Retro Scan of the Week: The Most Complicated Video Game Controller Ever Devised

September 4th, 2006 by Benj Edwards

Coleco Super Action Controllers

And you thought video game controllers were over-complicated these days; this one requires five (slightly-pudgy child) hands just to use it properly.

Take a look at this bad boy: four trigger buttons on the pistol-like grip (one per finger), twelve buttons in the overlay-friendly numeric keypad matrix on top, a one-dimensional "speed roller" wheel near the back, and an extremely flaccid red-knobbed joystick crowning it all. Combine this with the futuristic look of a gaudy black space gauntlet that literally engulfs your hand, and you've got the ColecoVision Super Action Controller. This marvel of controlling technology came in sets of two with a "Super Action Game" included — in my case, "Super Action Baseball." I'm lucky enough to have a pair essentially "new in box," so I grabbed these scans off the box itself.

Coleco Super Action ControllersIt's no secret that the ColecoVision's original controllers were absolutely horrible. In fact, they could only be surpassed by those of the earlier Intellivision in terms of "least ergonomic controller design ever." Obviously someone within Coleco noticed this fact and set out to design a super-ergonomic controller with a vengeance. But it seems they went a little overboard in the process: on the box it claims that the Super Action Controller is "the first video game [controller] that [gives] you individual control of 4 or more onscreen players." Sounds really simple and easy to use, doesn't it? With this amazing controller, you can control an entire baseball team with only one hand! Coleco was obviously way ahead of its time in this respect, as it seems the rest of the video game industry has still not caught up with their incredible insight into control of on-screen characters. Had Coleco gotten their way, we'd probably be playing five-on-five video basketball against ourselves (using one finger for each player) on a controller with twenty-five buttons. The extra fifteen are for the refs and the cheerleaders, of course.



48 Responses to “Retro Scan of the Week: The Most Complicated Video Game Controller Ever Devised”

  1. John H. Says:

    I remember, barely, seeing ads for this. And people think controllers are complicated today!

    It all seems like overkill for a machine with 17 total kilobytes of RAM.

  2. MegaKitsune Says:

    That thing, while unusable/impractical, is completely badass. ^_^

  3. gnome Says:

    And it did its part in inspiring the Atari JAguar controller too…

    (Great post!)

  4. brian Says:

    not quite but close the game steel batalion for x box had a controller with two joysticks and about 30 buttons

    http://rjbs.manxome.org/images/gaming/sbat-controller-done.jpg

  5. Jody Weissler Says:

    Remember the Star Raiders controller for the 2600 or what about the add-on for the 2600′s Omega Race.

  6. RedWolf Says:

    Well, you guys don't have to dispute me on this. My claim in the title is mostly a joke based on the first picture in the article. :)

    I'll definitely agree that, in a contest of complexity, the Steel Battalion monstrosity would win, hands down! But then again, that controller was specialized for one type of game, so I guess it should lose some points.

  7. Atarishark Says:

    I can't believe I never heard of this controller until now! Oh well, I am a huge fan of Suncom's SLik Stik. One button, with a just the right size ball on top…
    …makes me want to go back in time.

  8. Ryan Says:

    The blisters! The blisters! Super Action Football had the pass distance dependant on how hard you could roll the "speed roller" after throwing. My brother and I would play it for a week or so before we'd have to take a break to let the blisters heal.

  9. Rich Says:

    Wow, those were the coolest controllers! I was about 7-8 when I got them. That one-dimensional speed roller made stealing bases so fun.

    Coleco Vision was just ahead of everyone when it came out. My dad was smart in buying it. He could have easily purchased the lame Atari like every other kid in the neighborhood. I even had the steering wheel setup for Turbo. I miss my Zaxxon, Mr.Do and Smurf, lol.

  10. Rob Says:

    I still have my ColecoVision and most, if not all of the accessories…Including 2 Super Action Controllers with the games and keypad overlays that go on this controller.

  11. Buzzsaw Says:

    I think you meant "phallic," not "flaccid." There's really nothing flaccid about that big red knob on a stick.

  12. I Think I Broke It » Why Does That Exist? Says:

    […] From Vintage Computing comes this pic of the stupidest controller I’ve ever seen: […]

  13. RedWolf Says:

    No, I meant flaccid, as in "soft and limp; not firm." The joystick has little resistance when you move it around. It's quite wimpy and a little squishy, really. And yes, it could definitely be seen as phallic as well.

  14. KCK Says:

    Nowadays we scoff at a console controller with less than 8 buttons. I remember how amazing it was to have DOUBLE the regular number (coleco controllers had 2 buttons) of buttons when these first came out. My favorite was some sort of Rocky boxing as i recall. High punch, high block, body punch, body block all without having to reuse a button :-)

  15. Matthew Says:

    I went through 3 sets of these controllers playing Super Play Action Baseball. To this day, this was still my favorite controller of all time and actually was the most intuitive, easy to use controller ever.

  16. The Most Complicated Video Game Controller Ever Devised « Tech Meat Says:

    […] read more | digg story […]

  17. Franklin Says:

    The Super Action Controller… it's BAD…!

  18. Tim Says:

    I agree with the few others who were lucky enough to use this, this was a GREAT controller. Super Action Baseball is still my favorite baseball game of all time. The speed-roller made it a much more exciting game.

    The blisters were horrendous, though, and I think it broke a lot (had to return it for a replacement).

  19. web design uk Says:

    My god look at that thing. Good article!

  20. ExtraLife - Scott Johnson’s Comics, Podcasts, Blog, Artwork, Humor and MORE! » Blog Archive » Most Complicated Controller Ever Says:

    […] And here’s me thinking the was confusing enough. Vintage Computer & Gaming have posted what has to be the most complicated game controller ever created. The controller in question? It has to be the ColecoVision Super Action Controller of course. The controller boasts an over overwhelming 16 buttons, a wheel mouse and a joystick. Aside from having an extensive plethera of buttons and an extremely awkward layout, there seems to be some redundant features going on. What possible use could the “speed roller” wheel have? […]

  21. Ombwah Says:

    I remember these! I wanted a Coleco so bad, not that I could complain, my Vectrex, Apple II, TI-99 4-a etc. kept me happily plugged in…

    However,

    I absolutely refute the author’s claim that the Intellivision controller was ‘less ergonomic’ than this Colecovision controller.

    In fact, just to rub that guy’s nose in it, I would point to the predominance of two handed controller schemes since that rely on one hand to steady the controller while the thumb of the other ‘glides’ over a continuous or nearly continuous control surface. Even the patented and much lauded Nintendo ‘D-Pad’ X shape is derivative.

    But, I’m just a game snob I guess ;)

    Good find on the scan, ah, good times!

  22. RedWolf Says:

    Ombwah,

    Thanks for your great comment. Really glad you like the scans.

    As for the Intellivision controllers — regardless of how innovative or not they were, I still stand by my personal opinion of them not being ergonomic. That is, I find them very uncomfortable, awkward, and clumsy to hold as I play Intellivision games (no matter how I try to hold them), and yes, I have played many.

    Still, all this is yet another case of "to each his own," and actually, in your support I'll give you a link to a cool write up I found by someone who shares your love of the Intellivision controller. It's worth a read:

    http://www.classicgaming.com/features/articles/intcont/

    Thanks again for the comment.

  23. Ryancv Says:

    Anybody ever use one of those? They probably wouldn't want to remember them using it tho….

  24. directionzero Says:

    That thing rocks! I've never used that particular controller but it actually looks pretty good! I always wanted a coleco - it was so much superior to the 2600 at the time. I remember a friend having one and we played that Rocky game. So much fun.

  25. Le plus meilleur gampad au monde ! « Blogue de Babalou Says:

    […] VintageComputing […]

  26. Old Skool Says:

    I remember playing Rocky 3 with this controller and it ended up being easier using the controller as real boxing glove (nice plastic knuckleguard) to whoop on him

  27. gratte Says:

    Wow! I had a set of those; the speedwheel really made it. Baseball was awesome and football was good, but my favorite was Front Line (arcade conversion). You could control your "shooting arm" independent of your character's walking & driving. Really added a lot to the gameplay.

  28. adrian Says:

    the absurdity of controlling four on-screen players (with one brain)…not to mention the 'custom' template that slipped on top of the keyboard. it is totally badass.

  29. Ludologia» Blog Archive » Ergonightmare Says:

    […] The scan-happy fellows at VintageComputing have dug up this ad for Coleco’s all-in-wonder approach to player control with its Colecovision Super Action Controller set. The punchline might be in the unhelpful illustration itself, indicating that maximal usage would require not just an extra pair of hands, but an additional third to handle the unit’s custom grip. Granted, there might not have ever been plans for a game to utilize all of the controller’s features at once, but even still, with the advertisement torturously exclaiming it could give players “individual control over 4 or more on-screen players,” someone was clearly thinking stratospheres away from inside the box, and starting down a failed path that, even up to now, it seems we’ve been able to avoid. […]

  30. MAP Says:

    I love it! Wow does this ever bring back fond memories of boxing with the contron, both figuratively and literally. We always had to have a 'to the death match' afterwards. My dad hooked me up at a ripe young age, around the same era as the betamax VCR as I recall. Thanks for the nostalgia.

  31. Mike Says:

    Awesome article. I've tried to describe these controllers for years and people never believed me that they existed - or couldn't comprehend it. I had these and played the baseball game constantly. I don't remember controlling four players at once but I do remember the infielder controls to this day. Each trigger controlled one of the basemen and the pitcher, but controlling the SS demanded zen-like reflexes of pressing both of the two middle buttons at once, while using the joystick. The roller wheel was truly awesome, allowing you to steal a base by slapping the hell out of your controller. Plus using these big boys really built up your biceps!

    There were two problems with these controllers. First, there was such a learning curve that your non-Coleco friends didn't stand a chance of putting up a competitive fight against you. Secondly, without proof, I think these controllers had some sort of bug that destroyed the systems. My ColecoVision worked fine for years and then after a month or so with Baseball the whole Coleco console broke. I replaced it and the same thing happened to the new one. Then a third time. No more Super Controllers after that.

    Thanks for the flashback.

  32. TexBlog : A walk down video game memory lane Says:

    […] BTW, Colecovision had one of the coolest joysticks of all time!  While it looks turbo-complicated, it's was actually, surprisingly very playable.  Even the name is badass: Super Action Controller. […]

  33. The RC Says:

    This things were awesome … and they weren't that hard to work believe it or not.

  34. Kip Winger Says:

    The keypad buttons were pretty much useless i.e. not used in fast twitchy gameplay situations, and otherwise it wasn't that complicated of a controller. It took some getting used to using each individual finger per button. Even with the mostly unused keypad pushing the button total over that of the average modern controller, a modern controller, with 2 separate control sticks, a 4 way directional pad, a pair of "start" and "back/select" buttons, 4-6 face buttons, and 2-4 shoulder/trigger buttons all constantly used in numerous combinations and quick succession, is FAR more complicated to use. This controller wasn't complicated, it just had a pointless keypad added onto it.

  35. Rob B. Says:

    Talk about a learning curve, I remember being so frustrated when I first played the baseball game because the ball would get hit to the shortstop and I would freakout and sqeeze all four fingers at the same time because I couldn't remember which finger made the shortstop move. Then I progressed to just pushing the wrong button from time to time untill I mastered it. The problem then of coarse was that the "AI" (play vrs. game) was no where near as fast as I was, like I'm neo or something lol and whenever I would have friends over they were clueless as to how to use the thing. I tried to teach eveyone but nobody got the ten minute tutorial. I allways wished I had friends with one at home to practice with but everyone had an atari. Like having an NES when everone had a commodore 64, remember that?? Get with it people!! lol. Anyway thanks for the memories, that controller rocked, makes me wish they had an updated version, with all the online play in 2007, finding adaquate competition is never an issue anymore!!

  36. airjordan Says:

    Wow! I had a set of those; the speedwheel really made it. Baseball was awesome and football was good, but my favorite was Front Line (arcade conversion). You could control your “shooting arm” independent of your character’s walking & driving. Really added a lot to the gameplay.

  37. heath Says:

    where can I buy the controllers? anyone?

  38. nikeshoes Says:

    I agree with the few others who were lucky enough to use this, this was a GREAT controller. Super Action Baseball is still my favorite baseball game of all time.

  39. me Says:

    Football was so awesome because of the speed wheel. I used to try to throw only REALLY long passes (e.g. 50-80 yds) and it wasn't all that hard to complete them either. Also, there was a trick I always used to use when playing a friend. It only worked if you put your WR in motion and the defense did so as well (but about a second after you did). You then had to hike the ball before the WR was done finishing his "motion". At that point the WR would fly down the field (no defender could cover him) and you could throw an 80 yd TD. Ah the memories!

  40. Donny Says:

    I agree…

  41. Alex Says:

    I had a pair of these on my Colecovision and I'm terribly sad that I no longer have the whole system including these. They were incredibly rare and difficult to find in my area, and I think I was the only person in my middle school who had ever had them. I remember waiting more than six months to get them after placing the initial order and calling almost every day to my local electronics store to find out when they were coming in.

    I drove the manager there absolutely crazy, but eventually they arrived and I had them. And as others here noted, they were an incredible improvement over the original controllers supplied with the Colecovision. Just having them made me feel like a videogaming celebrity, and I totally outclassed all my buddies by having the only set in my town.

    Absolutely awesome. You're a lucky man to have them original NIB. I would pay big money for them today if I wanted a "reference" Colecovision system.

    By the time they introduced these controllers, Coleco was obviously having problems with the rest of its ADAM product line and that's why they were so rare, I have the feeling. Soon afterwards ADAM sunk Coleco for good and that was the end of that.

    But these controllers were phenomenal, and I loved them.

  42. 租車 Says:

    I agree with the few others who were lucky enough to use this

  43. Air Jordans Says:

    Wow, haha I remember that old thing, that is so old school. I actually forgot about that system. Good nostalgic memory of collecovision times, thanks.

  44. gangst Says:

    i have that controller if anyone wants to buy it, its very rare.
    the knuckle gaurd is so the other player cant se your moves when your boxing or playing baseball

  45. 瑜珈 Says:

    I agree with the few others who were lucky enough to use this, this was a GREAT controller. Super Action Baseball is still my favorite baseball game of all time.

  46. Jenny Weeds Says:

    Wow! I had a set of those; the speedwheel really made it. Baseball was awesome and football was good, but my favorite was Front Line (arcade conversion). You could control your “shooting arm” independent of your character’s walking & driving. Really added a lot to the gameplay.

  47. dave Says:

    I have one of these,
    Is the speedwheel supposed to have 0 resistance or is mine broken?

  48. A-Dog Says:

    As far as I'm concerned, Colecovision was just another run of the mill system until the super action controllers came out. I remember my brother and I playing S.A. Football for hours on end. It was the very begining of a video-sports rivalry that still rages today. In fact, we'll be watching real football games now and he'll still do the, "beep …. beep-beep" on 3rd downs, 25 years later. Those of you that played, know what I'm talking about. What great memories I have of those times.

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