A Quick Look At The Dreamcast Twin Stick Controller

The Dreamcast's peripheral lineup offers plenty of oddities for the discerning collector to pore over. From the karaoke unit and maracas, to the fishing rod and the Dreameye there's something for everyone. One peripheral we've never really looked at in any real depth here at the Junkyard is the Dreamcast Twin Stick, an odd looking beast of a controller that always peaks the curiosity of the public whenever we wheel it out at live events and expos. The Twin Stick was never released outside of its native Japan, although that doesn't stop it being compatible with both NTSC-U and PAL Dreamcast systems, but the incredibly small library of games that officially make use of it renders the Twin Stick something of a luxury.
Twinned with the relative high price these controllers command in the current climate, the Twin Stick is a device that still enjoys something of an enigmatic air. Like the Arcade Stick controller, the Twin Stick is one of those peripherals that greatly enhances the experience of playing games that make use of it, but outside that small selection is pretty redundant simply because of its fairly unorthodox design. Let's take a more detailed look at the hardware itself, and some of the games that make use of the Twin Stick before investigating whether or not this is something you should consider adding to your collection...

The Hardware
The Twin Stick, like the Arcade Stick is a fairly robust and well-constructed peripheral. The base is made from metal, which gives it a decent feel of weight and quality. The bottom section is made from two different tones of grey plastic, as are the actual sticks themselves. The sticks themselves have 8 directions of travel and emit the same reassuring click of a micro switch that the Arcade Stick does when in operation. However, because there are two of them...you get twice the fun and twice the clicks! The only other buttons on the controller are the triggers on the from of the sticks, the buttons on top of the sticks and the pause and start buttons on the base. This in itself it a bit of a strange aspect of the Twin Stick when you think about it - why does it need both a start and pause button? Surely they would both be start? Hmm.
Naturally, there's also a slot for a VMU and the Dreamcast recognises the Twin Stick in much the same way it does the Arcade Stick. For example, in the Dreamcast's main menu/dashboard the left stick can be used for navigation and the right trigger is the A button, while the button on top of the right stick acts as the B button, cancelling out of menus and what not. The sticks themselves are fairly comfortable to hold and the way they are ergonomically contoured means your hands can grip them with relative comfort and your fingers naturally rest in the desired positions - the index fingers on the triggers and the thumbs on the buttons on the top of the sticks. There's little else to say about the physical aesthetics of the Twin Stick, so here are some more lovely pictures - please ignore the tea and coffee rings on my table - I couldn't be bothered to wipe it down before taking the pictures. Because I'm a lazy git.
The Software
Officially, the Twin Stick only supports one game - Cyber Troopers Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram. By 'officially,' I mean that that is the only game that was ever promoted as being compatible with the Twin Stick and on top of this the peripheral was only released in Japan. This is especially odd because Virtual On was given a US release so one would be forgiven for thinking a North American release for the peripheral would follow...but it didn't.

Stranger still, Virtual On for the Dreamcast didn't even get a PAL release, even though the Saturn game did and while I'm not 100% certain, I'm pretty sure that the Dreamcast did better in PAL territories than the Saturn did sales-wise. Whatever the reasons for Sega's decision not to release the Twin Stick in the US or anything to do with Dreamcast Virtual On in PAL territories, the fact remains that in Japan the controller was only ever depicted as being for use with Virtual On. However, we now know that there are a couple of other games which will actually recognise the Twin Stick and these are discussed below.
Before we get to them though, I just wanted to express my disappointment at some startlingly obvious games that would be amazing with the Twin Stick, but for whatever reason just will not even register that the thing is plugged in to the Dreamcast console. Games like Star Lancer and Bang! Gunship Elite for example. First person space based shooters would be perfect for a contraption such as the Twin Stick but it's as if the software doesn't even realise there's a controller plugged in. I might sound like a bit of a moron by writing this, but I always just assumed that with special controllers, it was simply a case of mapping standard controller button presses to a new form factor, so regardless of what the controller physically looked like, the Dreamcast 'saw' the peripheral as a standard controller and the inputs where just accepted as 'button A' or 'right trigger,' even though you might be standing on a dance mat or waggling a fishing rod. Does that make sense?

It appears this isn't the case with the Twin Stick though, as plugging it in doesn't even register with most games, and invariably a 'please insert controller' message pops up on the screen. Some other games I would have liked to have seen playable with the Twin Stick (but aren't) include: (the aforementioned) Star Lancer, Bang! Gunship Elite, AeroWings and AeroWings 2 (although they can be played with the flight stick from Ascii). It's not all bad though, because there are a ton of other games I tried that do indeed work just fine with the Twin Stick - some of them exceptionally well.
I didn't go through my entire catalogue of games to see which games work and which didn't, as that would be madness and would mean I'd be writing this article for the best part of a week. Because I have a job and a life outside of Dreamcast nonsense I decided that simply wasn't going to happen. However, I did quickly blast through a select few that I thought might work and some I thought might be a good (albeit novelty) fit for the Twin Stick. Some games do indeed work better than others and these are the ones I found that work very well:

Games that work
Virtual On (obviously)
Frame Gride
Virtua Tennis
Rush Rush Rally Racing
Sega Rally 2
Soul Calibur

I did try Half-Life with it too, as I'd heard that worked, but I could only get the controls to register the forward/backwards and strafing motions so it's hardly playable. I'm sure I read somewhere that Quake III: Arena works quite well too, but I didn't try it. I also made a short video showing some of the above games in action, but seeing as I used the little flatscreen TV on my desk to record it out of convenience, the aspect ratio is set to 16:9 on the screen and I literally cannot be arsed with the comments that will undoubtedly zero in on that one tiny thing. Maybe I'll re-record it at some point in the future on my 4:3 CRT. But I probably won't. Gotta love the internet!
Anyway, I'm sure there are other games that use the Twin Stick just as well as those up there - if you know of more then please add them in the comments section and I'll update the article list as and when. This is 'A Quick Look At...' after all.
Further reading
Be sure to familiarise yourself with some other Dreamcast peripherals and add-ons by following the links to previous articles of varying quality below:

Dreamcast Race Controller
Dreamcast Karaoke Unit
Dreamcast Fishing Rod
Dream Trance


DCGX said...

Great write-up! I've always been interested in the Twin Stick, and every once in awhile I watch an eBay auction, but never bid because I thought Virtual-On was the only compatible game. Now, I really want to try the Twin Stick with Outtrigger and REZ. I guess I'm off to eBay.

Chris Daioglou said...

Quite interesting.
I was always wondering about which games could support this and if they responded well (i.e. 1st person shooters).
The reason is because I'm thinking of reverse-engineer one of these in order to make a "two-analog" version of the DreamConn..

Retro Raider said...

The reason sega never released the twin stick here is because they didn't even release VOOT here. They passed on it and alkalim picked it up instead they chose to throw money at space Chanel 5. Oh and the twin sticks are shit anyway VO 3 for the ps2 didn't even have an option to use both analog sticks on the controller b/c it plays better w/ the standard D.C. control scheme

Tom Charnock said...

Guessing you didn't read the article before commenting? Slow clap

gsilverfish said...

The reason it has a pause and a start button is because the start button in Virtual On Oratorio Tangram is used to both start the game and execute certain special commands. That's great in the arcade, but for a home game they needed another button to pause with.

By the way, although the sticks do seem robust and feel sturdier than the old Saturn sticks, they are actually a bit delicate and have some parts inside that are especially prone to breaking, making it so the stick no longer snaps back to center automatically. They can be replaced, but nearly everyone I know who played a lot of Dreamcast Virtual On eventually broke at least one of them. Definitely something to consider when buying them today.

247 said...

i have one in perfect condition luckily and i can confirm that heavy metal geomatrix and quake 3 works really well with the twin stick...it would have been ace with propeller arena but unfortunately you can only steer with the analog and there is no way the change controls...

Unknown said...

Do you know if the twin sticks will work with the game Gundam Side Story 0079 released in the U.S?

Tom Charnock said...

No it doesn't work with Gundam sadly

Unknown said...

Damn well that sucks, that was the only reason I was intrestead in buying the game. Thanks for saving me a couple hundred bucks though.

Tom Charnock said...

No worries. The main issue is that it doesn't have enough buttons for all the Gundam controls to be mapped to.

Playing Mantis said...

@Tom and @Chris :

The DC Twin Stick is probably using the digital directionals #2 properties from the controller features specification for the second stick. Twin Stick is probably the reason the second d-pad property exists.

So the twin stick is not a way to get a dual analog controller onto Dreamcast. If a controller were made with a second analog stick, only homebrew would be able to take advantage unless games could be hacked.

I'm pretty sure the Saturn Twin Stick was just a remapped controller though. I tried it with some other game and pushed the different directions and buttons so I could map them out. I think some of them were combinations.

I then tried to mimic those combos with a regular saturn pad in one of the Gundam Side Story games and/or Virtual-On. It was kind of difficult to pull off but I think it worked.

So people could make their own Saturn Twin Sticks from (preferably a third party controller) then use one of the Saturn converters with twin stick mode to trick the dreamcast.

Playing Mantis said...

So it's been a while since I touched the Saturn stuff. Realized the pad does have enough buttons without combos. I was just remembering how hard it was to try and push the right buttons for moving and firing while getting shot at.

So Saturn Twin sticks can be made off a pad with one to one button mapping.

Roger Wilco said...

Could you get two Twin Sticks for 2 player Virtual On?

NightHydra said...

Yes, and it is the only natural feeling way to play. Buying the 2nd set is so your guest doesn't feel cheated