Released in 1988, the NES Max sits in that strange space where one might wonder if its awesome, or a total piece of shit. It sports a modern style batwing shape, grippy ribs, and underbelly nubs. Additionally present are two dedicated turbo buttons, and a futuristic upgrade to the not-so-old-at-the-time d-pad: the cycloid.
Now, most of the “literature” (I use this term loosely) found online comes from detractors — I know, shocking. Typical complaints are as follows:
1. It’s too small.
2. The A and B buttons are too far apart.
3. I don’t like the cycloid.
4. The cycloid hurts my weak, pathetic thumb.
5. The cycloid is too slow.
6. I can’t find the cycloid.
We don’t really care about this shit, do we? See, I’d like to live in a world where adults can make decisions about their personal preferences and hand-size accommodations without feeling the need to enforce them on others. Since I can’t get this in school, at work, or in my personal life, this may be the final frontier.
A fair summation of the Max would be that as long as you can hold the thing and not get annoyed enough to blow a gasket and /ragequit before the system is even flipped on, you’re good. That said, its going to work better for some titles than others. This is literally true for every controller, but these days we don’t think much about it because systems typically have two choices: stock controllers, and “not quite right” knockoffs. Either that or you’re a real “pro” and require some sort of custom 28 button + anal probe setup so you can shave a millisecond off your fanciest Tatsumaki Senpukyaku (or in Gamesman Phil’s case, your Mortal Kombat 9 “Jump, Back Kick” Attack of Shame).
Whatever helps you sleep at night, but let’s not go there. Instead, let’s go to a shortlist of random games us Knobbers used to see how the Max performs.
The Reviews I Literally Just Mentioned
Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat: Perhaps fucks up your ability to actually be “good” at it, but certainly makes the game more fun by mimicking the delay you’d expect from steering a tiny car around a tiny track.
Felix the Cat: Not nearly as shitty as expected. Works well with the physics of the game, which are slightly floaty with a side of rubber dick.
Super Mario Bros.: Exactly the opposite as in Felix the Cat. Mario is already a slippery bastard and doesn’t need the extra help.
F117a Stealth Fighter: The frame rate, or what appears to be frame rate, is very low. In this case, using a controller that slows your reaction time even more is a bad idea. That said, don’t play this game with any controller. It’s a piece of shit.
Dungeon Magic – Quest For Somethin’ or Other: Works just fine. Control isn’t really an issue here because its a first person RPG kinda thing, however it won’t save you from being trapped talking to that bearded twat with the advice about the sword.
Frankenstein- The Monster Returns: Realized very quickly that this is not the controller for selecting text. “ASSFUK” took forever to enter. Also of note, the gameplay mechanics call for a lot of ducking, and since you can’t turn around while ducked, prepare to get hit a lot for no good reason. The d-pad is clearly the superior choice.
Lifeforce: The lower reaction time of the Max is great if you like crashing into shit and cursing profusely. Both of those things sound awesome in writing, but no thanks.
Dragon Spirit: Not as detrimental as it is in Lifeforce, but not ideal. Gets a little tiring after a while, and shooting at shit with a dragon should never get tiring.
Turtles III – The Manhattan Project: Imagine you’re a ninja turtle fighting robotic ninjas. Now imagine you’ve been roofied. Now take a ton of hits from a boss because you’re getting lazy and trying to use the turbo instead of attacking manually. Its playable enough I guess, but feels a littlenlike you’re wading through the dumpster at a liposuction convention.
Tecmo World Wrestling: The turbo comes in handy when you want to frustrate the shit out of the person next to you by becoming a nearly impenetrable fortress of kicks and punches. Other than that it does what it needs to do just fine.
Amagon: This game actually plays the same whether your controller is in your hands or up your ass, so it seems a little silly to argue d-pad vs. cycloid.
Cybernoid: Better go with aspirin and the d-pad on this one. Those elevators.
Exerion: The Max works exceptionally well with this shooter. The game has some fun inertia going on and the pairing just works out. Easily preferred here over the standard controller.
Road Fighter (PAL): The bad news? There’s no fighting. The good news? There is definitely a road. This is essentially “Spy Hunter without guns and limited,” but in all fairness, Konami had to get their racing start somewhere. The Max is definitely the fun choice here, but because the game requires you to use both buttons for various amounts of speed, it is also apparent that the extra spacing between A and B is a little unfortunate. Thankfully my thumb isn’t a total piece of shit, so no harm no foul.
Joy Mech Fight: Surprisingly enough, the fluidity of the Max matches the speed of the game pretty well and therefore feels natural. The A / B spacing could be slightly annoying here as well, but really only when using a character that has an “A+B” special move.
Teen Mutant Ninja Turtles Tournament Fighters: The Max sucks at executing fast quarter rolls, believe it or not. However, you can use the turbo B button as Shredder to “Gauntlet Blur Attack” the epic pixelated squirts out of everyone. That’s kind of worth the price of admission at least once or twice.
Werewolf – The Last Warrior: Data East’s “Here’s a bunch of fantastic ideas with crappy execution” action platformer gets quite a bit better in the “punch like a crackhead” department, but shittier in the “move properly and don’t fall in a hole department.”
Moon Crystal: The time it takes your character to do anything due to the extended animations sort of negates the lag you get with the cycloid. ::generic sign of approval involving two thumbs::
The Verdict and Some Shit We Didn’t Mention Earlier
As you may have guessed by now, the precision and flow of the game in question has a lot to do with whether or not this controller adds to or takes away from the experience.
Anything that’s touchy or requires twitchy movement does better on old faithful, while anything that’s paced the right way can benefit from our friend the cycloid. For example, if it takes X amount of time to turn your car or whatever, it feels better for me to pair that effect with a slower, smoother control option than to instantly move in that direction on the d-pad and wait for it to catch up.
Also worth noting are the turbo controls, which are their own buttons. This is a drastic improvement over the toggle on/off version on the NES Advantage. You can’t adjust the repeat rates, but if I had to choose between that and being able to switch between normal and turbo without a toggle, it’ll always be the latter. One last thing to mention is that you can bypass the cycloid by just pressing on the black rim around it, but I found this to be rarely useful for anything besides entering text.
As a non-analog predecessor to the modern thumbstick, its flawed, but does what it does well enough. Its a neat piece of hardware to have around, and really, could work just fine for any game if you’re not a whiny twat.
By Gamesman Anus & Gamesman Phil