I have been a gamer for many many years. My first computer was an Amstrad CPC 464 and I had boxes and boxes of games. I'd save my weekly 50p pocket money up for those Mastertronics £1.99 games. Fantastic times. By the time I went to secondary school, things had moved on from the days of 8 Bit machines with tape based games, up to the modern era of the 3.25 inch (traditionally blue) floppy disk. Home computer games were split between the Amiga and the Atari ST series, but in my circles it was almost exclusively about the Amiga.
During its hay day I owned the Amiga 500, 600 and 1200
each with a RAM expansion in between just to play those extra demanding games that required an upgrade to 1Mb (from 512K) or such. My A1200 even had a whopping "I'll never fill that up" 170Mb hard drive. Considering they had mere MHz of speed (just breaking 2 digits and no giga prefixes here) they were remarkably versatile machines. Before I get too reminiscent and nostalgic about the simpler years of computer gaming where games just worked, I'll get to the point of this review.
I was recently sent a 'new' joystick for review. Well its not exactly new in all meanings of the word. Yes its recently made and probably never been used, but its really an old, nay 'classic' joystick. Back in the Amiga days there were several joystick design areas which had a somewhat fanatical following. I myself was a Quickjoy person, I loved the clear plastic exposing the inner workings of micro switches and springs. My brother was a Zip-Stick person, nothing was better in his opinion for playing Sensible World of Soccer than that black and yellow simplistic arcade stick. The Zip-Stick had one direct and much more successful competitor - the Competition Pro series. And thats what I was given to review.
UK Supplier: Menron Court
Price: £9.99 inc. V.A.T.
The Competition pro was arguably the most successful joystick in the home computer gamer arena. At its height of popularity it came in a variety of special edition colours, and if I remember correctly, this included classic black and red, inverted red and black, clear and red, clear blue and silver, black and blue
and I'm sure I remember some really odd ones like camouflage effect and all silver or gold ones, but the colours always did seem more vivid when you were a child so maybe not. They never had suckers; they always had rubber feet instead - which was the biggest lacking issue for me and my brother when we had to use them at our friends' houses.
The 'new' edition is in the classic black with red parts that was most common, and is largely the same design. The only addition as far as I can see is that it has 2 additional small triangular buttons on the higher bezel. Oh and there's one quite major difference, its a USB joystick. It wouldn't do much good these days to release a 9 pin joystick now would it? Apart from that it looks and feels very much like the original.
One thing that I instantly noticed was missing when I unpacked the joystick was any kind of manual, setup instructions or even a driver or software CD. Now, plugging in a USB device is about as easy as things get in the computing world, but I suppose I still expected some help for the inexperienced users, not that I really think its required though. So, upon plugging it in and looking in the game devices control panel we see the following:
As you can se it's detected straight away and as its a digital device it requires no calibration. It's already good to go. One thing you might notice is that its detected as a 4 button joystick and this is a mixed blessing. The original joystick's two buttons both performed the same action, so it was designed with two identical buttons for left or right handed players to have the same experience. I suppose, you can still program the buttons to be the same in a game, should you need to, but this of course required the game to allow you to assign multiple buttons to the same action. However, overall its probably better to be able to use all 4 independently as many modern games have multiple actions and its more useful to be able to use all the buttons in these cases.
The first thing I decided to try was a modern freeware unofficial sequel of sorts of the classic Amiga platform shooter series Turrican, called T4 Funeral. Its pretty darned similar (especially the starting level) to Turrican 2 and is pretty well made overall, and fun to play, oh and best of all its free. If you want to try it yourself here's the link:
The joystick was detected just fine by the game and I configured the use of all 4 buttons, after that I was away. I must have played the game for a good hour or so before I realised the time and that I was no longer paying attention to the joystick, which was the point in playing in the first place. Overall the stick performed pretty well, diagonals were easy and deliberate, the buttons were responsive and the whole unit stayed put while playing. All in all it was pretty much how I remembered it and using the joystick soon became second nature. I checked out the auto fire switch on the back too, and it worked just fine. In fact it came in useful in T4 since I had a habit of standing still while shooting from time to time and that kept on initiating the beam weapon which stops you from moving until you stop firing.
Next I fired up WinUAE and set about setting up the joystick for a bit of classic Amiga gaming action. I'd never noticed before but the joystick icons on WinUAE are in fact the Competition Pro, nice. The joystick was a breeze to setup, just simply select it from the dropdown and away we go.
As my gaming choice for this test I chose team 17's Superfrog. I loved this platform game and played it fairly regularly. It was one of the few games I could play from start to finish without dying and fortunately its one of the few games I can still play to a reasonable level. Well, OK, so I only made it to the second zone (4/5 levels in) on my first go, but thats still pretty good considering it's been about 10 years since I last played it.
Once more the joystick faired well. Diagonals were just fine, as were the use of the fire button, and again I found myself immersed in the game and just using the stick without thinking. Thats pretty much they way it should be - the joystick as an extension to your are, be one with the joystick.
Overall I was impressed at the accuracy of the reproduction, and the minor differences are welcome. The USB interface is of course necessary on a modern computer, as it's become the general interface of choice. The extra buttons are neither good nor bad. They are too small to be primary buttons, but then there are already 2 of those anyway. It is perceivable that they might get in the way of how some people may hold the base when playing, especially seeing as most people will have larger adult sized hands now, but I don't think that's a problem for most people. At a moderately low cost of £9.99 and with no glaring faults of flaws, we at Zombie Nexus award the Speedlink Competition Pro USB the Bronze award, for a unique and well rounded product.
I hope you enjoyed this review, please feel free to leave comments below.