Happ Controls Top Fire Joystick
Review by Kevin Steele
The Happ Controls Top Fire Joystick
Yes, I've already gone on record stating that this was my least favorite joystick. No, that opinion has not changed. Still, there is some good left in this joystick, and it does serve a useful purpose.
The Happ Controls Top Fire joystick is, at first glance, a modified Super joystick with a custom shaft and attached fire mechanism. It's surprising, then, that this small amount of change can so alter my opinion of a joystick.
A top-fire joystick can be a valuable asset on a control panel. There are times when a joystick with a fire button is not only helpful, it's almost essential. Games such as Tron, for example, which were designed to be played with one hand on a spinner and the other on a joystick, are almost unplayable without some sort of fire button built into the joystick. Battlezone, too, really requires the ability to shoot and move with the same hand.
The Top Fire meets this need by a special hollow shaft, which includes a button on the top of the joystick. A rod going through the shaft pushes on a metal leaf lever on the bottom of the joystick, which in turn activates a microswitch. It's a fairly reliable mechanism, although you'll need to gently bend the lever to get the right "sensitivity" for the button.
Because of the attached fire button, the installation of the Top Fire joystick is just a little bit more complicated than a normal installation, but not much. You just need to remove the bottom "nub" on the shaft that pushes the leaf lever before removing the shaft, and you'll need to take care not to bend or pop out the lever.
The lever and the microswitch both snap into place, so it's not a major crisis if you do manage to bump it out of place. The shaft is held into place with an "E" clip — attaching and removing an E-clip is an acquired skill, but one that is very useful to master if you're going to be installing joysticks!
The Top Fire joystick, despite being very similar to the Super, actually is in a class of its own for feel. It has a wide range of travel (17° off perpendicular), with a fairly long range of movement before engaging (10°). This gives it a somewhat "sloppy" feel, as you really need to push it in a direction before it registers.
The Happ Top Fire does have a very smooth circular motion, and an exceptionally generous range for diagonals (nearly 20°), which is great if you are trying to hit diagonals, and not so great if you're not.
What particularly frosts my opinion of this joystick, however, is the shape of the shaft. It's a singularly uncomfortable design, made worse by the molding that leaves a sharp ridge around the rim of the button. The shape is adequate when the joystick is used in games that need a top-fire button, but truly annoying when you try to use a "normal" grip on the joystick for other games.
Sound and Size
The Top-fire, sound-wise, is roughly equal to most other Happ joysticks. It's not silent, but as far as microswitch-based joysticks go, it's pretty quiet.
Size-wise, the Top Fire's handle at 2.75" is .25" higher than a Happs Competition joystick, and the 1.375" inch diameter grip is also slightly larger to the Competition joystick.
The Top Fire provides a light, fast gameplay that feels a bit "sloppy" in practice. The wide range of diagonals plays into this sloppy feeling as well, as you may inadvertently hit diagonals more often than you'd wish.
The discomfort of using the handle, however, is the thing that sticks with me the most. I simply cannot play with this joystick for long periods of time without taking breaks and "shaking out" my hand. Perhaps the handle is shaped just right to pinch a nerve in my hand — I don't know, but it's certainly hit a sore spot with me.
The following chart lists the joystick test results, current as of this review. The chart will continue to fill in with data as the "Joystick Roundup" continues.
A mediocre joystick with a unique function that makes it handy to have around, the Happs Top Fire is never going to win raves as the "best all around joystick." Still, it does have it's uses and can earn a place on your control panel (just don't make it your primary joystick!)
Special Thanks to SlikStik for loaning me the Happ Controls Top Fire for this review!