NEOGEO Pad USB – some thoughts and a review

For quite a few years I’ve been enjoying fighting games, from the SNES classics like Street Fighter 2 Turbo to the PlayStation greats like Soul Blade and Tekken, and more recently the modern fighters like Street Fighter 4.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been getting back into Street Fighter 3rd Strike, and up to now I’ve been using the standard PS3 controller. Now it has to be said that it isn’t a bad controller, in fact it’s pretty good for the majority of games, its just not a great one for fighters (in my opinion), and there are a few reasons for this:

  • Analog sticks – Sometimes they get in the way of your thumbs
  • Soft Triggers – No good at all, you don’t want squidgy triggers for fighters.
  • Fatigue – The controller is a little heavy and your thumb does get absolutely ruined by the dpad.

I’ve spent some time playing with a MadCatz Pro Stick, but I’ve always felt that I’ve been a controller guy and decided that I’d stick to what I know. This post is not intended to be a discussion about which one is better – it’s down to personal preference (the 2014 Street Fighter 4 world champion used a PS1 controller).

I spent some time researching, I knew I wanted something with 6 face buttons and two shoulder buttons, as well as a decent dpad. I always had my mind set on an original Sega Genesis controller, but I didn’t like the idea of having a controller and a converter, as well as possibly having to deal with it possibly failing due to age, so I kept looking, and here is what I found:


 

The NEO-GEO Pad USB, (not the Pad 2, both are mostly identical however the Pad 2 was for the PlayStation 2).
I’ve had it for a couple of days now, and I have to say I am both impressed and concerned, and here’s where the review starts 🙂

Design

The design of the controller is based on the Pad 2 which was released for the PlayStation 2 and was based on the original NeoGeo CD controller. It has 6 face buttons, 2 shoulder buttons, start, select and a PS button.
It’s very thin and light, with the left side of the controller being thicker than the right to accommodate the micro-switch dpad, which actually makes the joystick quite comfortable to use.

Overall the layout of the buttons and the form factor are really great. All the buttons are placed around the natural resting place of your hands, which makes the controller easy and generally comfortable to use. The dpad is in the perfect position for me, however if you have very large hands then you may find the controlller a bit small/thin (although it is pretty much the same width as the six-axis PS3 controller).

A stupid design decision is the obnoxiously tiny and recessed PS button, its a pain to press, and means you will likely have to grow your nails or carry around a small screwdriver or pencil. Seriously, its a nightmare. I can understand the reason behind this – you don’t want to be pressing it in the middle of a competitive game. But why have the large start and select buttons then? It just doesn’t make any sense.

Functionality

The first thing you probably notice about the controller is the dpad. SNK have employed the use of microswitches in a floating dpad, essentially emulating an arcade joystick. Now, if you’ve been looking to buy one of these controllers you want to know how it feels, and, if its better or worse than a standard dpad. My answer is that it’s quite nice but has a few problems, mostly with the transition from a standard dpad.

A representation of the micro switches inside the dpad

It feels  more accurate than a normal dpad. Firstly, you get a lovely responsive click from the microswitches every time you hit a direction, letting you know exactly where you are (most of the time). This accuracy is only as good as the user, and ultimately it only feels more accurate, it probably isn’t in reality.

Secondly, the only movement required is moving around a small plastic disc rather than sweeping your thumb across hard plastic buttons, this reduces fatigue, in addition, you don’t have to “reset” your thumb to a neutral position, as the floating dpad is slightly pushed back to neutral by the springs in the switches. However,  it requires quite a bit of practice and muscle memory to accurately and consistently hit the directions you want (for example the common dragon punch motion). It’s very similar to switching from a controller to a joystick in this regard.

A major problem that I’ve found is that the floating dpad has a large range of movement. As an example –  if you want to do a half circle or a full circle on a standard dpad then you only have to roll your thumb on a single point, meaning your thumb doesn’t really move much. This means you can quickly execute a multitude of movements one after the other. On the floating style dpad, if you want to do a half circle your thumb has to move in a half circle, which means a large movement in the thumb and this is marginally slower. In essence – you have to be quicker to execute the same moves in the same time frame. With more practice over the next couple of weeks I expect this to be reduced

Build Quality

I’ve taken apart the controller (I don’t suggest you do this unless you are trying to repair something) and the internals are all very well designed, with screws being placed in specific positions to keep the PCB and cable nice and tight. There are two small plastic prongs inside that grip the cable to stop any damage being caused if the controller is ripped out of your hand. The electronics and PCB are high quality and should last a long time.

The plastic used for the outer casing is about the same thickness as a PS3 controller, so no issues there. One thing I did notice is that rigidity and flex of the controller is pretty much down to the screws, if they are nice and tight then you get minimal flex, but the plastic is nice and solid with a slightly rough texture to give grip.

The 6 face buttons are made with a slightly smoother plastic than the basing, however they have a matt finish so they don’t slip, the buttons are all level and require little effort to press, they are not micro-switch but use the rubber pad against the contacts on the PCB, basically – they do the job well.

The shoulder buttons are made of quite thin plastic (which I noted when I opened the controller). They do feel solid and give a nice satisfying click when pressed, again they require minimal effort to press.

One concern is the floating dpad – the design of the original NeoGeo CD pad led to plastic being rubbed off on the inside of the dpad, which would then clog up the micro-switches. I have disassembled the dpad and taken apart the microswitch arrangement, I have to say I am a bit worried that the springs will eventually fail, although they are probably the easiest component to replace.

Final Words

The question is – will buying a decent controller  make you better at fighting games? Yes it will, and here’s an example to illustrate – if you a buy a crap guitar, then you won’t want to pick it up and play. If you buy a good guitar then every time you walk past it you’ll be drawn to play it. It looks nice, it sounds nice and it feels great to play. You might still be a shitty musician, but you’re practising and you will get better.

A good controller will entice you to play, you still need the motivation and commitment if you really want to get good, but the more you play the better you will get, and a good controller will help with that.

These controllers are pretty rare now, I found mine on ebay and got lucky with the price. I’m quite happy with it, and I think with a bit practice I won’t notice any difference from a standard controller, I’m hopinh I can then bring some beat-downs in third strike.

If you are intending to buy one then I hope this small review helps with your decision, leave a comment if you have any questions or feedback.

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