"Aye Mate, This'd Be a Strange Boomerang."
Until a short time ago, I was under the impression that except for a few incidents involving East Timor, Gallippoli, and that guy who wrestles crocodiles on TV, Australia has had almost no influence on the world in general. That all changed when I received a shocking little item, a gamepad in the clear shape of a boomerang, from none other than Microsoft. Well hell, if the Aussies can get to Billy Gates, they can get to anyone right? This may very well be the beginning of a whole new era in dual-use PC gaming peripherals - ones that come right on back to you when you toss them aside after losing pathetically at Mortal Kombat 4. Although the Microsoft Sidewinder Gamepad Pro only returned to me because it hit my friend squarely on the jaw, it is a capable (if somewhat flawed) device.
The Sidewinder Gamepad Pro is the official follow up to the decidedly well-received Sidewinder Gamepad. Essentially, as this is a Microsoft device, it tries to be all things to all people while preserving a nice ergonomic look and feel. The almost sublimely comfortable controller has seven buttons on the front (including one 'shift' button that can be programmed to add a second function to any other key), a directional pad, and two index-finger buttons placed conveniently on the underside of the back of the Gamepad Pro.
Although the buttons are well placed, the feel is great for adult hands, and the programming utility is perfectly intuitive, a few problems are nonetheless present. These are annoying and require your adaptation. Basically, the directional pad is designed to function both as a digital and analogue pad. By flipping a setting in the Gamepad Pro's control panel, the pad goes to an analogue mode that is more or less sensitive depending on how hard you press the pad.
The problem with making the pad all things to all control technologies is that the directional pad in digital mode feels sluggish thanks to a lack of 'click' like other pads, and the analogue mode feels twitchy thanks to a very, very short base which removes any plausible joystick feel (there's even less than one of those stubby N64 sticks).
Adding to the troubles is the fact that as the palm handles are somewhat angled, the directional pad is oriented at about a 30-degree angle off center. While this might feel natural, it can be discombobulating when you are playing a game in which the characters' North, East, South, and West movements correspond to your NorthEast, SouthEast, SouthWest, and NorthWest movements. [I'm confused already. ~Ed] Also, there were a few games which didn't like the Gamepad Pro, probably owing to either its analogue or USB nature.
One more caveat that bothers me; the original Gamepad had a pass-through joystick port, and this pad doesn't. Although the Gamepad Pro is strictly a USB device, it's a pity that pass-through USB port was not included in the design, making it a less convenient device than its predecessor.
Still, not all is lost. After prolonged use, it's fairly easy to get used to the Gamepad Pro and use it as well as any other decent pad on the market. If you need a solid, very comfortable, no-major-frills gamepad, you could do worse than the Sidewinder Gamepad Pro, but be prepared for some getting-used-to. And just think, you may one day own a prop featured on a corny 'How to speak Australian' add, and there's nothing cooler than that. Right, mate?