I’m a nerd. I recently bought two USB Atari joysticks for playing simple MAME video games. The joystick is marketed as a “USB Classic Joystick,” manufactured by a company called Legacy. I placed my order through ThinkGeek because Legacy didn’t have any in stock. The total was about $60 Canadian after shipping fees.
The joysticks arrived within days of my order, and Customs officials only stole $7 from me this time. (I had to pay up almost $50 in Customs fees for a CD order from Red House Records once, so $7 is getting off easy.) The joysticks were nearly identical to the classic Atari joysticks. The actual sticks had to be pushed into a hole, twisted and then locked in place; the base of the joysticks didn’t have any rubber nubs for steady table top action; and they had a USB port on one side. Otherwise, they didn’t look all that different from the classic Atari joysticks.
Too bad they didn’t work like the classic joysticks. The original Atari joysticks were nothing special, but they got the job done. (I didn’t actually own an Atari system when I was a kid. I had a Vic-20 and then a Commodore 64 that played far better games than anything from Atari, but the Atari joystick was compatible with the Commodore systems.) Sometimes the joysticks would break or wear out after heavy use, but you usually got your money’s worth out of them by that point. Neither of my Legacy USB Classic Joysticks worked properly from the start.
One joystick didn’t respond to any down movements. When I moved the joystick down, it actually sent an UP signal to the computer. When I moved the joystick up, nothing happened. The other joystick was responsive, but not all the time. Sometimes it would work, sometimes it wouldn’t, and when it did work, it wouldn’t take long before it was unresponsive again. (Very annoying when you’re in the middle of a game doing well, and then you make a left turn and nothing happens and you die. Game over.) I tried various settings within MAME; I used different USB cables; I tested the joysticks on different emulators and different computers with different operating systems. Nothing worked.
I’ve since read more reviews online and it seems like a hit-and-miss product, one that may be manufactured without the best quality control standards. Some customers have no problems with the joysticks while others end up with some duds like me, wasting their time and their money. The USB ports on my joysticks were loose when I got them and the overall construction of the joysticks felt a bit flimsy. Again, not that the originals were anything great, but they were built much sturdier than the Legacy joysticks.
There are plenty of geeky people like me willing to pay a premium for well-made USB replica joysticks. Atari, or whatever company owns the design for the original joystick, should license the design to a company willing to produce more than cheap knock-offs, which is what these Legacy USB Classic Joysticks seem like to me.
I’m sending mine back to ThinkGeek for a full refund. They were good about it said they won’t charge me for the return shipping. In the meantime, I’ll probably look around locally for a USB adapter for my Play Station 2 controllers, which aren’t the same as the classic joysticks, but it’s probably the best I can hope for.