Review: NES Max (Nintendo)

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The NES-027, more commonly known as the NES Max, was another alternative controller released by Nintendo for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Unlike the traditional NES controller, the NES Max features some ergonomic touches, and offers a nifty “Cycloid” directional pad.

First, we’ve got to talk about the interesting directional pad. While it appears to be a psuedo analog style disc, it’s actually quite a bit simpler. The red thumb disc, as well as the outer black circle, are actually all one piece, and it works exactly like any other d-pad (visualize a Sega Genesis d-pad). Instead of your thumb sliding across a d-pad, there is a floating disc. You still have to press down to register a direction. The disc is merely a gimmick.

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So, if you’ve ever heard anyone complain about how the NES Max doesn’t self-center... they don’t understand how it works.

Anyway, while the NES Max “Cycloid” d-pad looks complicated, it’s actually very simple. And I suspect it’s that simplicity is why it works so well. I had no problems zipping through Super Mario Bros. 3 and Ninja Gaiden, and never had any issues with a lack of response. It just works.

Another feature of the NES Max controller are the turbo buttons. You don’t have any control over the speed of them like on the NES Advantage stick, but they work well. Sadly, they are located below the traditional A and B buttons, rather than above. So what you have is a diamond shaped configuration of buttons, with the top buttons being the primary ones... instead of the bottom being primary.

More than once during Super Mario Bros. I would be speeding along with the B button, and go to jump with the A button, and accidentally hit the Turbo button instead. And in a platformer, you need to long press the button for maximum height. Death ensued. Lame.

So in testing out the NES Max controller, I thought the strange looking disc shaped d-pad would give me trouble, but it’s the turbo button location that’s the real problem here.

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The build quality is typical Nintendo, and is good overall. It’s somewhat small, and is fairly light, but seems to have put up with 23 years of abuse with no problems. The plastic does seem prone to yellowing, and I’ve seen some pretty rough examples in the wild. Thankfully my specimen still retains it’s NES gray color. Unfortunately, the ribbed edges, which appear to be for grip, have a gap in the seam where the bottom and top halves meet. These ribs would occasionally dig into my hands. It’s minor, but worth noting.

Overall, the NES Max is a nice little NES controller and a great compliment to the standard pad. I can’t say I prefer it over the original rectangular controller, though the turbo buttons are great for run ‘n guns and shmups. I paid $4.99 for mine at the local pawn shop, and I’d say for that price it’s worth it. Even if you end up not liking it, it’s a neat little piece to add to your collection.

Performance 5/10 – The d-pad works great, turbo buttons are in the wrong spot
Build Quality 7/10 – Worthy of the Nintendo Seal of Quality
Value 7/10 – Cheap
Overall 6/10 – A neat addition to your NES collection