hen they're not talking about games, Atarians usually can be heard discussing two other things - Why Atari did a certain thing, or on the other hand, why they didn't do something, and what the heck they were thinking in either case.
This falls into the category of "Why didn't they" - Why didn't Atari release the 7800 joypad in the United
States? Whatever the answer is, if you own a 7800 now, you should try and land a set of these great controllers.
Many would believe it was the Nintendo Entertainment System that first introduced the "pad" controller. It was quite a departure from the joystick first generation video gamers were accustomed to with the Atari 2600. Some made the transition happily, others had to adjust and some just found the entire controller awkward. Instead of a joystick that could be firmly held, there was a thumb pad, which believe it or not at the time seemed kinda weird; and instead of just one fire button, there were now two - a revolution at the time made standard by the proliferation of buttons on controllers.
But the NES wasn't the first. While most associate Atari systems with joysticks, an Atari system before the Jaguar had a pad too - the 7800. The joypad was constructed in Atari style, of black plastic with two red fire buttons. The pad itself is similar to a Lynx pad. Making the 7800 joypad different from the Nintendo pad or even the Lynx was that a tiny plastic thumb stick could be screwed into the pad - whether one uses it with the stick or without is a matter of personal preference. Atari was often ahead of its time on many fronts - the thumb stick would be seen again many years later on the Nintendo 64 controller and is now a common controller feature for systems like the
Playstation, Dreamcast and for computer controllers.
The Atari joypads came with 7800 consoles sold in Europe, while the system in the United States came with the ProLine controllers. This is a shame. While the ProLine controller was supposed to be an improvement over the infamous non-centering 5200 controller, they were not without their faults, which for many included the fact that they could be extremely uncomfortable to use, especially during extended play. The
joypads, however, don't have that problem.
While it's possible to use 2600-style controllers on the 7800, as some 7800 games only make use of one fire button, a 7800 controller is needed for games that require two buttons. And with the excellent games made for the 7800, a 7800 controller is a must have.
Both controllers can be found on eBay and from some online retailers. While both could be said to be good controllers, the joypads have the added value of being an interesting item. They may also be easier to use for gamers now completely accustomed to pads. They're compatible with the
2600/ 7800/ 400/ 800/ XL/ XE/ XE Game System as well as the Commodore VIC 20 and C64 computers.
If you set out in search of the 7800 joypads, best of luck. You'll be happy if you get them.
This article is inaccurate, in that the Euro 7800 gamepad was not the first D-Pad of sorts. The Nintendo Famicom (NES) was released in Japan in 1983, predating all releases of the Atari 7800. The 7800 did not debut in Europe until 1987. Even the NES debuted in Europe before the 7800, in 1986.