Last Saturday, there was this Xbox fair in a mall in Singapore. Naturally, it was about the Kinect and naturally it attracted a huge family type crowd. I went there around 2pm to see what the fuss was about and actually try out Dance Central, when i spotted the new 360 controller with the twistable dpad on sale. There was 2 left so i got one and thus here is my hands on impression of it.
The Pad itself comes with a play and charge kit and a casing for for regular alkaline or rechargeable AA batteries. Its grey in colour, almost reminiscent of the limited edition Halo Reach pad sans the artwork and Halo markings. The face buttons aren't the usual yellow, green, red and blue but instead comes in a shade of grey to white. X being dark grey, B is a lighter grey than X, A is a shade lighter than B and Y is white. The bumper and trigger buttons are black.
There's changes to the thumbsticks too. The 4 tiny nubs on the previous versions of the sticks are gone. Its now replaced with a circular indented groove on both thumbsticks. Its where you're supposed to rest your thumbs while giving it a comfortable feel to it.
The main feature of this pad is of course the twisting d-pad. The original 360 pad is a bane for traditional d-pad users who play platform games or fighting games. It doesn't register where it should and its difficult to make special move dpad movements on fighting games. Microsoft attempts to solve this problem by having the dpad issue by making it turn from the standard disc configuration to the plus (+) configuration by twisting it, either to the clockwise or anti clockwise direction.
The result is that twisting the pad makes the corner bits of the disc go down so that the plus configuration is more pronounced
But does it make any improvements? I tried the dpad out on 2 games. Pac Man CE DX and Super Street Fighter 4
On Pac Man CE DX, i used the Plus configuration. It started well but when the game speed started to increase and the game more frantic, the flaws began to show. There were times i tried to press left or right to move to the maze but it registers as going down or up instead. This is somewhat better than playing it on the disc configuration. Its just not precise as the plus configuration and its hard to maneuver through the maze using it even on lower game speeds.
On SSF4, i used Sagat to test out the controller. I tried in on training mode with a dummy CPU opponent. It registers quarter-circle moves fine but I had to input 2 quarter-circle moves to register a tiger uppercut or tiger knee. I usually use a joystick to play SSF4 so maybe d-pads in general may not be as precise in registering dragon punch inputs on it. I may be wrong.
Other than that most moves seems to work well with the Plus configuration. I also tried using Guile to test out charge moves and it seems to register decently, although it took me me a few tries to get the timing right and i just can't seem to get his Double Flash super combo to work on it. Of course this is all done with a non reactive CPU. I haven't tried it against the CPU proper or with a human opponent, offline or online.
To sum everything up, the plus d-pad configuration seems to improve on the flaws of the disc d-pad configuration on the existing 360 controllers, although i have to wonder why don't they just keep it that way instead of making you twist it and keeping the older d-pad configuration. Its still not as precise as its rival, the Dualshock 3 but its decent for what it is.