Controller Repair Day

The past few weeks I’ve spent a fair amount of time going through my game collection, particularly those on cartridges. I have recently amassed a few dozen more games, most of which being Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, with a few N64 and Gamecube ones mixed in. For whatever the reason, I actually find the process of sorting, taking apart the cartridge cases, cleaning the connector pins and then reassembling oddly relaxing…I’m not sure why. I usually refer to this as “taking inventory” of my game collection. I’d like to say I have a more….complex system of management than simply writing down a list of games, grouped together by console, but…I don’t. I mentioned in last week’s blog post that I’d been toying with the idea of a spreadsheet or something similar to keep everything organized and could even keep tabs on what I’ve started playing, completed, or have yet to attempt, so that is perhaps something I’ll actually go through with in the next month or so.

One of my most recent….tasks(?) was a joystick replacement for one of my old Nintendo 64 controllers. If you’ve ever played any game on the N64, you’ll most likely know what I’m talking about when I state the analog joystick – as groundbreaking and intuitive as it may have seemed at the time, always felt a little stiff. They now feel more like an outdated piece of gaming history when compared to the smoother action and movement of modern joysticks. The thumbstick for my old gray controller had begun to get a little worn out and there was a slight catch in the ball joint of the joystick, which at best would merely click when pressing upward, or would become unresponsive altogether when playing a game(luckily, I still have my trusty atomic purple controller). I had ordered a replacement joystick from Amazon which was essentially a GameCube thumbstick in an N64 housing to allow easy replacement.

Making replacements and general maintenance for Nintendo 64 controllers is still relatively easy compared to something more complex like a Dualshock 4 controller or the DS Lite I’ve been tinkering with…
The replacement stick seems sturdy enough and has a lot smoother action than the original N64 analog sticks.

Rather than the original ball-joint setup, the replacement joystick is connected to the plastic ball within the housing somewhat similar to an old track-ball mouse. I was a little apprehensive when taking apart the controller and seeing a ribbon soldered to the circuit board coming from the joystick, but quickly realized this was simply the Z Button underneath. The process of replacing the joystick was pretty straightforward – detach the connector pin and swap thumbsticks. I spent a little extra time making sure I had securely connected the pin to the circuit board before sandwiching the controller back together.

The finished project. It even works afterwards!

When reassembling the controller, I noticed the replacement thumbstick fits a little more snug within the controller shell, leaving a slight bit of extra space between the two halves – maybe a couple milimeters. Holding the controller for a few moments, I was unable to tell the difference between the doctored controller and an another.

I was able to test out the new joystick in the controller shortly afterwards by playing some Mario Kart 64 and it feels much, much better. I had kind of forgotten just how stiff, and at times, restrictive the lateral movement could feel as I switched between different controllers to get a feel for the new thumbstick. The only other difference I was able to notice between the two sticks was the newer one is just noticeably shorter, but I think I prefer a lower-profile thumbstick that sits somewhere between the original one and the very short control sticks on handhelds like a PSP or 3DS. The improved controller feels a lot smoother and definitely feels more like the GameCube….you just have the infamous three-pronged shape of the N64 controller along with it. After seeing the improvement from swapping out the old, stiff thumbstick, I definitely want to buy a couple more and make the same replacement in my other two remaining N64 controllers.

I realize this week’s post turned out to be one part product review and one part “what I’ve been up to lately”, but I want to get in the habit of just writing and not having to force a post into a specific format. A shorter post this week also gives me that much more time to spend working on my contribution to NekoJonez’s upcoming Pokémon collaboration taking place on Feb. 27. Looking forward to talking about some Pokémon games!

The Amazon listing of the replacement joystick I used in case anyone is interested…

Thanks for reading!

2021 Nintendo Anniversary Challenge

Nintendo as a company has existed since 1889 and has celebrated a number of milestones on its way to becoming the richest company in Japan. This past year marked the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. which made the portly plumber Mario the most significant character in video game history. Nintendo, for whatever the reason, chose to commemorate the occasion by releasing Super Mario 3D All-Stars, which contained HD ports of Mario 64, Sunshine and Galaxy, as well as the free-to-play battle royale game – Mario 35 as timed exclusives on the Nintendo Switch, which will only be available until the end of March.

Another notable Nintendo series celebrated its 30th anniversary this past year – Fire Emblem. The very first Fire Emblem game, which until then had only been available in Japan, was released as yet another timed exclusive for the Switch.

As we begin a new year in 2021, there’s a number of long-time Nintendo franchises that will have significant anniversaries, starting with the 40th anniversary of the original Donkey Kong. It will also be 35 years since the arrival of The Legend of Zelda and Metroid series, two games which have gone on to influence countless other video games in many ways. Along with the aforementioned franchises, 2021 will mark the 25th anniversary of Pokémon Red & Green being first released in Japan, resulting in a cultural phenomenon simply called, Poké-mania at the time.

Over the course of the past week, I came up with yet another quest to complete before the year is over – to finish at least one entry from each of the big Nintendo franchises celebrating anniversaries this year – Donkey Kong, Zelda, Metroid, Pokémon. Of course, there are many more game series with significant dates in 2021 such as Castlevania or Street Fighter, but for the impact that Nintendo games have had on my own life, as well as to keep this list relatively short, I will focus on a select few for the time being. Here’s just a few of the Nintendo games I have never finished that I WILL see to completion over the course of the year…

Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong made his gaming debut on July 9, 1981 in Japanese arcades(with North America a few weeks later) and this July will mark the 40th anniversary of Nintendo’s gargantuan ape mascot. DK was considered one of the grandfathers of gaming, and had faded from prominence before being rejuvenated by Rare in 1994 with the SNES classic – Donkey Kong Country. Another DK game released the same year that went very much under the radar was the Game Boy game simply titled Donkey Kong. I had always been under the assumption the game was simply another port of the arcade version of Donkey Kong. This is not completely inaccurate as the first few levels of the game replicate the arcade classic, but following the completion of the initial levels the game features a number of puzzle-platforming levels one would understandably have no awareness of. One of the other few DK games I have not played is Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, though I do not currently own the Gamecube or Wii version of the game(Bongos either) and decided to throw an original Game Boy game into the mix…

The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda was first released on February 21 1986 for the Famicom Disk System in Japan, before being released the following year in North America and Europe. I’ve known of the Zelda games my entire life – being born only two months prior to its initial release, but had played the two NES releases only a few times. For the longest time I was a little intimidated by the franchise and it’s legion of rabid fans and it wasn’t until Ocarina of Time was released on the Nintendo 64 that I felt like I truly “got” what made the games beloved by so many. I have played every mainline Zelda game ever since that time(not including the infamous CD-i releases – The Faces of Evil and The Wand of Gamelon), but have only completed about half of them.

I got Skyward Sword back when it was released in 2011and have only ever made it about three or so hours into the game. I enjoyed it well enough, but I got to the first dungeon(I think?) and then just…kinda…wound up playing something else. I’ve always heard how good some of the later dungeons and areas are, but like myself, many others have stated how the pacing of the game is pretty slow, especially in the beginning of the game, which starts with an extended tutorial. I fully intend to play through Skyward Sword in its entirety by the time November rolls around, which will mark ten years since its release.

Metroid

The 35th anniversary of Samus Aran’s first appearance on the Famicom Disk System will be August 6, 1986. I’ve loved the Metroid games ever since first playing them as a kid, with Super Metroid and Metroid Prime being two of my all-time favorites. Being arguably my favorite of Nintendo’s main franchises, I plan on playing through every Metroid game over the course of the year, yes I’m even gonna play Metroid Prime Pinball…

One of the more…divisive games in the series is Metroid: Other M – Nintendo and Team Ninja’s 2010 release for the Wii. The prospect of Tecmo’s Team Ninja developing a third-person Metroid game sounded intriguing, but it has since gone on to be considered one of Samus’ lesser outings due to the inconsistent gameplay as well as her characterization. Similar to Skyward Sword, I’ve played the game a few times, but have never finished it. I’m curious to see if the disdain towards Other M is justified once I finally finish the game; I’ve played it enough to know not to expect anything close to the experience of playing the Metroid Prime games, but surely there’s something to appreciate about it…right?

Pokémon

February 27 2021 marks the 25th anniversary of the very first Pokémon games – Red & Green, being released in Japan in 1996(North America was not until 1998), thus beginning Poké-mania. I can still vividly remember getting my copy of Red as a kid and playing on my Game Boy Color and spent endless hours after that collecting, battling, and evolving Pokémon. I played Pokémon Red and Gold, but after that ended up missing a generation or two, playing only Diamond and then Y before playing Pokémon Shield after it was released on the Nintendo Switch. I still have not played any of the Gen 3(Ruby/Sapphire), 5(Black/White), or 7(Sun/Moon) releases. I do, however have a copy of Omega Ruby for my 3DS that I will be working on in my spare time. With as many mainline releases and spin-offs as there are for the Pokémon games, I wouldn’t have to look too far for something I haven’t played yet. I’d still like to eventually give Pokémon Black a try, as well as checking out New Pokémon Snap when it’s released for the Switch on April 30.

I will also take this opportunity to mention that a special Pokémon retrospective event organized by fellow blogger NekoJonez is set to go live on February 27 to commemorate the series’ 25th anniversary. I will be taking part in the collaboration as well as a number of other trainers bloggers, so keep an eye out for that within the next month.