|The five beasts of the final judgement. (picture donated by Brian Johnson, aka Gundam_Pilot_).|
You know, sometimes I wonder why I do this. Why, just why do I insist on getting
rare, strange items for the sake of saying I own them? Is there really any other
reason than to say I do? Sure, perhaps I can provide a bit of history and the
ability to give insight to others who may be interested, I suppose that's a
possibility for something like this. Of what do I speak? I speak, my friends,
of the agonizing, obscure Cheetah CharacteriSticks [sic]. I have absolutely
no idea why any company in it's right mind would decide to create such monsters
as these accessories. The price to receive permission to make them must have
totally not equaled out for the money received from actual sales considering
they're incredibly hard to find, even loose. I mean check it out, you have the
Terminator in there, Bart Simpson, Batman (two varieties) and even the Alien,
some pretty famous characters. The cost to get these was certainly not pretty
and it wouldn't be a surprise if Cheetah tanked in one week after attempting
to market these things, but more on this later...
What are these beasts? Well, there they be up there. Get a good look at them. Keep in mind these are the NES versions. Since my camera failed in its task of taking a good picture of them together, I had to use another one until I purchase a digital camera. Not too much of a difference though, for you collectors out there, just make sure to look out for it saying "Sega Master System" on the box, as well as having a yellow, triangular sticker in the bottom right with "Sega Master System Compatible" instead of the blue ones you see in the photo. If loose, the plug at the end of the cord is the dead giveaway. At any rate, look at them, what nice boxes, they even have a plastic window to drool all over as well as box art to match each particular joystick. In the inside of the Alien3 joy's box, for example, you have a background taken directly from the movie! Wow! It looks like my joystick is real or I'm watching a film or something! Thanks Cheetah, these look great! I must say the CharacteriSticks are quite nice to look at, but something in their apperances points at their actual function. Simply stated, there isn't one. Before talking more about the company who's need for speed led to failure, allow me to explain why these totally suck if you actually want to play with them.
First we have the designs, not bad, they actually look quite good. You have the Alien3 joystick, Bart Simpson, Batman (The Animated Series), Batman Returns and the Terminator. Okay, pretty cool I suppose. They look nice with careful attention to detail, but there's a problem. As an example, check out the Alien3 joystick below. As you can see, the actual "stick" is the Alien itself, followed by Button 2 down there near the base. Well, hey, wait a second. Where's Button 1? Look on its neck. See that little, raised, rectangular spot I'm pointing at? Yeah, that would be Button 1. So, let's say you're playing Cyborg Hunter, and you're running along. You want to jump and attack, okay, so you press the button on the base and then the button under the Alien's head. I cannot explain in words how awkward this is (look below for an accurate representation). It's just ridiculous. Not only is the joystick unresponsive at times, but this arrangement makes for one of the most uncomfortable and unnecessary gaming experiences ever. Heck, at least the Sega Control Sick has both buttons next to each other, though it was made for lefties.
The Alien3 CharacteriStick in full bloom.
The CharacteriSticks, however, hide Button 1 in various locations to keep the
design elements flowing, such as Batman's wrist armor for the Batman Return's
joy, or Terminator's brow, looking simply like part of the robotic skull. I
admit, this is a clever design, but it's not so clever when you have to actually
use these things. The general bulkiness of the joysticks and the tiny bases
make them totally useless for actual play. If you don't have a floor to suction
them down to with the cups on the bottom, forget it entirely. You'll spend your
time flailing about, trying to get a grasp on the things, literally, occasionally
moving in the direction you want to go, or perhaps, if you're even luckier,
you'll actually be able to attack or jump depending on the game you're playing. It's one of history's great tradgedies, but there's just no reason for anyone
to use a Bart Simpson joystick instead of the tired-and-true Control Pad. Good
for display perhaps, but not for anything else as far as I'm concerned.
So who was Cheetah? Well, the company was started in the middle of the 1980s by two brothers, Howard and Michael Jacobson, making various joysticks for different systems. None of these were really anything of merit, typically the classic joystick with two buttons on either side of the grip. They did produce things such as a MIDI interface and drum synthesizer called the SpecDrum, but you'll usually find examples of their handiwork in the form of joysticks for everything from the Commodore 64 (the "Annihilator," which was surprisingly the default controller you'd get aside from the keyboard) to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum (the "125+"). Some, like the Annihilator, were notorious for causing wrist and hand cramps, not to mention being of poor quality and breaking in a few weeks. Then, in the early 1990s, after apparently having little success with their general joystick models other than the British market (they operated out of London and I actually have their old address), they decided to create a new line using famous characters from popular culture.
The CharacteriSticks, as they were called, were released for almost every system on the market during this time including the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Master System. Information is unfortunately scant on these particular joysticks, but as I mentioned above, considering their rarity they were likely not very popular and few were actually sold. It seems the Jacobson brothers may have been a little strapped for cash and, in hopes of reviving their ailing company, went on the path of pure advertising using the most popular characters they could get their hands on. This idea of course failed, and Cheetah's joysticks sank into oblivion where they belonged for only the most insane of collectors to unearth. But what happened to Cheetah, after bombs like the CharacteriSticks? You'd think that they, as I mentioned above, fell into utter ruin and left the video game world forever. However, after the Flight Simulation genre became more popular, something occured that could have been an eventual collecting disaster. Are you ready for this?
There is one secret I have yet to reveal. What be this? I was wondering why in the world a company would have wanted to create such abominations, and then I wondered what happened to said company since Cheetah joysticks seem to abruptly end during the age of the CharacteriSticks. Surely, if there is a divine presence that determines morality, Cheetah would not have survived after releasing these marketing mishaps onto the gaming community. Surely. Surely not, my friends. Somehow, as far as my research shows, these sickos mangaged to survive and actually still manufacture joysticks in California, USA, though the Jacobson brothers are no more and the company is under new ownership. Apparently, their niche was first discovered creating electronic musical equipment, and this led to developing controllers for flight simulators and security systems, though you can buy a few for video games. If you're really interested in checking it out, they're at www.chproducts.com Don't expect a response though unless you're buying something from their current line, they seem to want to deny their twisted past as much as I've tried to get a response out of them. Attempting to set up an interview with the fiends led to nothing, so I assume they're aware of their sins or have repressed the memories. I've heard from someone that their current line of products is actually quite good, but have no reason to test it myself since I don't own a security system and have never played a single flight simulator other than F-16 Fighting Falcon, which scarred me for life. The site claims their products are almost as good as real flying, and supposedly they are. I guess in the end anyone who starts out bad can end up for the better when they find the right direction instead of trying to cash in on a market already dominated by respected companies. Regardless, the Cheetah CharacteriSticks are hardly worth the effort to locate. They offer nothing unique to enhance gameplay for any game and there is no reason whatsoever to use them. Had they thrown in a rapid-fire feature, slow feature or something like that then yeah, perhaps, but as they are they're just sculptures pretending to be joysticks. They look nice, but clearly the goal here was to sell on character and not function. Luckily for us, the human race was not then stupid enough to fall for it.
See how easy they are to use!