I’m on a quest to find myself the perfect retro 90s joystick for my retro gaming PC. After searching long and hard, I made a list of six top-quality PC-gaming joysticks from the 90s and I bought all six. Now we’re going to pit them against one another in a fight to the death! How do you determine the best gaming joystick for a 90s retro PC? I’m looking at four factors: Looks, feels, function and value for money. Whichever joystick scores the highest out of these categories will become my regular retro PC gaming joystick.
A couple of points – I’m looking for a gaming joystick, not a full HOTAS setup. Secondly, these retro 90s joysticks are gameport joysticks, not USB. This means they’ll work far better in both DOS and Windows and should be a lot easier to install on my Windows 98 gaming PC. Lastly I will be testing these joysticks with the excellent Windows shooter Fury 3, for no reason other than it’s an awesome game. Going to head to head we have the Microsoft Sidewinder 3D Pro, the Logitech Wingman, the ThrustMaster Top Gun, the Gravis Blackhawk and the Saitek Cyborg 2000. We have a last-minute new challenger in the guise of the CH Gamestick, which I won on eBay for 83p delivered!
Retro PC Joystick Review
First up is the Microsoft Sidewinder 3D Pro. Microsoft have always made good gaming hardware and the Sidewinder PC peripherals from the 90s are amongst the best.
- Looks-wise the Sidewinder does it for me. The 3D Pro is a game-agnostic joystick and that shows in its design. It’s effortlessly simple, with clean lines and a tasteful colour scheme making this probably the coolest-looking stick on the list.
- When it comes to feel though, the 3D Pro falls a little short. That minimalist geometric design starts to hurt your hand after a while, and so the Sidewinder falls short of some of the more ergonomic joysticks in this list.
- Functionally, the 3D Pro is a mixed bag. The joystick features a ton of buttons, an 8-way POV hat, a throttle slider and a z-axis rudder control. The 3D Pro also has clever optical tracking components, opposed to an analogue gimble, which means that the joystick isn’t as subject to drift over years of use. However, installing this stick was a headache. Due to poor future-proofing, the standard drivers for this need a bit of jiggery-pokery to get the joystick working. Not the end of the world but other sticks work right out of the box.
- In terms of value, the Sidewinder is fab. Released around the $95 mark, it was intended for everyone. I picked mine up for 99p local collection on eBay, so that’s a huge plus!
- Face it, the Wingman looks ace. Whether you had the beige budget version or this top-flight joystick, the Wingman was just a marvel of nineties curvy plastic. An absolutely top colour scheme, with bonus points for being purple.
- It looks good, it feels good! The Wingman’s super-ergonomic joystick just sits so right in my hand. It’s a good job I’m right-handed as this would likely be a nightmare for a southpaw. As for me though, this is a shoe-in, probably the most comfortable stick on the list.
- Very good points for function too. There’s a good chunk of buttons, a direction hat and a slider control, all in easy reach and all with a nice clicky response, even after all these years. The stick does feel a little spongy though, that’s probably from too many good times.
- In its heyday the Wingman was the go-to joystick, with OEM sticks being given away with new PCs, as well as a budget line just missing a few features. This stick cost me £4.50 in Sue Ryder in Northampton which I think is about right, for what is still considered the everyman’s gaming joystick.
Number three is the Thrustmaster Top Gun. This officially-licensed joystick was released some ten years after its namesake, but comes from arguably the biggest name in simulation gaming.
- Starting out, this joystick looks like it was ripped right out of a fighter jet, and that’s almost the case. Thrustmaster are famous for their attention to detail and the Top Gun is straight out of Maverick’s F-14 cockpit. With that oversized hat and the big red buttons, the Thrustmaster certainly looks the business.
- As for feel, it’s not quite for me. This joystick was bought brand new, still in the packaging, so is the only stick that was a virgin before I got my hands on it. The stick feels too stiff for my tastes and the weighted bottom needs a firm grip in the turns. It might need some breaking in, but off the bat it’s all too tight for my liking.
- Functionality seems to be quite sparse on the Thrustmaster Top Gun. It has a four-way hat, a trigger and three buttons. It’s certainly a bit spartan if you’re looking to do more than just fly around, so it loses marks here too.
- As a brand-new-in-box joystick, this was the most expensive joystick on the list, costing £8 delivered. The modern equivalent is probably the Thrustmaster Warthog, which costs around £130, so that seems fitting. The stick did come bundled with a free copy of Tomb Raider though, which is ace.
Fourth on the list is the Gravis Blackhawk. Gravis are well-known for their line of sound cards, gameport cards and PC gaming peripherals and the Blackhawk is well-known to flight sim aficionados.
- It needs to be said, this is an ugly joystick. The giant molded base and the short stick makes the Blackhawk look dumpy and bottom-heavy. It’s a nasty stick BUT I am almost certain that the Manual Steering Column used by Riker in Star Trek Insurrection is a Gravis Blackhawk. Obviously absolutely loads of bonus points for that.
- Those ugly looks belie a pretty decent-feeling stick. This must be why so many people still swear by their Blackhawk. The gimble is lovely and smooth and that lower centre of gravity is more forgiving on the wrist, which is lovely.
- The Gravis Blackhawk is a three-axis, four-button stick. Even more spartan than the Top Gun, the Blackhawk even lacks a POV hat. Supposedly this heightens its compatibility with modern machines but that’s not what I’m after today.
- As for value, the Gravis stick was £6 delivered, making it the second most expensive stick on the list. Gravis still sell this joystick with an RRP of $60. Considering that I’ve picked up better sticks for much less, the Blackhawk loses a lot of points for value.
The most contemporary joystick on this list, the Saitek Cyborg 2000 was released in – you guessed it – the year 1999. Saitek have been making PC peripherals forever and the Cyborg is something to behold.
- Immediately, the Cyborg 2000 is the most futuristic-looking stick. All those bolts and screws, the metal plating, that big utilitarian spring… Top marks for looks, Saitek.
- This is where it gets interesting. Those bolts aren’t just for looks. Using the included Allen key, the Saitek Cyborg 2000 can be completely customised; hand rests can be moved, the head angle can be adjusted and the whole operation can be changed from right-handed to left-handed. Top marks!
- In addition to the customisation, the Cyborg is choc-a-bloc with buttons. The thrust handle is a lovely feature and the stick installs perfectly under standard Windows drivers with no additional software.
- The Cyborg was dead in the middle when it came to value, costing me £4 delivered. A modern Cyborg will run you around £50, so again the price is really aggressive.
Last but by no means least, our last-minute entry, the CH Gamestick. CH are famous for being one of the first manufacturers out of the gate making joysticks and some of the real vintage sticks are immensely expensive. The Gamestick though was intended to be a budget stick for all-comers.
- Christ alive, this is by far the ugliest stick on the list. The CH loses about a million points for actually looking like a massive dildo. Seriously, playing with this thing on your lap is just embarrassing. If someone comes in the room which you’re waggling this thing about, you will never live it down.
- Okay so looks aren’t everything. It’s actually pretty comfortable and it’s ambidextrous which is definitely a plus point.
- Three buttons, no hat and that nasty little throttle control make this stick no fun to play with. Using that throttle is like trying to use the volume wheel on a tape Walkman, for those who remember it. For those who don’t TL;DR: It sucks.
- Actually one thing this stick has is value. It was designed as a genuine entry-level stick, and it certainly succeeds in that. These don’t come up too often, but when they do they never command a high price. The poor bloke who sold me this got 83p delivered, and he shipped it from ISRAEL.
Old PC Joysticks Roundup
So there we have it. The scores are in and in order from worst to best we have the Gravis Blackhawk with 9 points, the Thrustmaster Top Gun in with 10, the CH Gamestick scored 11 points and the Microsoft SideWinder 3D Pro scored 13. In second place with 15 points is the Logitech Wingman Extreme but the all-round winner and no real surprise is the excellent Saitek Cyborg 2000. A fantastic combination of looks, functionality and value for money, the Saitek Cyborg is officially The Game Show’s choice for best PC joystick for retro PC gaming.