"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
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.
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?