Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Seize the Advantage, the NES Advantage
The NES Advantage was the first arcade-style controller for the NES, but it would not be the last. It is, however, the best of the bunch. In this post I would like to explain why it is the best and what kind of games for which it is best suited.
The NES Advantage appears to have been designed in-house by Nintendo. While it is similar to products from ASCIIWARE, it is of a very high build quality.
There were other arcade-style joysticks. Camerica brought over the Freedom Stick and the TurboTronic, the latter has the same button layout as the ASCII Turbo Jr Stick for the Famicom. Beeshu marketed the Jammer and Ultimate Superstick, but the only thing ultimate about it was the terrible build quality. The Quickshot Arcade was another arcade-style stick. The Ultimate Superstick and the Freedom Stick are wireless infrared sticks.
The NES Advantage uses a light gray color for its plastic like the NES front loader. It comes with crevices cut into the plastic to give it some style. These crevices are hard to clean if they get really filthy and I always thought they were a bit over the top. The red lettering on the top can also get worn down by sunlight and abuse.
The bottom of the NES Advantage has a metal base and four rubber feet. This gives it some heft. To open the advantage, you need to remove the bottom feet (which are attached to the base by an adhesive) and the turbo knobs, because they screw into the top plastic with hex nuts on the potentiometers.
The NES Advantage has three spring latched switches for the Turbo B, Turbo A and Slow buttons. It has a sliding switch for the 1/2 Player button. The four directionals and four regular buttons use rubber domes to make contact, just like a regular NES controller except these are larger. Most arcade sticks of the day came in two varieties, leaf switches and micro switches. Leaf switches are quiet but may be less precise, while micro switches are noisy but clicky. Each button or directional has a separate pad, making replacement somewhat easier. The stick has a knob that can be unscrewed and has a metal coil inside it to recenter it like a spring.
The Turbo control knobs allow for a very finely tuned turbo selection for each button independently. This is very important because some games work better with a lower Turbo setting and other games work better with a higher Turbo setting. An adjustable Turbo setting may simulate pressing the button one time per second, fifteen times per second or thirty times per second. Some games do not respond to the Turbo at all, as in one shot at a time games like Galaga.
The LEDs above the buttons flash with the button presses. As you turn the dial up on the Turbo knows, you will see the LED light up faster and faster until it turns a solid red. At that point your eyes can no longer track the discrete turning on and off of the LED. Because there are switches on the Turbo to turn it on and off, you never need to bother with it if you don't want to.
For many sidescrolling games, the A button is used to jump. Turbo is not usually helpful in this instance. The NES Advantage is often used where only the B button has any Turbo on it. Nor is it useful in shooter games to activate a secondary weapon with a limited supply of ammo or select a weapons option.
The Slow button is essentially a Turbo Start button. This means that you will often hear the annoying sound assigned to a press of the Start button. Also, not every game allows you to pause, making this useless when it is pressed. Other games will bring up a menu or subscreen, which is very distracting. Pressing the Start button can cause you to lose other button presses, making this feature really something of a novelty.
The cable for the NES Advantage has two connectors on the end. The end connectors are separated for the last four inches of the cable length and one of the connectors has a white stripe. This allows you and a friend to use your own NES Advantages. The connector with the white stripe always goes into Controller Port 1 and the connector without the white stripe always goes into Controller Port 2. You also need to make sure that the Player 1/2 switch is set appropriately.
You can use four NES Advantages with a NES Four Score or NES Satellite. The NES Advantage plugged into Controller Port 3 should have its switch set to Player 1 and the NES Advantage plugged into Controller Port 4 should have its switch set to Player 2.
If you are playing a two-player alternating game, you can share the NES Advantage between you and your friend. In this case, you must flip the switch when you pass the NES Advantage back and forth. This is useful even when you are playing alone for practice because you can play two games at once.
Overall, the NES Advantage is very durable and very responsive. One complaint about the internals is that the buttons can get stuck. I have read that this usually happens when the carbon pads underneath the A and B buttons get worn out or are not properly underneath the button. You should test the buttons before you buy one if possible.
When Nintendo releases a first-party product for the NES with a Turbo and Slow features, is it really cheating to use them? You may recall that Nintendo released the NES Satellite, which also had Turbo support, in the NES Sports Set. Sega also put out a Genesis controller with Turbo and NEC's Turbo Grafx-16 came with a Turbo-supporting controller. Under these circumstances, it is really hard to say that Turbo is cheating. After all, Turbo is only simulating the rapid pressing of a button.
If one takes the argument further, then what about the Game Genie? Nintendo never licensed the device, which came out for the NES, SNES and Game Boy. However, Sega did license the Genesis and Game Gear versions.
Many of Nintendo's early releases were based off arcade games. Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Donkey Kong 3, Popeye and Mario Bros. are direct ports. Balloon Fight is a clone of Joust and Mach Rider is a clone of Hang-On. Galaga, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Defender, Joust, Elevator Action, the list can go on and on. The NES Advantage offers a somewhat more authentic arcade style experience when playing these games.
The NES Advantage has its place elsewhere. The classic Konami games like Contra, Jackal, Super C, Gradius and Life Force can all take advantage of the NES Advantage's Turbo. Compile's top-down shooters, Zanac, The Guardian Legend and Gun-Nac are also good games for the Advantage. Fester's Quest becomes much more playable with the Turbo function of the Advantage. The few fighting games for the NES like TMNT Tournament Fighters could benefit from the smooth motion of the stick.