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Posted: October 7, 1999
Written by: Chris Burek
Estimated Retail Price: $39.95
Almost four years after its initial debut, the successor to the original SideWinder Game Pad is on route to make a splash. Microsoft's new SideWinder Game Pad Pro looks sleek and boasts new features, but does it warrant the replacement of your current controller? We'll take you through the good and the bad, and tell you what you need to take into consideration.
For starters, the Game Pad Pro is based around a new proportional/digital control d-pad, Microsoft's new SideWinder Game Controller Software 4.0, and a ergonomic design similar to that of the original game pad. This controller is also branded USB-only.
The silver-finished unit houses a total of nine buttons plus a directional-pad (d-pad), however, when the shift button is held down, the other eight buttons can be programmed to perform eight more auxiliary functions. The button setup includes two trigger buttons for each index finger, plus six rounded buttons for the thumb. Lastly, the d-pad and shift button are situated side-by-side.
For the Game Pad Pro's installation, we first installed the new SideWinder Game Controller 4.0 software from the enclosed CD over the ageing 3.2 software. Here we ran into a small snag - version 4.0 of the software only supports the USB SideWinder products, meaning game port-based controllers will not work correctly with 4.0. However, to bypass this, you can install version 3.2 prior to 4.0, then go ahead and install 4.0 over 3.2, and you're set. Our older SideWinder Game Pad worked fine after using this procedure. With that out of the way, just plug in the USB adapter into your USB port, and Windows 98 will recognise the device and set it up accordingly. The controller can be configured using the Game Controllers applet within Control Panel.
Putting the Game Pad Pro to the test, we found it to be a solid performer. The pad's design is quite comfortable and shouldn't pose a problem for you hands when used for extended periods of play. We fired up a few games to test out the pad, which included EA Sports' NHL 2000, ESPN's X Games Pro Boarder, Microsoft's Midtown Madness, and EA's Need for Speed: High Stakes. For each, I used the SideWinder software to assign actions to my desired buttons, which was a snap, however the software already came with a pre-defined scheme for Pro Boarder (among 20 or so other pre-set schemes), which was put to use. During play, I was pleased by the comfort of the controller, and its responsiveness. The trigger buttons click nicely, and the six lettered buttons work smoothly. The new d-pad is differs from what you'd normally expect seeing how its rounded, and it takes some getting used to if you're moving up from another game pad. This is where the proportional and digital control comes in -- digital control is tweaked mainly for instantaneous response for sports and fighting games (the traditional game pad movement), whereas the proportional control is geared towards smooth, joystick style movements for racing-style games. An option in the Control Panel lets you toggle between digital and proportional, so we switched accordingly for the games we tested. All the games we tried worked quite well the Game Pad Pro.
Since the Game Pad Pro is the offspring of the SideWinder Game Pad, we thought we'd compare the two head-to-head. Overall, after using the original controller for almost three years now, and putting serious time and consideration in using the Game Pad Pro, my personal pick would have to go the original Game Pad. You may think that's absurd, but let me justify- the Game Pad Pro is almost as equally as comfortable as the original pad, but still a tad short in that respect. I found I have more grip with the senior pad. The original pad had a very handy start button which I constantly made use of, while that feature is absent in the Pro version. The software is handy and very customizable, but the same things can basically be done with the predecessor. I'll admit I'm a bit disappointed in this "Pro" branded version of the SideWinder Game Pad, feature-wise.
If you currently own the SideWinder Game Pad, I personally don't see any justification in upgrading to the Game Pad Pro unless you badly desire the USB support and the SideWinder 4.0 software, or the proportional/digital d-pad (this reason alone is not worth the purchase). However, if you don't own a pad, or if you're looking to upgrade an older game pad, I recommend looking into the Game Pad Pro.