The Sega Dreamcast Controller
Just the other day I linked to a very nice article about the recent hate aimed at the Nintendo 64 controller. A great break-down of all the nonsense currently making the rounds of the Internet and at least trying to set things right in regards to just how good the controller is. In the wake of this Rodti MacLeary offered me this gem of a thought on twitter:
@streakmachinefd I see your N64 controller and I raise you the Dreamcast controller with or without VMU.— rodti (@rodti) October 19, 2012
I have to agree! As much as the Nintendo 64 controller is hated on these days, I think the Dreamcast controller is possibly even more underrated. I really can’t see why in this case either, specially as the Dreamcast controller, while being a rather large thing, is very much a modern controller in many aspects. I speculate it is another trendy thing to dislike at the moment, since nothing else makes a lick of logical sense to me.
When looking at the Dreamcast controller you will undoubtedly zero in on the rather large hole in the middle of the controller itself. This is the location of the memory card and other accessories would be placed, including the Sega designed VMU (VMS in some regions). The innovations of the Dreamcast controller starts with the VMU, which was a really ambitions and quite nifty little device meant to bridge the gap between home console and portable console somewhat. Not to the degree of even the Game Boy and far behind Sega’s previous attempts, but this was a completely new beast all together.
The VMU, capable of both being a memory card for the Dreamcast, serving as a miniature display for a game, and also as a independent game system that can be linked up to other VMU units. Sega were perhaps over-ambitions in some of the promotional material for the Dreamcast, as they envisioned everybody and their uncle having both a Dreamcast at home and a VMU with them at at all times, making it the next big thing in all imaginable fields. Of course, this never happened, but the potential was always there.
Docking the VMU, or other memory card, if you so pleased, meant that you gained the second screen in the controller. A fairly limited one, but capable enough to show you a bit more information that could perhaps not fit comfortably on the big screen, kind of a super-simplified concept of where Nintendo is heading with the new WiiU GamePad. Possible source of inspiration for Nintend? Perhaps.
While some have disliked the Dreamcast controller for its sheer size, which I will admit is on the bulky side, it is by no means uncomfortable to hold, nor is it particularly heavy. At least not in its base configuration with a VMU. With the optional “Jump pack” it was a bit more heavy, but still not much more than any contemporary controller.
Looking at the control buttons, the d-pad and the analogue stick, the Dreamcast controller performs well again. Personally I find the analogue stick to be really accurate and reasonably comfortable even for longer gaming sessions. Racing games is one of my favorite genres on the Dreamcast, and I have never had any control issues that have been a direct result of the controller configuration and design. Any whining directed at the analogue stick is utter and complete nonsense. Be it in fast moving games or those that require more accuracy, the analogue stick delivers, again and again!
The d-pad is where I start criticizing the Dreamcast controller, mainly in that is has a long travel and a nasty hard feeling that I don’t remember experiencing in any d-pad before it. Could be that I just didn’t grow up with Sega consoles, or that this is some weird design choice I don’t understand. It does work fine, I just don’t care much for the feel of it.
Shoulder triggers are wonderfully analogue and come into their own particularly in racing games. From minimum push to full force, I have not had any weirdness happen with the shoulder triggers, even though they are a bit harder than many later console controllers. Once again Sega did the right thing and gave the shoulder triggers a proper travel, something I find a bit frustrating on other consoles.
Other buttons on the controller are sturdy and have a decent travel for their purpose. Texturing on the action buttons I find to be very pleasant, as opposed to the glossy texture on the Nintendo consoles and definitely better than the XBox jelly-bean buttons. Compared to the Sony DualShock I think they are also a bit better in that the Dreamcast controller buttons have more height, but I never really liked the flat action buttons Sony appear to favor. Once again, I think Sega went the right way here too and I have yet to experience any control problems related to the button design.
Overall, the Dreamcast was a great machine and the controller with the VMU was no different. Sure, it’s a different flavor than all the other consoles, but what’s the problem with that? Throughout console history there have always been different designs for controllers, unique and some better suited to some needs and games than others. Sure, whine about the games and how Sega managed to mis-manage the whole Dreamcast situation, but don’t blame the controller for it. The controller has worked, works and will work for some time to come. There is nothing wrong with it, just a bunch of jerks online who should give it a proper chance or just go play Angry Birds and stop annoying the rest of us.