With January merrily barreling along, perhaps now is a good time to review a couple of interesting retro-themed bits that fell into my grubby mits at the end of last year.
Professor Puzzle Retro Quiz Cards
Recieved over Christmas as a charming stocking filler from my totally amazing and fully incredible wife, these quiz cards are actually quite cool:
In terms of looks, their nice. The styling on the face of the cards is a little too painfully ‘retro’ perhaps, but that doesn’t bother me too much as I’m a bit of a sucker for that Megadrive-style chequer pattern. On top of that, the typography on the cards themselves is pretty neat and tidy, so it’s a pass from me. In terms of feel, though the camera flash reveals a bit of show through, the cards don’t feel too thin. Though their noticably thinner than those used for a premium card game, they’re still satisfyingly to hold in the hand.
More important than the asthetics, however, are the questions. Overall I was pretty impressed: the 50 (or so questions) cover a broad range of systems and games between 1970-2000, and don’t feel waited towards relatively easy questions about relatively recent games/systems.
In fact, the only downside is the lack of localisation. The use of terms like “Sega CD” quickly give away the US-based roots of the cards, and this unfortunately means questions about the likes of the Zx Spectrum and BBC Micro are sorely lacking. Still for a fiver, this would definitely be a quick way to kill some time with some friends (which, of course, you may not actually have if you know all of the answers to these questions!)
Paladone Sega Saturn Bluetooth Controller
Having put off by some dodgy reviews, I ordered this for myself through Groupon for the handsome price of £20 in the middle of December. Unfortunately – however – it isn’t so much of a qualified success.
First the pluses: From a conceptual point of view, it’s definitely a product with a niche. Though the likes of Amazon now stock an eye-wateringly confusing array of Bluetooth videogame controllers, all of them seem to be based around the Nintendo four face-button model. (For the moment at least) Paladone’s controller seems to be the only one built around the 6-button layout favoured by Sega’s Megadrive and Saturn.
Given that devMiyax’s excellent Yaba Sanshiro emulator means that Sega Saturn titles now run playably on mid-range Android handsets, this distinction is definitely a feather in its’ cap.
As, indeed, is its the physical design. Perfectly mirroring the size and shape of an original Saturn controller, it feels more or less like the original. The only real give aways (aside from the mobile phone clip) are the counterweights it contains in the handle and the fact that the buttons have a slightly..err…spongy character.
Of these, the buttons are the bigger of the two problems. Though the weights do make it heavier than the real deal, they have a very important job to perform. Acting to counter-balance the weight of an attached handset, they prevent the controller-phone combo from being too top heavy. This means that, in your hand, it actually feels more like an integrated handheld console rather than than a mobile phone with a controller awkwardly attached.
Though the character of the buttons is an issue, I’d say it’s only a slight one. They’re definitely a little more spongy than the originals and you need to press them a few times to stop them from being stiff, but when worn-in they fill like those of a perfectly acceptable contemporary 3rd party pad. If you’d offered this up to a friend in 1995, they couldn’t have accused you of cheating with the controllers if they lost.
Indeed, there’s even more to love. The battery life from a couple of AAs is reassuringly long (though an integrated battery would have been nice) and the (remarkably sturdy-looking) phone clip can even be removed to be used as a table-top stand. It even connected to my phone on my first attempt, which is unusual for a bluetooth device.
What then, is the issue? Unfortunately it turns out the Paladone controller has an incredibly disappointing – and rather limiting – flaw. If the player holds a directional arrow and presses one of the far buttons (C or Z), they have to release both the button AND the direction before the controller registers that the C or Z button has been released.
What does this mean in practice? Street Fighter II acts as a good example: If the player jumps towards their opponent and initiates a heavy flying kick, they won’t be able to move into a heavy low kick without first letting go of both the attack and directional buttons completely.
Is it as bad as it sounds? Well to be honest I was initially minded to return it to Groupon. However, the Street Fighter example is the worst i’ve encountered so far. I put the decision in the lap of the gods: if I couldn’t complete the scrolling vertical elevator stage in Shinobi 3 on the Megadrive, i decided I’d have to return it. In the event, I made it to the boss without losing a life. The Paladone controller consequently gets to stay then – though only because I use it as a toy rather than a main control pad.
The Paladone controller, then, is infuriating. It’s buttons might be slightly spongy, but it gets so much right. If the bug with the C button could be patched, it would be near on perfect in my eyes. Is it a software problem that could be solved with a firmware update, or a unsolvable physical flaw in the device? I’ve written to Paladone for confirmation, and hope they’ll reply in due course. Either way, the Paladone pad is a solid one that functions for most of the games i’ve tried on it. If fighters aren’t really your bag, it might be one that’s still worth considering.