It’s not too often that I review peripherals or hardware in Phosphor Dot Fossils, but in this case we have a rarity worth raving about: the Atari 5200 joystick and keypad controllers by Wico.
Wico had made a name for itself making controls for various arcade game manufacturers, and had already broken into the home video game market with acclaimed third-party joysticks for the Atari 2600 such as their Command Control line and The Boss. When Wico threw its hat into the ring and announced an Atari 5200 controller, 5200 owners cheered. The results didn’t disappoint.
Technically, Wico turned out not one, but two controllers for the 5200. The first was a sturdy and larger-than-usual version of their Command Control joystick, this time with two base-mounted action buttons and even locking switches that allowed the user to select between self-centering mode (something the 5200’s own joysticks lacked, to the chagrin of many players) and the non-centering mode employed by Atari’s own controllers. Also included was a Y-cable which would allow players to use the keypad of an actual 5200 controller, while splitting off the necessary portions of the controller cable pinout to the Command Control joystick.
The second controller eliminated the need for an actual 5200 joystick at all. A self-contained keypad – which would even allow use of the keypad overlays – plugged directly into the 5200’s joystick ports without any need for a Y-cable; a front-mounted 9-pin port accepted the Command Control joystick and made the package complete.
The difference in game play? Stunning. Now, there are some games which presume you have a non-centering controller (such as the maddening 5200 version of Berzerk), but other games are vastly improved with the new controls. Even the keypad has a better tactile response than that of the original 5200 controllers. If Atari had come up with something like this, even if it was still integrated into a single unit, the 5200’s tenure would have been much more prosperous.
As hardware goes, highly recommended.