Showing posts with label Dreamcast Peripherals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dreamcast Peripherals. Show all posts

Dreamcast Racing Wheels - An Overview

The Dreamcast is something of a haven for racing game fans – between Crazy Taxi, Daytona USA 2001, Ferrari F355 Challenge, Sega Rally 2 and OutRun, it’s home to many of the greatest arcade racers ever made, not to mention plenty of other brilliant racing titles, like Metropolis Street Racer, Le Mans 24 Hours, Spirit of Speed 1937 and Re-Volt. With this kind of a lineup, it seems like the perfect console to pair with a racing wheel. Unfortunately, the reality is that it’s pretty hard to get hold of a wheel that lives up to the mentioned classics…

Recently, I set out to try and get the best wheel I could for the console – one that would propel the blissful evenings I was having with Sega Rally 2 into sheer ecstasy. As I scoured the internet for morsels of information on the many wheels produced for the console, I found that four wheels were typically held in higher regard than the rest:

  • Sega Race Controller/Rally Wheel – The Dreamcast’s first-party wheel was commonplace and considered reliable by some, but others regarded it as cheaply made and bare bones.
  • Mad Catz MC2 – Perhaps the most popular choice for serious racing fans, this wheel was lauded for its technical features, but reports of breakages lined up with Mad Catz’ track record for cheap construction.
  • Interact Concept 4 – A wheel with a low attach rate, but very highly regarded by some for having similar features to the MC2 and besting that wheel in construction quality.
  • Thrustmaster Ferrari Racing Wheel – Maybe the scarcest wheel of the four, this wheel nonetheless received rave reviews from those who had paired it with Ferrari F355 Challenge.
By chance, I ended up owning three of these wheels and modding one of them over the following months. I’ve decided to review each of them to ensure that other eager fans on the net will be better informed than I was, particularly with how rare and pricey these wheels can be nowadays!

First purchase – Thrustmaster Ferrari Racing Wheel

For my first wheel, it just so happened that the rarest of the above choices was one of the most readily available when I looked, as a fairly priced specimen was available in my country when I began my search. I was excited to get hold of the Thrustmaster Ferrari owing to its reputation (among a small group of users, I might add), but some harsh realities would be exposed after unleashing it from its smart packaging.
But let’s get the good out of the way first! For starters, the wheel really looks the part – it’s probably the best looking wheel of the big four right out of the box, with a sleek design and sharp Ferrari branding that undeniably gives it an air of authenticity (not to mention making it a perfect pair for Ferrari F355 Challenge and OutRun). It has some strong features to back up the look too. Every button and control on the Dreamcast controller is present and in easy reach – A, B, X, Y, a D-pad, an analog stick, and Start are available on the face, with paddles on the rear of the wheel also corresponding to L, R, A and X and the included pedals mapping to L and R as you'd expect.

These work in conjunction with perhaps the wheel’s most useful feature, the “Mode” button, to allow full compatibility with the Dreamcast library, including games which don’t typically support racing wheel peripherals. “Mode” essentially switches the wheel into a standard Dreamcast controller, allowing you to finally play games like Hydro Thunder the way you always wanted to. The presence of both paddles and connectable pedals makes the wheel appealing for those who have either preference for acceleration and braking.

The wheel has both suction cups on its base and a clamp that can be used to attach it to a table or a desk, negating any concerns of it moving around if you wish to use it on a hard surface. Finally, the expansion slot on the side of the wheel is shaped to house either a VMU or a Vibration Pack, giving you the chance to add some feedback to the games that support it. That said, you might be underwhelmed by how light the vibration effect is, owing to how far from the steering column the slot on the base of the wheel is.
It's too bad then that the wheel’s performance doesn’t match its strong first impressions. Despite the paddles on the rear of the wheel being foolproof in theory, they’re positioned in quarter-circle segments around the steering column, with the top pair mapped to X and A (gear changing) and the bottom pair mapped to L and R (acceleration/braking). This means that you’ll be attempting to use your ring and little fingers on the bottom pair if you don’t want to use pedals, which isn’t easy! To make matters worse, the paddles don’t rotate with the wheel, leaving you to stretch your fingers as far as possible on those sharp turns.

Both the wheel and the pedals have a stiffness to them that can prove problematic – the tight bungee cord-based centring mechanism in the wheel makes turning it something of a workout, and when coupled with the wheel’s lightness, can cause some unwanted lateral movements if you’re using the wheel in your lap. The stiff pedals then have a tendency to slip around on carpeted floor, though I wasn’t able to test them on hard floor.

And lastly...there’s the sensitivity.

A Quick Look At The NeoGeo Pocket Link Cable

I recently picked up a NeoGeo Pocket Link Cable for the very reasonable price of £30. That may seem expensive for what is essentially a bit of wire, but these things seem to be getting rarer all the time and so for that price I snapped it up sharpish. The only other one I've seen for sale recently was around £50 and they regularly go for upwards of that on eBay. Before I get ahead of myself, I should probably explain what the NeoGeo Pocket actually is - I sometimes forget that not everyone is as au fait with antiquated gaming technology as I am, and in turn I know there are people with far greater knowledge than I I'll try not to get anything wrong!
The NeoGeo Pocket was a handheld console released in 1998 by SNK that initially featured a monochrome screen but was later re-released with a colour screen and rebranded as the NeoGeoPocket Color (I'll overlook the missing 'u' on this occasion). It's a nifty little piece of tech and has a rather lovely clicky microswitch thumbstick like most other NeoGeo consoles do. The system's library isn't very large and the screen can be a bit hard to see sometimes due to it's lack of either a front or back light, but it does hold a certain charm and the library is brimming with cool portable versions of popular SNK franchises like The King Of Fighters and Samurai Shodown et al.
What's also quite intriguing is that Sega and SNK collaborated in order to add Dreamcast compatibility to the system and a select number of Dreamcast and NeoGeo Pocket titles are able to communicate and allow various items to be unlocked or data to be swapped between the two systems. Obviously, both the Dreamcast and the NGP come from a pre-WiFi or NFC era (although apparently there is a wireless connector for linking NGPs), so the only way it was really feasible for these two units to connect was via a link cable. And that's exactly what this little post is all about.
Not to be confused with the NeoGeo Pocket system link cable (pictured above, NEOP-10021), the Dreamcast link cable (NEOP-22020) allows you to connect your NGP/NGPC to the Sega system via the serial port on the rear of the console and the Ext. port on the top of the handheld, but vitally only a handful of games actually make use of this function. According to the full list is:
  • King of Fighters R-2 (links with King of Fighters ’99 Dream Match and Evolution)
  • SNK vs Capcom – Match of the Millenium (links with Capcom vs SNK 2)
  • SNK vs Capcom – Card Fighter's Clash (links with King of Fighters Evolution)
  • SNK vs Capcom – Card Fighter's Clash Expand Edition (links with Capcom vs SNK 2)
  • Cool Cool Jam (links with Cool Cool Toon)
I own four of the titles listed (KoF R-2, KoF '99, KoF Evo and Card Fighter's Clash) and so I set about trying to get my Dreamcast to communicate with my NeoGeo Pocket. As a side note, I own the original NeoGeo Pocket and not the Color variant and so I rarely play on it due to the difficulty I regularly encounter trying to see the screen. 
The monochrome version does have some 'ghosting' issues, especially in fighting games (which sadly make up most of my library), but the screen is nowhere near as bad as something like the Tiger Gamecom. The reason I mention this is because most of the downloadable and uploadable things in both KoF R-2 and the two Dreamcast titles are things that you must earn points to unlock. And as I've barely played R-2, I didn't have much in the way of spendable currency.
From what I could tell though, the vast majority of items are artwork images and the like, so while it's a nice little extra feature, you aren't missing much if you don't happen to own a link cable. What's interesting is that the link cable works with both the NTSC-J and NTSC-U King of Fighters games, with a Japanese NeoGeo Pocket, while all being connected through a PAL Dreamcast using a boot disc to play imports. Just thought that was worth sharing, although it's common knowledge that the NGP is region free. When it comes to ascertaining what the uses are when linking Card Clash to Evolution...well, I have no clue to be perfectly honest. I couldn't actually tell if it was even doing anything when it was linked so I'm none the wiser. If you know better, enlighten us in the comments!
In summary then, the link cable is a nice little oddity to own - especially as it was relatively inexpensive and they are now quite rare. As for usefulness? I'm not sure I can recommend that you go out and spend a small fortune on one. There's no real benefit as far as I can see other than it's a cool item to have in your collection. The build quality is very nice and the little box halfway down the cable has a nice chunky SNK logo on it...but that's about all there is to it. I did read in an old Dreamcast magazine that Sonic's Pocket Adventure was going to have some sort of connectivity with Sonic Adventure 2, but I guess that never materialised.
As a footnote, I guess it's quite apt that these two systems have intertwined lifespans. They do have certain similarities in that they were both the plucky underdog and both lived relatively short lifespans. Happily though, they've now found each other again in the great Dreamcast Junkyard in the sky and the link cable is the tie that binds them.