Through a series of articles, I detail the history of the video game industry in regards to specific companies, consoles, and pieces of hardware.
In this section I provide in depth reviews of game consoles, past and present, from my own collection. Included are details about the consoles' history, specs, and hi-resolution pictures.
A lot of first- and third-party hardware and software items are released that don't get the recognition that they deserve. In this section, I highlight some of the best.
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SNES Super Advantage Joystick
The Super Advantage is a arcade-style joystick controller for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The Super Advantage was released in 1994 from Asciiware, and was the successor to the somewhat successful NES Advantage joystick originally released by Nintendo in 1987 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Rather than manufacture an arcade style joystick themselves for the Super NES platform, Nintendo chose to outsource the job to Asciiware in North America.
The Super Advantage is an officially licensed Nintendo product, and was sold as such. The Super Advantage's box looked and was packed like a first party Nintendo product, and unless you read the fine print (or noticed the Asciiware logo on the joystick itself), you'd never know Nintendo themselves didn't manufacture it.
In Europe, Nintendo made available a first-party arcade joystick called the Nintendo Score Master. The Score Master is a slightly more ergonomic and smaller arcade stick with a traditional 3-over-3 button layout, similar to the traditional 6-button arcade layout. The Nintendo Score Master is somewhat difficult to find in North America, as it was only released in Europe. If any European readers has easy access to a Score Master - please contact me, as I'm interested in purchasing one.
Typically third-party controllers are of noticeably lesser quality than first party controllers. They are typically made of cheaper materials, and don't have the button crispness, responsiveness, comfort, and weight of a solid first-party controller. Honestly, the Asciiware Super Advantage feels like a first-party controller should. It is heavy, responsive, and built with amazing quality. The quality easily rivals some of the best first-party arcade sticks out there, including the 3- and 6-button sticks for the Sega Genesis and the Sega Virtua Stick for the Sega Saturn.
The Super Advantage has a metal base with four black foam feet and is fairly heavy. Heavier in fact than the NES Advantage that it replaces. The overall design and color scheme are the same as the North American market Super NES console. The joystick features the same texture on the light gray parts, and even has the ribbed "skirt" around the sides and back of the base. There are two purple pieces on the controller that look like the Power and Reset buttons on the SNES console. These are not buttons though, and have no function (they don't slide), but they are a nice design touch and really help tie the look of the joystick to the SNES. When the two are sitting side by side, they look like they belong together.
The joystick feels solid. Action on the joystick feels almost exactly the same as the NES Advantage joystick. The action buttons feel great as well. They aren't as nice as the microswitch buttons that are typically found on real arcade machines and on some of the modern day $100+ botique joysticks, but for the typical rubber membrane buttions they feel even and don't stick. Strangely, the B, A, Y and X buttons share the four colors with the Super Famicom gamepad, and aren't the typical dark and light purple found on the Super NES gamepad. I'm sure they chose to do this in order to differentiate those buttons from each other to make identification and operation of the turbo selector and frequency switches easier. Either way, it was a nice touch, looks good, and is an interesting homage to the Super Famicom.
On the face of the controller, between the joystick and action buttons, are a Start and Select button, as well as the "Slow" button. The Slow button is an on-or-off type switch that functions the same way as the Slow button on the NES Advantage. Basically it will repeatedly pause and unpause the game with the Start button to create the illusion of slow motion. It works about as well as the slow function on the NES Advantage - and I highly doubt many people ever used it.
Like the NES Advantage, the Super Advantage features "Off/Turbo/Auto" switch for all of the action buttons, as well as sliders that allow gamers to adjust the speed of the turbo function for each button independently. This is a nice feature, and color coding of the action bottons to their corresponding switch and frequency slider is appreciated. The L and R buttons have been moved to the top of the joystick and are dark gray. Their respective turbo switch and turbo frequency sliders are dark gray as well, but they are placed appropriately on the joystick in relation to their corresponding locations (L on the left side, R on the right) so it's not easy to confuse them.
The overall quality of the Super Advantage is well above average for a third-party controller. Typically my biggest complaint with third-party controllers are build quality and responsiveness, but with the Super Advantage this isn't the case.
The biggest problem with the Super Advantage is the button layout. Asciiware tried to keep the B, A, Y and X buttons in their proper locations, and that worked well. The problem lies in the placement of the L and R buttons. It looks almost as if they just sort of stuck the buttons on there, and as long as L was on the left and R was on the right, nobody would notice. L sort of sits in the middle of the B and Y buttons, whereas R is almost directly next to the A button.
The resulting layout is far from a typical 3-over-3 layout - which the Nintendo Score Master pulled off wonderfully. The Genesis 6-button Arcade Stick, the Sega Virtua Stick for Saturn, and almost every other arcade stick released since all have the 3-over-3 button layout, which is important for fighting games since it mimics the layout of typical arcade fighting games.
Even the Neo Geo style four-in-a-row button layout isn't really usable, as you might think it could be at first glance. On the Neo Geo arcade stick, four buttons - A, B, C, and D - are all side by side in a gradual upward curve in the center to follow the normal curvature of your fingers when you spread out your hand. The result is a set of buttons that feels natural to use. The L, B, A, and R buttons on the Super Advantage are in a similar layout, except L and R are higher than A and B (R is a lot higher), so the result is the complete opposite of what would be ergonomic.
Playing shooters and platformers with the Super Advantage works very well, if an arcade stick is your preference for those types of games. When I see an arcade stick though I think of fighting games, and I typically don't use an arcade stick for anything but fighting games. The Asciiware Super Advantage is a great piece of hardware in terms of build quality, but the awkward button layout doesn't agree with the normal shape of my hand. For games with the ability to assign each action buttons within the Options menu, you can sometimes overcome the wonky button layout on the Super Advantage, but if you absolutely need all 6 action buttons it's a real challenge.
The Super Advantage is a fairly cheap item to find, and the build quality and beauty of the joystick alone make it worth having for the price (typically $10-$25 depending on condition), but the awkward button layout can be annoying for some games.
NES Collection Status
Keep up on the status of my NES collection via this page. I will keep this up to date each time I pick up a new NES title!
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