the unit is closed up. All in all it takes about thirty minutes to put together.
A few things worth noting:
- You can flip the top plate over so that the stick is to the right and the buttons on the left. The instructions take that into consideration and tell you how to wire it differently to support that option.
- A switch on the back of the unit enables the second button which will act as an alternate up movement. A lot of games used to have up mapped to the joystick but this lets you play them console style with a dedicated button.
- The 9 pin joystick cable really needs to be pushed hard into the back of the unit before the connections are made. It’s recommended that you connect it while assembling the unit where you can hold onto the controller board with one hand while connecting it – if you try after the controller is fully assembled you risk putting a lot of pressure on the board which might break it.
- The method of screwing the panels together can be fiddly and it’s easy to drop the nuts used for securing it. A tip is to place tape on the insides of the case across the holes which let you hold the nut in place as you screw – it saves a lot of time.
- This is not a controller to hold in your hand. It’ll sit nicely on a desk but will work fine on your lap too.
Apart from the issue I had with the cable connection needing to be tightened, the joystick worked first time connected to my Atari STE which was a reward in itself (ie. I did that!). I’ve had microswitch joysticks on my computers in the past and there is something different about using a solid, “clicky” controller where that physical response matches the onscreen action. It’s quite a change making use of the second button too – platform style games that use it for jump definitely work best. Racing games that use it for acceleration could work too but for me I think it boils down to any game that has a single action for the up movement will work best.
Monster Joysticks sell models for other systems and also versions using cheaper arcade parts so there are options for every Retro gaming fan. There’s even one that you can mount a Raspberry Pi within for an all-in-one emulation solution. The assembly part of the process for these controllers may not be everyone’s cup of tea but what it does do is give these old systems the kind of peripheral that either never existed or was simply too expensive to make back then. Anyone who enjoys playing games on their old systems and need a new controller should take a look and see if this might be a good fit for them.