The Hardware

One of the first things to note is that this pad is USB only. That eliminates a number of people right off the bat. There are currently no plans to produce a gameport version of the SideWinder Game Pad Pro, so if you haven't got USB (and won't be getting it) you may as well stop here. For those of us that can use it, however, USB support means a number of great things, but more about that later.

The gamepad itself is fairly large, like the original SideWinder and the newer Freestyle. Also like those products, it is much more comfortable to hold than it would appear to be, even for someone with relatively small hands. This means longer gaming sessions without getting sore hands. The pad features six buttons and two index finger triggers. But it also has a 'shift' button on the left below the D-pad, where you can quickly and easily reach it with your left thumb. This button can act like the shift button on a keyboard, essentially allowing you to have sixteen buttons (each of the eight originals in both shifted and non-shifted modes. The third (and fatal) blow to getting your household chores done, though, is the amazing dual-mode D-pad. It allows for standard (digital) and proportional (like analogue but better) mode. The standard mode works like a normal digital gamepad, no big deal. The proportional mode, however, allows for fine, gradual movements like you'd get from a joystick. The more pressure you exert on the pad in any direction, the further and faster you move along the axis. That means that the SideWinder Game Pad Pro can be used equally well with games like NHL 2000 where you want instant control, and games like Need For Speed 4 or flight simulations where you need to steer gradually. This incredible versatility may allow you to eliminate a couple of gaming devices from your inventory.

Don't misunderstand: The Microsoft hardware isn't the only kid on the block in this respect. The Xterminator from Gravis also offers proportional and digital control on the same Gamepad. The difference is, on the Gravis there are two D-Pads, side by side. Definitely not as slick and ergonomic as the Sidewinder. The best part, though, is it actually works well, and doesn't take too long to get the hang of. If only the shape of the D-pad was as well thought-out as the operation of it. The darn thing is almost completely smooth, with a line on each of the four main directions, more for orientation than grip. So, when you are pressing hard on the pad (perhaps trying to get Yzerman to skate faster or the Jaguar to turn like a sports car, for crying out loud) your thumb slips right off of it. This problem becomes worse once your thumb gets moist with that hand-sweat that always accompanies long gaming sessions. To make matters worse, you can't help but rest your index fingers on the triggers below, so you are constantly pressing the left one while using the D-pad. This gets pretty annoying after the third or fourth line change accidentally made while on a three-man rush. The simple answer here is some careful button configuration before you start playing, but the design should be better. That said, those are really the only two problems ergonomically, and they don't seem too serious when you consider the positives of the gamepad's design and function.

Index The USB advantage
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