Obscure 64 is a regular feature series that takes a look at some of the lesser known Nintendo 64 games and products. The system and its software library are so fascinating to many collectors because there are a lot of titles which were only released in Japan. As a result, many gamers didn’t (and, in some instances, still don’t) know about the many exciting N64 games and peripherals that never made their way to Western shores. In this first instalment, we take a closer look at the N64 Hori Mini Pad, a third-party controller that bears a strong resemblance to one of Nintendo’s later product.
The N64 Hori Mini Pad
The original Nintendo 64 controller is fondly remembered by many. Its novel three-pronged design, innovative joystick and oh-so-satisfying Z-button made it the perfect tool for fully experiencing what many games had to offer. During the system’s heyday there were numerous third-party controllers on the market that tried to replicate this, but very few ever came close. When it came to choosing between one of these knock-offs or the real deal, it was always an easy decision.
But what us naive Westerners didn’t realise as children was that there actually was a third-party alternative which didn’t just live up to the same standards as the original controller; it completely exceeded them.
Created by acclaimed Japanese peripheral manufacturer Hori and released late into the N64′s life, the N64 Hori Mini Pad sports a rather unusual design. This seems like an odd thing to say given that the original controller was anything but ordinary. Nevertheless, it feature a few key improvements over its first-party counterpart, such as a vastly better joystick. It was, unfortunately, only ever released in Japan, thus making it quite difficult for those of us in the West to get our grubby mitts on one.
What Makes it So Special?
You could be forgiven for mistakenly assuming that the N64 Hori Mini Pad is an early GameCube controller prototype. Gone is the trident-esque design in favour of a smaller, more generic shape (well, generic by today’s standards at least). Much like Nintendo’s version, the controller is available in a wealth of different colours.
The biggest improvement is found in the joystick, which is similar to the one found on the GameCube controller, albeit with a larger head. As many of you will probably be aware, the original N64 pads suffer from a slight design flaw, in which the stick becomes loose and less responsive after so much use. Essentially, the bottom of the stick grinds against the contacts found inside the analogue box, thus eventually causing it to lose its tightness. Joystick-intensive activites, such as those palm-destroying mini-games in Mario Party, are perhaps the biggest reason for exacerbating this. Thank heavens Nintendo removed these torturous ordeals in subsequent games. Thankfully, players will find that the stick’s lifespan will more or less match that of a GameCube controller.
Interestingly, Hori chose to swap around the positions of the D-Pad and joystick. The D-Pad, which on most N64 controllers is ostracised to the left along with the even more under-appreciated L button, sits neatly in the centre. Games like Turok benefit from this, simply because it’s just much more accessible. At the same time, the D-Pad is smaller, and you’re better off using the original controller for games that exclusively use it.
It’s worth noting that the overall size of the pad is considerably smaller than the original, so players with longer hands may dislike how bunched up the buttons seem (see the image above for an example of this). Nevertheless, the two handles are contoured to snugly fit your hands.
When it comes to the shoulder buttons, things get a little confusing. Your left index finger is granted easy access to the L button, and there’s a Z button on each side. It’s nice that you can choose which side to use, however, the way the buttons are placed is a little confusing. As you can see in the image above, L and R are directly opposite one another, with a Z button below each. While this may look normal enough, in most instances the player only uses Z and R. As a result, it can feel a bit awkward using these as your fingers aren’t level.
In terms of how it functions, the controller is just as responsive as the original. However, it does appear that the stick is much more sensitive. This can make aiming in some first-person games such as GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark a little difficult. Moreover, we found that in Mystical Ninja 2 Starring Goemon, the characters were able to move faster than they should have been able to (even Ebisumaru!).
Overall, the N64 Hori Mini Pad is a worthwhile upgrade. Sure, a first-party controller won’t set you back as much, and it’s certainly better to use one with certain games. But the stick on the Hori Pad is much more durable and that’s essentially what you’re investing in. If you’re a hardcore collector then you probably don’t need much convincing; the rarity factor of this product alone will be enough to sway you.
Where Can I Get it?
Your best bet is to wait for one to crop up on eBay. You’ll usually see a few available to purchase from Japanese sellers, although depending on where you live, you may have to pay a customs tax. Given that these controllers are rare outside of their homeland, this naturally jacks up the price a bit (around the $35-$60/£30-£50 mark). If you’re collector and absolutely must buy everything complete-in-box, then be prepared to pay more than double the above estimate. Certain colours fetch different prices, with the see-through pads typically attracting a higher asking price.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of Obscure 64, where we’ll take a look at more lost and forgotten N64 games and accessories.