Namco Negcon

On a recent podcast Tom gave his review of a game that was designed for Namco's NeGcon controller (essentially "Twist" in Japanese according to Wikipedia) released for use for the original PlayStation in 1995. 

This highly comfortable controller is large by 1995 standards, but comparable to a modern day PS4 controller.

It has single trigger buttons (both analogue), what would be described today as R1 and L1 buttons. In place of the PlayStation symbol buttons it has a A, B, I and II button and a work-around of the then trademarked Nintendo directional cross pad.

 Note that the maroon (I and II buttons) have a very high vertical profile, more than I've seen in any controller for a button (as opposed to triggers).

Note that the maroon (I and II buttons) have a very high vertical profile, more than I've seen in any controller for a button (as opposed to triggers).

The I and II buttons are analogue as well and have a deep "throw", perfectly suited to the driving mechanics that the Namco controller was no-doubt based around.

 This image demonstrates the ability of the two sides of the NeGcon to twist and turn.

This image demonstrates the ability of the two sides of the NeGcon to twist and turn.

In feel the controller is a masterpiece. Even out-of-game it is a pleasure to test and turn and feels entirely comfortable to hold. It's novel without being a gimmick and like the Dvorak keyboard a work of function, passionately expressed.

 Interior of the first generation NeGcon. Image sourced from Wikipedia. I was surprised not to find rubber bands, as the tension in the control felt as though it was being restricted by direct force.

Interior of the first generation NeGcon. Image sourced from Wikipedia. I was surprised not to find rubber bands, as the tension in the control felt as though it was being restricted by direct force.

The hardware is sound, in fact impressive, but how does it play? I chose to try a Namco game first, Rage Racer, the third entry in the Ridge Racer series.  The Rage Racer name is confusing, as it is emblazoned on the side and front of the game case, but the disc and title screen emphasize Ridge Racer directly over the top of the Rage Racer title, all but completely obfuscating the formal name.

 The PlayStation automatically detects the NeGcon allowing games to immediately switch in alternate control layout images.

The PlayStation automatically detects the NeGcon allowing games to immediately switch in alternate control layout images.

I first tried to ascertain if the deep I and II buttons were truly analogue. Rage Racer uses I to accelerate and II to brake, and indeed the 7 mm buttons do have significant "throw". A deep push accelerated more sharply and similarly the brakes were responsive to the amount of force applied to the buttons.

With the NeGcon you don't steer at all with the directional pad, that is reserved for gear shifting, all steering is done with by twisting the control in your hand, which has a precision of the highest end driving wheels.

The first race certainly took some adjusting to, but by the second game I was sold on the NeGcon and it's tactility. It replicates the feeling of driving a vehicle with sensitive controls, much like a V8 with 20 inch rims.

 Wipeout is a fair description of the NeGcon's performance with this game. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

Wipeout is a fair description of the NeGcon's performance with this game. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

The second game I tried with the NeGcon was Psygnosis' classic zero gravity racer, Wipeout. Wipeout is by far one of my favourite zero gravity racers (see my impressions of Kinetica). But after playing Rage Racer, Wipeout felt surprising slow, floaty and unresponsive. The use of the NeGcon, which again was automatically detected by the PlayStation, felt entirely misunderstood by the developer. Responding to only the most extreme twisting  of the controller, the enjoyment of the game was depleted immediately.

Based on these experiences, if you enjoy the Ridge Racer or Ace Combat series the NeGcon is a must-buy that adds extra enjoyment to already good franchises.