Controllers from the past – NES Max

This 1988 ad touted the awesomeness of the NES Max (which apparently came out in the same year as the NES began gaining serious traction in the NA market) with its revolutionary power and accuracy. It was ahead of its time in a few ways from the shape of the control to the cycloid button, though in practice depending on who you talked to and the game being played, wasn’t quite the “Max” experience that it boasted.

When the NES came out and sped along to success, a cottage industry of peripherals soon sprouted up to take advantage of the wave with promises of “better handling” or “acing the best scores” possible only with their controllers.

Nintendo also partied with its own official controllers like the awesome NES Advantage joystick with its steel plate base, big buttons, and adjustable turbo fire dials. It was literally a slice straight from the arcade and was one of my favorite ‘sticks on any system. Aside from specialty makers like Thrustmaster on the PC, it also seemed far better than many other similar arcade devices in that market, too.

But Nintendo also got a bit creative with the NES Max.

The Max threw out the D-pad for a cycloid “button” control that worked when you pressed on it while moving it in the direction you wanted to go. But it didn’t let the D-pad go completely away. The black ring surrounding the cycloid button control acted as a circular D-pad that could be used for the same purpose.

It also added “wings” as grips, turbo like the NES Advantage (but instead of dials that allowed you to adjust the speed of the turbo, it had switches with pre-set speeds), and shrunk the buttons down a bit.

It also wasn’t every successful and today, isn’t particularly rare. For my part, I remember seeing it in stores but kept to the original block controller because it came with the NES and did what I wanted it to. That and I thought the NES Advantage was just too awesome. The Max just didn’t seem necessary.

It also wasn’t without its problems. The cycloid button that you see in the ad above didn’t work unless you pressed down on it and moved it to where you wanted it to go, but there was also no zeroing (resetting to the default center position) that other controllers like the NES Advantage had (the stick would reset to center when you let go). Using the black ring as a second D-pad option could also be a bit awkward.

But it had its own share of die-hard fans that still swear by it today where you can find it on the cheap at places like Ebay or even Amazon. From what I could tell, the NES Max was a NA-only release much like the Famicom Disk System was a Japan-only peripheral.

In a way, it had a few forward looking traits such as the “dogbone” shape thanks to the added “wings” and the sliding cycloid button that was only one or two steps away from being an analog stick. For those of you that have one, there’s even a write-up on how to mod out the cycloid button with an actual stick. Controllers like the Mega Drive/Genesis’ boomerang, the N64’s radically redesigned analog/d-pad combo, and the PSX’s understated grey “dogbone”, can probably point to the NES Max as a distant cousin.

Despite not being quite the success, the NES Max manages to stand out as an interesting stab in the dark by Nintendo when it came to improving on players’ options on interactivity… a topic they would always come back to in the next few decades with often dramatic results.

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