Atari's VCS controller is what you would expect, but its joystick is not

Something to look forward to: Atari’s VCS retro console is just around the corner. Quite a bit about the box is already known, but the company revealed some details about its controllers today that might surprise you.

Earlier this month, we highlighted some of the most memorable game controllers of the last four decades. Right at the top of the list was the Atari CX40 Joystick. It was with delight that we found the company was bringing back that iconic control stick with its upcoming VCS console. What we didn’t know at the time was how Atari was going to reshape the controller for a modern gaming audience.

On Wednesday, the company lifted the veil on both the joystick and the VCS gamepad to give us a glimpse into how both controllers work.

The gamepad, which Atari calls the VCS Modern Controller, is fairly typical as controllers are concerned. It combines features found in its competitors including Nintendo-like A/B/X/Y buttons; left and right, upper and lower shoulder triggers similar to PlayStation; and two analog sticks with the left one being juxtaposed to the directional pad as seen with the Xbox.

The VCS Classic Joystick is much more interesting. It has the same look and the same 8-way digital mechanics that the fan-favorite CX40 had, but that is where the similarities end.

To start, Atari’s refreshed stick has an extra button on the corner of the controller below the one on the surface of the base. This new button is more ergonomic and will allow users to spare themselves joystick thumb by using the trigger button instead if they wish.

The joystick has both USB and Bluetooth connectivity. Going wireless is a good move considering it is pretty much standard in most modern controllers. However, it will also help to reorient the stick for left or right-handed players without the USB cable being put in an awkward position.

As mentioned, the VCS Classic Joystick uses digital contacts. These are mapped to match the D-pad on the Modern Controller by default. More interesting though is Atari’s decision to allow the stick to rotate. This feature was included to make paddle-controlled games like Pong or Breakout easier to play. However, I wonder if a rotating joystick will interfere when playing games traditionally.

Lastly, as a further nod toward modernizing, Atari added a rumble motor to the joystick and orange LEDs that encircle the base of the stick. The lights and vibration will trigger for in-game events like crashing in Asteroids or simulating the ball hitting the paddle in Pong.

Atari says that both controllers were designed in a partnership with peripheral maker PowerA, which is in the process of getting its assembly line in order. The controllers should be going into full production by this summer.

Both controllers will ship with the VCS console before the end of the year to Indiegogo backers and retailers in 2020. Atari states that these details, while current, are subject to change. Nothing is completely set in stone until it starts shipping.

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