The Ten Worst Game Controllers from the Eighties

Over the years there have been some fantastic memorable game controllers that just worked perfectly and were almost indestructible, even when faced with a gripping session of Decathlon! The UK’s own Competition Pro and the US made Wico Red Ball have become both iconic and respected over the intervening years as retrogamers buy back into their hobby, or perhaps just head up to the loft to dust off their childhood memories that have laid forgotten for decades.

Unfortunately, not all game controllers lived up to their hype, or perhaps they never even received any hype as they were simply that bad. We take a look back in time to see which game controllers make up our ten worst game controllers of the eighties…

10. Le Stick (Data Soft Incorporated)

Data Soft’s Le Stick was certainly a pretty novel idea for the time and holds the respectable title of the world’s first commercial motion sensitive game controller. Games are controlled simply by the movement of one’s hand in a similar manner to Wii controllers.

That undoubtedly all sounds well and good, and you may rightly be wondering why such an innovative controller makes our list.

Remember these controllers were often used by young children, and the Le Stick uses a rather hazardous mechanism to achieve its motion control function. As the Le Stick is moved, a mercury filled core shifts position which produces an output signal which is seen by the computer as a corresponding direction signal. Any joystick that contains mercury is not a good idea thus the Le Stick makes our top ten worst game controllers list!

9. Magnum Joystick (Mastertronic)

Mastertronic are well known for their outstanding, and often not so outstanding, value range of games for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad and others.

Though extremely successful in the software market, with over 900 different titles released over a six-year period, their foray into hardware was short-lived, and indeed ultimately brought about the company’s undoing with their Amiga-based Arcadia arcade machines.

Similar in appearance to Atari’s Space Age joystick and the Phasor One, Mastertronic’s first and only joystick moved the fire button from the trigger position to the rear face behind the stick. Whereas the Space Age and Phasor One suffer from movement of the whole stick when the trigger is squeezed, the Magnum’s fire button barely impacts the stability of the stick.

Unfortunately, it just feels too uncomfortable and unnatural to use like this so it’s thumbs down for this offering.

8. Atari 5200 Controller (Atari)

The Atari 5200 SuperSystem was introduced by Atari during November 1982 and was seen as a competitor to the Intellivison and ColecoVison home video game consoles.

It shipped with a pair of keypad controllers that included Start, Pause and Reset functions that could be activated directly from the controller. Sadly, the joystick was non-centering. This is something that a mid to late seventies design might get away with, but by 1982 it was a serious shortfall in a machine that could have been a solid successor to the Atari 2600.

7. Video Touch Pad (Atari)

The Video Touch Pad was released by Atari as a pack-in item with the video game Star Raiders.

Star Raiders was initially released on the Atari 8-bit series of computers. The Atari 2600 port used the Video Touch Pad to enter commands that would normally utilise the computer keyboard.

Although the touch pad was designed to accept different overlays, sadly Star Raiders was the only game released that included a touch pad overlay making the touch pad number 7 on our list.

6. Quickshot I (Spectravideo)

The Quickshot I was certainly keenly priced and thus became one of the popular purcahses of the eighties, particularly by parents who didn’t understand that videogames were a serious passtimes for us youngsters.

The Quickshot I was the stick that I often used in the eighties, especially when playing Elite on my Commodore 64 prior to perfecting the keyboard controls.

It feels almost sacrilegious to include the world’s first ergonomic joystick in our list, but unfortunately it was also widely accepted as the joystick most likely to break first when playing Decathlon!

5. Black Max (Wico)

Let me first say that Wico made some outstanding joysticks throughout the eighties. Although they opted for leaf switch designs rather than micro-switches, they were extremely robust and many preferred them over their noisy clicky counterparts.

Although Wico advertising claimed that the Black Max had a “Big Grip Handle”, its size was smaller than that on many of the competitor’s joysticks. There was no fire button on the base, and the one atop the handle was poorly positioned.

An overall disappointing offering from a company that produced classics such as the “Famous Red Ball” and “Bat Handle” variants of the Command Control joystick.

4. XG-1 Light Gun (Atari)

The XG-1 Light Gun came bundled with the Atari XE Game System (XEGS) along with the game Bug Hunt. The XG-1 also worked with select games on the Atari 7800 Pro System and the Atari 2600 VCS.

Although the XG-1 light gun looked similar to Nintendo’s NES Zapper and many other light guns of the time, it was one of poorest in terms of its ability to detect ‘hits’ on a target, a pretty serious failing for a light gun. The screen’s brightness had to be turned up quite high, even then the XG-1 light gun was not particularly accurate, especially when compared with the NES Zapper.

3. Phasor One (Britannia Software Ltd)

The Phasor One is another joystick in the pistol-grip style that began to appear on the market during the mid-1980s. It was a time when the market was flooded with choice and manufacturers were trying anything to differentiate their products from the rest.

The Phasor One uses micro-switches for both fire and directional control which are reasonably responsive. The stick movement has very good feel on the diagonals, but is very sloppy on the all-important up, down, left, right directions. The joystick is also let down by the fact the stick itself can freely rotate thereby allowing one to lose grip unless the stick is held firmly. This can quickly cause excessive fatigue in the hand and distract from game play.

2. Commodore C-1342 Joystick (Commodore)

Commodore released their very own joystick designated the C-1342 that was packaged in with many bundled versions of the Commodore 64.

The long shaft provided a good grip and re-centered itself when released via a spring in the base. Although it only had a single fire button, the Commodore joystick had dual contacts for an improved response.

Despite these nice features in a budget pack-in joystick, the shaft presented an untenable design flaw such that C-1342 joysticks break far too easily at the point where the stick connects to the base leaving you with a rather useless game controller.

1. SJ-200 Joystick (Sega)

The SJ-200 joystick was released by Sega in 1984 for use with the SG-1000 video game console. The SG-1000 was Sega’s entry into the video game console market and sold a respectable 2 million machines worldwide.

The SJ-200 controller design wasn’t too far removed from the Hanimex TVG070C that was released in 1976 which should immediately raise alarm bells.

Plagued with problems including a poor overall design and build quality, unresponsive movement and a cable length that far was too short for most users, it was one of the last bundled Sega controllers to be produced without a D-pad.

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