I handn’t realised what was missing until now. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always felt the warm glow of nostalgia washing over me every time I fire up a copy of Speedball 2, Stunt Car Racer or Sensible World of Soccer and relive the happier days of my Amiga obsessed youth, but the actual games themselves haven’t felt quite right.
Sure Skidmarks isn’t quite the perfect racing game I once thought it. Yes Sensible Soccer doesn’t white offer the unparalleled tactical depth I once thought it did. These are flaws I was expecting. I’m not entirely sure Stunt Car Racer was quite so flickery when I was a kid, but that might be an emulation issue (though WinUAE is normally flawless if set up properly). Still, by and large, when I fire up my Amiga emulator and pull out a dusty bottle or two from the virtual wine cellar of classic gaming I expect things to feel different. Like I said, until now I didn’t know what was missing.
It was the joystick. Or rather the lack of one.
I’ve tried all sorts of alternatives. Keys, of course, wired and wireless Xbox 360 pads, and various USB joypads designed to mimic the feel and precision of the best classic console controllers. The pads were fine for SNES and Mega Drive games, the 360 pads stood in well for the analogue controls of arcade racing cabinets – but I still got my ass handed to me whenever I played Sensible Soccer.
Now I’m not going to try and claim that i’m some sort of 16-bit gaming god. I’ve never finished R-Type and I could never be bothered to get past the first 10 minutes of Shadow of the Beast II. But I was damn good at Sensi. I once got Steve Bull to score more than a hundred goals in s single season as Wolves won the Premier League, the FA and League Cups and the Champions League. That’s not easy.
Every time I’ve tried in an emulator though I’ve been pounded. Just the other day I lost 3-0 to Bulgaria as England. Then it dawned on me. Sensi is designed for a joystick. The precision required to accurately loft and simultaneously curve a 40 yard shot into the top corner just isn’t possible with a wooly plastic d-pad.
So to Google, where surely I would find tell of a good, old-fashioned one-button digital joystick with a USB connection. Sure enough s couple of Amiga forums pointed me to the Speedlink Competiton Pro. I used to own a Competiton Pro for my Amiga years ago and loved it so I immediately hit eBay and ordered one.
There are two flavours available. The first features the joystick in a fetchingly 90s colour scheme of red and translucent plastic. That version comes with a CD containing a C64 emulator with 99 (presumably legal) ROMs. It retails for about 17 quid but I picked up a brand new one from eBay for less than a tenner. If you’re feeling a big more gangsta Speedlink also offer a gold (plastic) 25th anniversary edition for 25 quid. That comes in a slightly more snazzy box and includes some Amiga games on the pack-in CD.
I ignored the built-in CD as I already have my C64 and Amiga emulation needs fully sorted, and got to grips with the joystick. It’s smaller than I expected, but then my hands were a lot smaller the last time I handled a Competition Pro. It’s also a lot noisier. The stick features proper four way microswitches, and the buttons are also microswitched. It’s a wonderful sensation that gives every action beautiful audible feedback, it does though make a frantic session of SWIV sound like an orgy at a cricket farm. Still the microswitches were always part of the original stick’s appeal. They’re precise and robust, and along with the short throw stick offer the perfect sensation for everything from Sensi to Street Fighter.
Installation couldn’t be easier, either. There are no drivers to install, just plug in the stick and off you go. WinUAE didn’t even need to be told to use the stick, it picked it up right away. Best of all as there’s only one fire button in Amiga games (technically there are four buttons, and each can be mapped separately, though realistically only two are accessible at one time as the original design catered for both left and right-handed players) there’s no complicated mapping to do.
If you’re even half interested in classic Commodore (or Atari) emulation I can’t recommend the Competiton Pro highly enough. The pack in games are just an added bonus to a product that does exactly what it’s supposed to and does it just as well as you’d hoped. How did I know it was worth it? First game on Sensi – Wolves 4 West Bromwich Albion 0. See, I hadn’t lost it after all.