Remember the NES Max? It was a weird boomerang-shaped controller from 1988 that was, like so many things, ahead of its time. Decades later, a retro modder has given the peripheral a more modern feel—specifically, the feel of an Xbox One analog stick.
Modder Nick Neitzel recently shared his creation on Reddit and YouTube, which replaces the NES Max’s round, 360-degree direction pad with analog sticks from Dualshocks. “I like the nesmax for how ahead of its time it seems,” Neitzel said in an email to Kotaku. “Four face buttons, 2 of which were turbo, and its ergonomic design.” While the slider was also a novel concept (one that wouldn’t be revisited until the 3DS), it’s got nothing on a good stick. “I grabbed some old ps2 controllers and modified the analog bits to send signals the NES could understand,” he said. Then he used Xbox One analog nubs for the input.
While the NES Max only recognizes eight different directions—up, down, left, right and the associated diagonals—being able to slide between them with the ease of a rubbery analog stick from decades later is a big advantage. “I modified the potentiometers inside of the analog stick to send on/off signals instead of resistance values,” he said. “So you don’t have to be dead on to go the right direction.”
Variations on this type of mod have been done before, but they usually revolve around simply replacing the top of the slider with a rubber nub cut to fit in the slot rather than a full replacement. Neitzel says the advantage to his is it’s much more responsive and fluid.
Why would someone do this? Well in Neitzel’s case, it for Jackal, Konami’s 1988 overhead shoot ‘em up. “I actually found out about the NES Max after I got back into collecting,” he said. “An NES lot I got from a friend had one in there and after I tried it on Jackal I knew I had to convert it.” While his modded NES Max was designed specifically with Jackal in mind, Neitzel said it also works will with other games from that era and genre like Guerilla War, Heavy Barrel, and Gun-Nac.
In part that’s because the NES Max had something else regular NES controllers didn’t have: two turbo buttons. The NES Advantage, modeled after an arcade stick, had these as well, but it’s also bigger and clunkier. The smaller form factor of the NES Max paired with a mini-joystick ends up being the best of both worlds and perfect for retro shooters, which is why he plans to start making more if he can source enough parts. No more calloused thumbs while playing Gremlins 2!