The Sega Dreamcast controller is one that divides opinion and this article is dedicated to showcasing a few special controllers that were released during Sega’s hardware swansong. Before we take a closer look at some of these retro lovelies lets look back and reflect a little on the history of this sometimes misunderstood controller.
The standard Dreamcast controller is a spiritual successor of sorts to the Sega Saturn’s 3D Control Pad. Sega must have seen something in the design of their first analogue controller to use it again when designing the Dreamcast controller. The analogue stick was refined and two face buttons were removed. The d-pad was also changed to a cross with the usual Sega 8 way d-pad making way. This could be seen as a strange choice as the 3D pad’s d-pad was precise and comfortable when compared to the Dreamcast’s.
The Dreamcast controller certainly has its detractors, many bemoan the lack of a second analogue stick and how it only has six buttons as well as springy triggers that take time to rise after being pulled in. Some of the criticism holds weight, especially taking into consideration how Sony had introduced their Dual Analog Controller for the PlayStation in April 1997 which featured two analogue sticks as well as eight buttons.
While not heavily used during the PlayStation’s run, console players had been getting used to using both thumbs for movement and controlling the camera. Both Sony’s controller and the Nintendo 64 controller were using dual movement controls for some length of time before the Dreamcast was released. Nintendo’s machine saw some games, such as GoldenEye and Turok, use the ‘C-Buttons’ for player movement and camera. Perhaps, looking back, it is not entirely unfair to suggest Sega could have done a better job.
Things are not all negative for this robust controller however, it is certainly sturdy and not as prone to button wear as its rivals. The Nintendo 64 analogue stick is somewhat notorious for becoming loose over time and the PlayStation front buttons wear down quickly meaning players must press them harder. The ability to use the Dreamcast’s Visual Memory Unit (VMU) as a mini screen housed within the controller was fun, if underused, and the additional expansion slot means you can leave your VMU plugged in while using an additional peripheral.
During the Dreamcast’s lifespan Sega did not revise the controller deficiencies as they had during the Saturn’s run, but they did release a lot special edition colours. Many of the coloured releases copied Sony’s design of using see-through coloured shells. There were also many Japan exclusive solid coloured controllers that were often released alongside special console packs or branded with popular Japanese brands. Games such as Sakura Wars and Resident Evil: Code Veronica were examples of these special editions.
While all the major console manufacturers released various coloured controllers during this time, Sega certainly left Dreamcast owners spoilt for choice where colours of controllers were concerned. The ability to pick from wide variety of colours added a little personality to your hardware, especially if you were bringing a controller with you when visiting friends for a gaming session. Looking back, these were good times in the history of console hardware and it was sometimes difficult deciding which controller colour to pick. It is a shame that you do not see that many colour variations with modern consoles.
For all the variety of colours available there was always one problem with the Dreamcast controller, especially where fans of 2D fighting games and shoot-em-ups were concerned. The lack of a decent d-pad restricted the players ability to place precise inputs which were vital to these genres. While there are plenty of decent arcade sticks to overcome this problem, some players still felt that the Dreamcast needed a controller to match the near arcade perfect conversions of some of the most popular fighting and shoot-em-up games from the time. It was late in 1999 that fighting game fans would get their wish.
Capcom were due to release their latest fighter, Capcom vs. SNK, around this time and teamed up with ASCII Corporation to design a controller capable of dealing with the precise inputs of fighting games. The results saw the Sega licensed ASCII Pad FT (fighting type).
These special controllers ooze quality and have the same feel as the famous Saturn controllers that are perfect for fighting games. The d-pad is very responsive and the buttons are smooth and well spaced. The L and R triggers have been moved to the front to match up the six button system many fighting games use. There is built in rumble so no need to add a Vibration Pack and the controller has a port for a VMU. The build quality is of a high standard and there is a good balance to the weight so it is neither heavy or light.
To celebrate the release of the game and the controllers, ASCII also released special editions sporting both Capcom and SNK styles. The controllers were the same as the standard release but featured colour schemes in line with each company. Black and yellow for Capcom, blue and white for SNK. Each version also included a collector card set featuring beautiful artwork and the special moves of each character. The variety of choices meant players of the game could show their loyalty to either Capcom or SNK, or sit on the fence by purchasing a standard grey.
Things did not end there for this series of controllers. Any collectors who had purchased both the Capcom and SNK versions were entitled to enter a free prize draw. They gained entry by sending receipts of both purchases to Dreamcast Direct who picked 1000 names at random. The lucky winners were treated by being sent a special edition ASCII Pad FT. It was reminiscent of the Saturn’s ‘This is Cool’ range by a sporting see-through dark green shell.