I find it funny that joysticks are kind of a relic of the past now. Kids these days don’t seem to even know what they are. Nowadays you mostly have things like gamepads, joypads, Wii controllers, touch screens and even gesture control, but you only really have a joystick if you are into specialist flight sim or space flight games. And yet if you are a child of the 8-bit or 16-bit computer era it was all about the joysticks. Some were purely functional, some were works of art and some just looked cool. And they were the cause of many a joke about ‘waggling your joystick’ too (oo-er missus, fnar fnar).
There are lots of joysticks to choose from but here are the Top Ten that I either used to own myself or have nostalgic memories of using. It’s kind of hard to rank them because I used to prefer different joysticks for certain games. Some were good for waggling type games like Hyper Sports and Daley Thompson, others were good for driving games and others were good for platform type games. In fact I often used to use the keyboard in favour of joysticks for many precision games such as JetPac, Bruce Lee, Manic Miner etc.10. Sinclair Joystick Ok, let’s face it. This joystick was pretty rubbish. But I have fond memories of it because it wasn’t often that you got a joystick with a machine. I seem to remember that this one came with our Spectrum +2. The colours matched the computer, but the joystick itself was pretty crap. My main memory of it is actually when I took it apart in a MacGyver moment to see how it worked. I found the pressure pads and worked out what they were and started touching them repeatedly with my finger to mimic what happened when I played a game like Daley Thompson’s Decathlon. I forgot, however, that the joystick was still plugged in, and the circuit board and the pressure pad actually caught fire. I dropped it on the floor and luckily the flame went out rather than setting the fire alight. Needless I learnt a valuable lesson that day. Same as when I pushed in the cigarette lighter in my dad’s car and then after it popped up I touched the bottom of it to ‘see if it was hot’. It was. To this day I don’t think I can use that thumb for Touch ID on my iPad. #firstworldproblems
9. Cheetah Mach One I never owned this one but my cousin had one which I used fairly regularly. It was ok to be fair. Not massively sturdy but it appeared a lot in adverts in computer game magazines so it was one that kind of became famous to me for that reason and that’s why it sticks in my head for nostalgic reasons.
8. Competition Pro Camouflage The Competition Pro makes several appearances in this list, but this camouflage entry is purely in for the decor. I loved how they released different versions of this joystick and this one was released right during a time when I was into anything camouflage. I’d seen Commando, I was watching Tour of Duty on the TV, I loved playing Operation Wolf. Camouflaged joystick? Yes, please.
7. Cheetah 125+ With the 125+, Cheetah were now upping their game. This was also heavily advertised and became quite iconic. It was when many joysticks were going for the totally ergonomic and aviator/cockpit style joystick. Chunky and with indents for each of your fingers. Trigger button and two base buttons. The de facto big joystick style. This one was cool although there was just something about Cheetah joysticks that I felt was slightly inferior compared to the quality of Quickshot, arguably their main competitor.
6. Atari Joystick Many people would have this classic Atari joystick as their no.1 joystick without a doubt. I totally respect it as an iconic design and being one of the first real mass market joysticks, but for me I never really liked it as an actual game joystick. I think I prefer ones with microswitches and this one just felt a bit too loose.
5. Quickshot Quickshot were one of the big daddies in the 80s joystick scene. This was their classic vanilla model and I personally loved it. It was a classic design which made you feel like you were piloting a plane, and it also felt very sturdy. I mean, my Quickshot got waggled to hell and back and it lasted for years. Other people tell different stories about the quality, so maybe I just wasn’t waggling hard enough!
4. Competition Pro Here’s the second appearance of the Competition Pro. This one is the standard design of the Competition Pro. The classic black base and red balled handle on top. It felt like you were playing with an actual arcade joystick or something. And boy was this thing sturdy. It felt solid. That satisfying microswitch noise too. A true classic and the one that generally comes to my mind whenever I think of the word ‘joystick’. Why is it only at no.4? Read on…
3. Konix Navigator A surprise entry here at no.3 for the Konix Navigator. Many people won’t even have heard of it. It was the successor to the Konix Speedking. Konix were known for experimenting with different ergonomic styles and for me this Navigator model worked perfectly. It was amazing for fast, precision games like Speedball or Eliminator on the Atari ST. You held it in a left handed grip and had precision control of the main stick with your right fingers. So easy and natural to use. Microswitches galore. The one problem was that it gave you terrible blisters on your left hand on the big knuckle of your index finger. But, no pain, no gain. It was worth it for the joy it gave me playing some of these games. I’m still trying to find one in my retro hunts. I’ve got Eliminator for my Atari ST and it’s just crying out to be played with a Navigator.
2. Quickshot II Turbo I absolutely love this joystick. It kind of looked like a repainted bog standard Quickshot joystick but 1) it had a cool turbo auto-fire feature and 2) it had an awesome colour scheme. This think just looked cool. The colours, the materials used, the little pimply dots on the black bit. One of the coolest joysticks out there.
1. Competition Pro Transparent As this is the third entry for a Competition Pro you probably have realised that I like this joystick. The fact that it came in different cool colour schemes is a total bonus. This version had it all. It was my favourite all round joystick and it was transparent. That just appealed to me so much, the fact that you could see all the workings inside it. It meant I didn’t have to open it up to explore it and nearly set the room on fire (see entry no.10). To me it’s a thing of beauty, sturdy as hell and great for lots of games. It ticks all the boxes and that’s why it’s my no.1.
Konix Speedking – This one was pretty iconic and the adverts for it were ever present in the computer mags, but I actually never really used it myself. I tried it once but the style just wasn’t for me. I much preferred its follow up, the Konix Navigator.
Are there any other joysticks that you think deserve a spot in your Top Ten?