Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Product Review: NES Advantage & Super Advantage

There used to be a huge discrepancy between arcade video games and their home console ports.  Not only were the graphics capabilities different, but the control interface was a whole other animal.  There are some gamers, myself not included, who can't deal with anything but a huge joystick and buttons.  Fortunately, there are a number of arcade-style joypads available on the market for all matter of systems.  I am going to take a look at the one that started it all, as well as its spiritual successor.  Ladies and gentlemen, the NES Advantage.
The NES Advantage.
The NES Advantage controller for the Nintendo Entertainment System was manufactured and sold by Nintendo in 1987.  It has an 8-way, ball-top joystick replacing the Control Pad, and has the same A, B, Start, and Select buttons from the controller.  The color scheme roughly matches that of the NES control deck and controller, being mostly off-white with some use of black, red, and dark gray.  Unlike on most controllers, two controller plugs come out of the device at once.  This precludes any simultaneous multiplayer modes, but most NES titles with multiplayer capabilities, especially earlier ones like Super Mario Bros., had players take turns, so we get a switch to pass control between players 1 and 2.  It works out if you've lost your second controller and need to do special functions, like manual saving in The Legend of Zelda, but it's way hard to tell which plug goes in which port, and if you mess that up, the controller may not work correctly even if you set the switch the opposite way.  In terms of construction, the only complaint I had is that the A and B buttons won't go in or may even get temporarily stuck if you press them on the edge.

The special features on the NES Advantage are the Turbo and Slow switches, which to my knowledge were pioneered by this mother.  Turbo works when you hold a button, and the controller rapidly sends the input signal as if you were tapping the button faster than is humanly comfortable.  Unlike the one-switch-fits-all turbo capabilities on most other third-party controllers, the A and B buttons each get their own turbo switch, so you can leave one on and the other off at the same time.  In another rarely-seen function, there are also two dials which control the rate of either turbo input.  Some of you may wonder why anyone would want to set their auto-fire speeds at anything less than maximum, but for old shooter games where you can only have so many bullets on the screen at once, it pays to experiment.  And yes, it is fast enough for Track & Field II.  The slow switch, on the other hand, rapidly and automatically presses the Start button to simulate slow motion.  It only works on games that use Start to pause, and works best if doing so manually freezes the game instead of taking you to a menu.  The problems with using this is if you press something while the game is paused, it will not register, and in an admittedly minor complaint, you may sometimes turn off the slow function and the game will remain paused, since it was in its paused state when you turned it off.

The Super Advantage.
But what if you want to play a game's sequel on the Super NES, or you have one of those 2-in-1 Famiclones which use SNES controllers?  You think you'd be out of luck, but no: they made one for the Super NES as well.  It's called the Super Advantage, and technically it's not manufactured by Nintendo, but by Asciiware.  The device is larger than the NES Advantage, and mixes the visual styles of the American SNES console (the two-tone grays and the non-functioning purple "buttons" near the top) and its Japanese/PAL region counterparts (multi-colored buttons instead of two-tone purples).  Unlike its spiritual predecessor, the Super Advantage has only one controller plug attached to it and is intended for one player.

The turbo and slow capabilities are carried on to this controller - and then some.  Each of the six buttons (A, B, X, Y, L, and R) have a corresponding 3-way turbo switch and fire rate slider (as opposed to a dial).  Not only can each of the buttons be set to Turbo, firing repeatedly when you hold the button, but Auto, which sends the input command automatically.  Meanwhile, the slow function has its own slider, so you can control how fast the Start button input is fired.  Pretty much the only major drawback for some is the button layout.  The L and R buttons are placed on either side of the main cluster (A, B, X, and Y).  For games like the Street Fighter II series, which use two rows of three buttons each, this may be a hinderance, especially considering the fact that the new Sega Genesis controllers of the time used that 2x3 layout.  This is far from a deal-breaker for me, though; I'm more concerned with the stiff construction of the buttons themselves, which, again, don't go in if you press them on the edge.

The used price for either of these controllers should be around US$20.  They're real lifesavers... okay, thumb-savers for games which normally require quick button tapping, like shoot-em-ups that pre-date auto-fire.  It could even help you with the obstacle course in Double Dare, where you have to press Left/Right or Up/Down rapidly.  Both of these controllers have their construction flaws, but I highly recommend you get them if you can find a good enough deal.

The Call:
NES Advantage: 80% (B)
Super Advantage: 90% (A-)

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