Wednesday, 11 April 2018

The SH-400 Handle Controller

The Handle Controller: SH-400. Image courtesy of 'Sega Retro'. 
Last week, one of our readers, Anthony asked if we could expect any articles relating to the SG-1000's many peripherals. In response, I decided to rummage through my closet for the obscure SH-400. Let's take a look!

The SH-400 was released sometime in 1984, marketed as a wheel compatible with the SG-1000 and SC-3000's existing library of racing games. At the bottom of the box, it advertises compatibility with 'Safari Race', 'Zippy Race' and 'Monaco GP', but judging by the box art, it's fairly clear which title Sega's marketing team wanted to push most into the minds of prospective buyers. 

My box isn't in nearly as good condition as the one found on Sega Retro. 
Funnily enough, despite Monaco GP art being used for the front and back covers, screenshots of the game cannot be seen anywhere on the box. Instead, Safari Race game-play is displayed on both the top and sides of the packaging.

'Safari Race', the original lesser known Sega title featuring the Lancia Stratos.
The SH-400 is quite a simple device, basically just a standard controller with each of the buttons mapped to its different features; the steering wheel controls 'left' and 'right', gear stick 'up' and 'down', the left red button takes the place of button '1' and right red button as well as the horn in the centre of the wheel are both mapped to button '2'. Of course, unlike more modern wheels, the innards are entirely digital, as such steering sharply has no greater effect than light turns. The upside of this is that the entire SG-1000 and most of the Mark III library are compatible, although results vary depending on how playable the control setup is. Even Megadrive games can be played with the controller, providing the 'A' button isn't required. 

Suitable SG-1000 games for use with the SG-400.
The peripheral went on to form the base of the BH-400 Bike controller and is very similar in design to the second Handle controller marketed for use with the Master System, Megadrive and even Nintendo Famicom (Japan only), released in 1985 and 1989 respectively.

Left: BH-400 Bike Handle. Right: Handle Controller.
So, let's check out some games.

Apologies for my poor cable management skills.
The three advertised games, 'Monaco GP', 'Zippy Race' and 'Safari Race' all work fine, but surprise, surprise, it feels more of a gimmick built to please young children for ten minutes than an ideal control method. The wheel is able to spin in either direction infinitely, and due to the inputs being digital rather than analogue, there is zero reason to steer sharply, as slight nudges in either direction give the same effect. Sorry to always be the one to put a downer on things, but I'd take a regular controller over this child's toy any day.
GP World
As for later games not advertised on the box, both Hang On II and GP World are entirely playable and make good additions to the peripheral. The Pacman clone 'Pacar' on the other hand will work, but isn't ideal due to requiring the gear stick to make the car turn onto vertical lanes. As for Master System games...
Outrun, Good!
With the gears being controlled by the 'up' and 'down' directions of the d-pad, Outrun works just fine. Yay!
Alex Kidd BMX Trial, bad! 
Alex Kidd BMX Trial on the other hand requires the analogue paddle controller, and won't even allow you to progress past the title screen. Boo!

So there you have it guys, the SH-400 Handle Controller. In short, for games that use the d-pad to control gears, it works well, albeit perhaps not quite as well as a regular controller. Admittedly, had I been a child in the early 80's lucky enough to receive one as a present, I'm sure it would have blown my little mind...but as an adult in 2018, I just can't be arsed. 

Back into the closet you go!

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