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 They now feel more like an outdated piece of gaming history when compared to the smoother action and movement of modern joysticks.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!