I've been curious about this controller, the Saturn 3D Analog Pad, for a long time, as far back as 1996 when it was originally released alongside Nights into Dreams. I finally caved last week and ordered one from Japan, it arrived last night and I was able to spend some time with it. I am usually pretty skeptical about additional accessories for consoles such as steering wheels, light guns, etc. due to their limited scope in terms of the games they support.
In the case of the Saturn I was pretty skeptical about the 3D Analog Pad because of mixed opinions regarding its necessity. The standard Saturn controller is pretty excellent, albeit a tad uncomfortable with fully 3D titles in my opinion, in particular games like Burning Rangers, Sonic R, Sonic 3D Flickies' Island, and a few others. Now the pad was primarily designed for Nights into Dreams (initially they were both released together as a bundle pack), and honestly, I was puzzled by this as I never had any problems playing the game with a standard Satrurn pad, hence the main reason why I was hesitant to get the 3D pad. However, last night when I finally got to use it, I realized that I had no idea what I was missing all this time.
I tried several games with the pad, the first was Sonic R and immediately I was able to appreciate the analog stick as it made turns and general movement so much smoother and fluid than before. I played several races and found myself enjoying the game a lot more than I did before. I actually had gotten very accustomed to using the standard pad after hours upon hours of playing the game, but now with the 3D Pad I look forward to pouring some more hours into it.
Sonic 3D Flickies' Island was next, easily among my least favorite Sonic games, I didn't like it one bit on the Mega Drive but I suppose the Saturn version is a far superior game for many reasons (superb exclusive soundtrack, 3D half-pipe special stages, better visuals and effects) but still suffers from cumbersome and sluggish game mechanics and controls. The 3D analog pad actually makes it significantly more playable and smooth from a mechanical standpoint, as it remedies virtually all of the control issues that always prevented me from enjoying the title (the game concept is still dumb....).
Next up was Nights into Dreams, and boy this is where the 3D Pad truly feels special! I couldn't believe I was playing the same game as the difference between the 3D Pad and the standard controller when playing Nights into Dreams is unbelievable! I didn't expect it at all. The 3D Pad and Nights into Dreams are a match made in heaven, easily surpassing my experience with the HD remake of the game using the Xbox 360 pad by a landslide. The game becomes 1000% more fluid, effortless, responsive, and completely dream-like with the 3D Pad. Sounds like bad advertising I know, but it needs to be experienced to be believed. The game just felt so much faster and better paced, it was almost like I was playing the game for the very first time in my life. I now feel like I've experienced Nights into Dreams the way it was always meant to be.
The 3D Analog pad itself is pretty nice from a design and ergonomic standpoint. It's quite big but it fits into your hands comfortably, with the face buttons and analog stick nicely laid out. To my surprise it's pretty light too, as I was expecting it to be a bit bulky and heavy. The analog stick is interesting, unlike contemporary analog sticks and nubs you see today but it works quite well, in particular it feels perfect when playing Nights into Dreams. The switch at the bottom lets you switch between the D-pad and the analog-stick controls, would have been nice if you could use both simultaneously but I guess this was among the earlier analog pads. My major gripe with the pad is the noticeably unresponsive and uncomfortable START button, it's made out of this weird rubber substance and I can't understand why when all of the other buttons are plastic.
Worth picking up if you own a Saturn? I would say yes because it allows for the absolute best Nights into Dreams experience, which is obviously a game you MUST own if you have a Saturn. Other than that, it supports a wide range of games, in particular it makes 3D titles on the Saturn much more enjoyable, games like Sonic R, Sonic 3D Flickies' Island, Burning Rangers, and some of the First Person Shooters that were pretty huge on the console. I was able to find a boxed 3D Analog Pad for $30, a little steep but worth it if you still play your Saturn regularly.