Revisiting the Hyperkin Cadet Controller (NES)

Back in July, I reviewed Hyperkin’s Cadet Controller, a controller in the style of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) controllers; depending on which model you purchase, the controller is designed with different cables for use on the official NES and compatible clone consoles, the NES Classic Edition (Wii connector), and computers (USB connector). I posted both a detailed video unboxing the Cadet, trying it out, and opening it up, as well as a written summary with pictures. TLDR: I loved it.

I was surprised, nay shocked, given Hyperkin’s terrible RetroN 5 controller, and the track record of third party controllers in general–typically, the main thing companies fail at is in replicating Nintendo’s D-pad. No matter how faithful the recreation (I’m looking at you, 8Bitdo), they just can’t get it right even though it’s a little piece of plastic that has been around for more than 30 years. On the other hand, most companies can’t manage to fix the same audio, video, and compatibility problems plaguing “Nintendo-on-a-Chip” knockoff consoles that have been around for decades either.

What’s the problem with the D-pad? It seems the biggest issue is the size and shape of the pivot in the center of the D-pad. Without one, you can press the D-pad down and trigger every direction at once. With a crappy one, you will still trigger unintended diagonals, which is devastating to your performance in games requiring precision, i.e., pretty much NES game that isn’t an RPG, sports title, or board game adaptation–particularly in platformers and shmups that have tight controls. My usual test: Can Mario slide under blocks in Super Mario Bros. 3 easily?

The Hyperkin Cadet controller I reviewed in July, which I still use regularly, passed that test with flying colors. I liked the design, which is comfortable in my hands, and the A and B buttons are also snappy and responsive. When I opened it up, I found that the PCB was much higher quality than virtually every other third-party controller out there; where most use glob top on their board, that controller had an actual chip. I loved the controller so much, it actually replaced the Hudson Soft Joycard Sansui SSS as my favored NES controller, for a time. The only issues I had with the Cadet were the tight fit of its plug in an NES (it fits fine in a Hyperkin RetroN 5, which sounds about right), and the buttons were a little louder, which is only a problem when I’m live streaming.

Then a few weeks ago, user zedeighty commented on my YouTube video that the Cadet controller packed in with their RetroN 1 (Grey) didn’t work, and upon tearing it down they discovered it had a different board with a glob top!

I wish I had something positive to say about this controller but unfortunately the pad I got with my Retron HD was broken out of the box. I can’t get it to work with the clone it came with or a genuine NES (weirdly, the select button works but nothing else). Interesting thing is, I took one apart for curiosity’s sake and found that the circuit board inside mine is totally different to yours (it even has a glob top instead of a proper chip).

They linked me to a YouTube video that showed a PCB from another controller identical to theirs, posted by Gam3Tat0 on July 3, 2017, a couple of weeks before I posted my video. (So much for being the first!)

Source: Gam3Tat0 (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8dUT90-qr8QQ4Ck_QAZc_Q)

Source: Gam3Tat0 (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8dUT90-qr8QQ4Ck_QAZc_Q)

No black glob here! Just a real chip and a pretty clean looking PCB.

The PCB from my first Cadet controller.

Note the glob top and different circuits on the button pads! It seemed clear that there were different production runs on the controller or a change in manufacturing. Perhaps the pack-in controllers with the consoles were cheaper versions for some reason, or earlier production models, or they’re made in different factories…???

But no. I happen to have a second Cadet controller; I had liked the first so much, I was planning to buy the black model when it was released in August, but then I won a contest on Twitter so Hyperkin sent me one for free! When it arrived, I had no reason to believe it would be different from the first one, so I didn’t do another teardown, and in fact I didn’t even bother testing it and didn’t have a chance to use it. So, inspired by all this new information, I cracked the seal on the black controller, opened it up, and discovered it does not have a glob top! It has a chip just like my first Cadet controller; however, it has an entirely different D-pad from my other Cadet. :-o

At first, everything looks okay and consistent with my other controller.

At first, everything looks okay and consistent with my other controller…

This is perhaps even more significant, because when I reassembled the black controller and finally tested it, I found it performs completely differently from the first controller: The D-pad on the black controller is so awful, it is basically unusable. Not only did it fail the slide test in SMB3 miserably, but I couldn’t even hold the Down button to make Mario duck for long. He kept walking to the right instead! That’s no good.

D-pad from the black Cadet controller. Note the extremely narrow pivot in the center.

D-pad from the black Cadet controller, received for free from Hyperkin. Note the rounded pivot in the center, which actually looks like the one in an NES controller, and most third-party knockoffs.

 

D-pad from the white Cadet controller, produced at least a few months earlier and purchased from Castlemania Games. Note the narrower, almost pointed pivot.

D-pad from the white Cadet controller, produced at least a few months earlier and purchased from Castlemania Games. Note the narrower, almost pointed pivot. This is definitely a different mold.

 

Silicon conductive membrane from the black Cadet controller.

Silicon conductive membrane from the black Cadet controller.

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BEHIND THE SONG Launch Party

If you’re in the Greater Philadelpia area, I hope to see you tomorrow at the Behind the Song launch party!

BehindTheSong

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new books out today!

I’ve been working on a lot of short stories lately, and today you can read a couple of new ones from me in two excellent young adult anthologies, Behind the Song, edited by K.M. Walton (S0urcebooks), and Feral Youth, edited by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon & Schuster). I’m proud of both of these pieces, and so honored and thrilled to have contributed to these collections with some true YA rock stars.

SoundtrackBehind the Song

A song to match everyone’s heartbeat.

A soaring melody, a pulse-pounding beat, a touching lyric: Music takes a moment and makes it a memory. It’s a universal language that can capture love, heartbreak, loss, soul searching, and wing spreading-all in the span of a few notes. In Behind the Song, fourteen acclaimed young adult authors and musicians share short stories and personal essays inspired by the songs, the albums, the musicians who move them.

So cue up the playlist and crank the volume. This is an anthology you’ll want to experience on repeat.

My contribution to Behind the Song is titled “City Girl”, inspired by one of my favorite songs, “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane. Here’s a brief excerpt:

ANARA TRUDGED THROUGH THE MONOTONOUS TREES, regretting the life choices that had brought her here. They were so far off the beaten path, the terrain was beating them—with low, whiplike branches and loose pebbles and crusty mud patches that were deeper
than they looked. Deep enough to slurp down one of your favorite shoes.

Anara and Trace weren’t supposed to be wandering in this wildlife sanctuary, so she had only herself to blame. She swallowed her frustration. Like the mud had swallowed her left sneaker clean off her damn foot.

Clean?

“Good point. Nothing about this expedition’s clean,” she muttered.

Feral_Youth_AvailNow

Feral Youth

Ten teens are left alone in the wilderness during a three-day survival test in this multi-authored novel edited by award-winning author Shaun David Hutchinson.

At Zeppelin Bend, an outdoor-education program designed to teach troubled youth the value of hard work, cooperation, and compassion, ten teens are left alone in the wild. The teens are a diverse group who come all walks of life, and were all sent to Zeppelin Bend as a last chance to get them to turn their lives around. They’ve just spent nearly two weeks hiking, working, learning to survive in the wilderness, and now their instructors have dropped them off eighteen miles from camp with no food, no water, and only their packs, and they’ll have to struggle to overcome their vast differences if they hope to survive.

Inspired by The Canterbury Tales, the characters in Feral Youth, each complex and damaged in their own ways, are enticed to tell a story (or two) with the promise of a cash prize. The stories range from noir-inspired revenge tales to mythological stories of fierce heroines and angry gods. And while few of the stories are claimed to be based in truth, they ultimately reveal more about the teller than the truth ever could.

My piece in Feral Youth, “Big Brother”, is very different from my usual, and it kind of surprised and shocked even me. Turns out this isn’t a story you should read at a family friendly bookstore event, though in my defense, no one warned me… Anyway, I love it when fiction takes me to new places and challenges me to grow as a writer, and I think it turned out great. Another brief excerpt, submitted for your approval:

You know that “Invisible Hand” video that went viral a couple of years ago? Of course you do. Everyone’s seen it. As of last month, the last time I had Internet access, it had over two-and-a-half billion views—almost as much as “Gangnam Style.” I bet if it were shorter and had music, if would be number one. Missed opportunities. On the other hand, people have cut it down and remixed it with everything from the Ghostbusters theme (too obvious) to Hamilton’s “Satisfied” (strangely satisfying), and there’s just no beating the original. Pun intended.

Okay, so if you haven’t seen it, you’ve probably heard about it, unless you’ve been living under a rock, or living without Wi-Fi, which is the same thing. The original video’s really long, about six hours—six hours, seven minutes, forty-two seconds to be exact. Sure, most viewers only watch a certain seventeen minutes near the beginning, but the length of the video helps make the case for its authenticity.

You really haven’t seen it? Okay. The video shows a pretty average teenage girl’s bedroom and a pretty average teenage girl sleeping in bed. The light’s on, which, yeah, maybe seems weird. A lot of people have pointed to that as evidence that it’s a hoax, but there’s a reason for it, trust me. And she’s sleeping on top of the covers with gym shorts and a tank top. There’s a book next to her, but you can’t quite make out what it is. It’s The Martian Chronicles.

You can hear me read more of this at the KGB Fantastic Fiction series here.

I hope you’ll consider checking out these anthologies; chances are, you’ll connect strongly with at least one of the stories in each of them, and even if you don’t enjoy mine, I can guarantee the other stories are amazing. If you do pick them up and read them, online reviews and recommendations to your book-loving friends are always greatly appreciated!

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RetroUSB Wireless Gamepad for NES and AVS Consoles

I’ve committed another video review — this time for a new wireless controller just released by RetroUSB.IMG_20170720_185051205

Designed by Brian “Bunnyboy” Parker, who also designed the RetroUSB AVS, a console that clones Nintendo Entertainment System hardware via a field programmable gate array (FPGA) for maximum accuracy and authenticity, the RetroUSB Wireless Gamepad (RET-GP) controller has been in the works for a while. It was worth the wait. Some of its highlights:

  • Retails for $65, available now for immediate shipping at www.retrousb.com
  • Wireless over RF, rather than Bluetooth, for minimum input lag
  • Microswitch/tactile buttons vs. traditional rubber membranes in OEM controllers
  • Rechargeable battery that lasts 100 hours
  • Instant on — no need to sync with the wireless receiver
  • Receivers can be assigned to up to four controllers for simultaneous play

I go into a lot of detail and test the controller out in my video review. Check it out if you’re wondering how those buttons sound!

IMG_20170720_185106572In the video, I noted that the casing was slightly separated below the lefthand grip. After I opened it up (see the teardown pics below) and reassembled it, the separation was less noticeable. It seems this isn’t a common occurrence, but it doesn’t bother me too much now.

Some other observations about the controller that didn’t make it into the video:

  • Although I never noticed lag using the 8Bitdo NES30 on my RetroN 5, when I used the RET-GP on the RetroN 5, I suddenly noticed a lack of lag. In other words, it seems ever so slightly more responsive than the NES30; the start of 2-1 in Ninja Gaiden III was a bit easier than it usually is. I’ll have to test more with this controller on my HDTV and a CRT, and I may do record a short video comparing its response times with the NES3o.
  • When using the turbo buttons, the red LED flashes to show you what speed setting you’re on. I’m just so impressed with the whole implementation of turbo on this controller, even if I rarely, if ever, use it.
  • When recharging the controller, you have to press a button to turn it on while it’s plugged in. The red LED will flash slowly to show that it’s recharging, and will glow steady when it is fully charged. I don’t know if it will charge while off, but I assume it will.
  • There’s no manual on/off switch for the controller. As soon as you press a button, it’s on — pretty much instantaneously. It powers off if it doesn’t receive any inputs for a while. I actually found this was really nice because I didn’t have to hold down a button combination for a few seconds like I do with the NES30 on my RetroN 5 (for Bluetooth pairing). I sometimes have trouble pairing the NES30 to the receiver on my NES Classic, and I wonder if people with NES30 receivers on their original console have the same problem. I’m considering getting an adapter to use original controllers on the NES Classic, so I can test whether the RET-GP works with it too.

Apparently you can transplant the guts of the RET-GP into an original NES controller, after modifying the shell. I don’t think I’ll bother with that, because I like the retro design and form factor of the RET-GP more, but here’s what’s inside for the curious:

IMG_20170720_185230131

IMG_20170720_185245010

IMG_20170720_185252130

IMG_20170720_185259714

So what do you think? Will you pick one of these up?

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Hyperkin Cadet NES Controller Video Review and Teardown

I’ve branched out a little from my weekly NES live streams and posted my first product review for the Hyperkin Cadet controller for the Nintendo Entertainment System and NES Classic Edition. (They also have USB versions, which I failed to mention in the video.)

I mainly did this because although I’d heard great things about the controller from many reviewers (and only one exception), I didn’t see anyone actually test one out for the things that usually are terrible in third-party NES controllers, particularly the D-pad, which often triggers diagonals accidentally. So I decided I needed to try it for myself. I’ve also been interested in what it looks like inside, since most knockoffs are pretty cheap, but I was pleasantly surprised. This controller looks very well made, with an actual chip like the original NES controller, rather than your typical “globtop”:

No black glob here! Just a real chip and a pretty clean looking PCB.

No black glob here! Just a real chip and a pretty clean looking PCB.

Here's the back. Not much to see here.

Here’s the back. Not much to see here.

The rubber membranes seem very similar to replacement parts for NES controllers.

The rubber membranes seem very similar to replacement parts for NES controllers.

Unfortunately, there's a screw hidden under that Hyperkin label.

Unfortunately, there’s a screw hidden under that Hyperkin label.

I doubt I’ll do too many of these, but I’m very interested in, and picky about, controllers and I thought these details might be helpful to anyone else who is curious or on the fence about these controllers. I’m already planning to review the just released RetroUSB wireless controller as well, which is about six times more expensive than this one.

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