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It's Groovy, it Spins, it's the Turbo Twist Spinner by Groovy Game Gear!

OK, quick background story for those of you new to the hobby of Mame™ and Retro gaming in general.

A few years ago if you wished to play Breakout™, Arkanoid™ or the granddaddy of spinner games Tempest™ you had to use a mouse or at best a trackball.

 

Then came Oscar Controls.

Kelsey, of Oscar Controls created a line of fantastic spinners for home arcades that he engineered in his “laboratory”. For a few years he was the sole provider of spinners and quite frankly the home arcade community was OK with that.

Eventually, Kelsey move onto other endeavors and has temporarily closed Oscar. The built it yourself community mourned the loss of Oscar and briefly prices spiked for his products.

Thankfully over the last couple of years a number of vendors have produced spinners and I’m thrilled to have had the pleasure of reviewing the latest entrant into this area—Groovy Game Gear’s TurboTwist™ Arcade Spinner Control.

For consistency sake I am going to very closely model this review on Kevin’s past reviews of spinners and try to emulate Kevin’s excellent review style.

So…is the TurboTwist™ the new King of Spinners?...read on!

Overview

What you get, the Turbo Twist as shipped

Technical Specs

  • Default Set up- USB or PS2
  • Active axis choices: X, Y, Z
  • USB Device number: 1, 2, 3 or 4

Features (Highlights from Groovy Game Gear’s Site)

  • High-Performance Analog Comparable Resolution. Nearly three times that of any spinner currently in production.
  • Dual ball-bearing design and heavy steel "energy storage cylinder”.
  • CNC-Machined high-impact polymer frame.
  • High-Performance Custom Optical Interface. Using a special Opti-Wiz™ version as the foundation, the TurboTwist™ is USB and PS/2 compatible (requires optional plug adapters) and has a 10-pin header providing 2 more axes that may be used for additional optical controls
  • Adjustable Height. Can be used on everything from metal panels up to 3/4" wood with overlays.
  • Shiny Black Phenolic Spinner Knob
  • Compact Footprint. 2.4" x 2" x 3.18" (L x W x H)

First Impressions

Solid and “professional” looking.

I was really impressed with the attention to the physical build and details such as the custom encoder wheel (more on that later). It was extremely well put together and it looked like it would hold up under heavy use. I would go far as suggesting that it looks “arcade ready” for commercial use.

It has a really nice heavy feel (the physical unit—not the spin) and while the spinner knob isn’t all that impressive it does what it needs to do and well.

As mentioned in the specs above thankfully the spinner doesn’t take up much space at all—it’s a compact 2.4" x 2" x 3.18". So this is a pretty easy install.


Construction Details

The frame is made up of 3 individual pieces of approx. ½ inch think plastic in sort of a U shape held together by 2 large screws and bolts. While most of the spinners we’ve seen have metal frames, I think the plastic is more than sufficient for heavy-duty gaming and seems to be really solid.

The frame itself has screw holes in the top and bottom of the frame allowing for you to pass your screwdriver through the bottom of the unit so secure it to your panel.

The shaft is the apparently now “standard” 1/4 shaft allowing you to use the knob enclosed or any other knob that can be secured onto the shaft but more on that later.

The spin is SUPER smooth. Really, it feels great. I didn’t do any specific testing on spin time as I don’t think that has any real bearing on the use of a spinner in virtually every game you would use on. But it spins freely and smoothly and feels great.

 

What do You Get? What's Missing?


It came with a good quality 6’ USB cord, the spinner itself and a mounting diagram.

While the mounting and use are pretty self evident, some basic instructions would be nice for the casual or new user of home arcade spinners.

I initially thought that the unit would not fit my ¾ inch panel until I realized that I could adjust the shaft depth by loosening the Allen screws on the side of the weighted barrel. By doing that, I obtained the depth needed to allow the shaft enough clearance for the knob to be reattached and spin freely.

Also, even though it’s obvious now, until I realized that you could pass the screwdriver through the bottom of the unit to reach the mounting screws I thought I would have to take the unit part to mount it. These problems would have been alleviated by some basic instructions pointing this out.

The unit does not come with any mounting screws but obviously depending on your panel your going to have to figure out the correct screw for your particular mounting situation.


The Encoder Wheel


The encoder wheel is really unusual in that it’s a printed piece of plastic with the standard “teeth” of the wheel being printed onto the plastic disk.

At first I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but obviously Groovy Game Gear is onto something interesting as it works great! The tracking of the movement of the mouse is super smooth and doesn’t exhibit any of the “stuttering” that standard mouse hacks exhibit.

Nice stuff.

 

The Encoder Board


The board is a custom version of their standard Opti-Wiz™ which as per their specs “has a 10-pin header providing 2 more axes that may be used for additional optical controls. That's right, you can even hook a trackball up to it! There is also a 4-pin header for attaching up to 3 mouse buttons.”

I personally have a USB Happ Controls trackball, but I can see the appeal of taking a standard trackball, hooking it up to the spinners on board encoder board and then you’re in business!

If you’re not familiar with arcade trackballs, standard “arcade ready” ones are a bit less expensive than USB/PC ready ones (unless you go with the home use XArcade USB/PS2 trackball- which is not a true arcade part).

 

Testing With Games

OK, we now know it’s built well, and looks good…but how does it work in game play?

As Kevin did during his past spinner tests, one of the first things I wanted to do after installing the TurboTwist™ was to adjust the analog spinner settings in MAME for all of the spinner games I play.

To properly test the unit, I deleted my CFG files that had the settings for my Oscar spinner and allowed Mame™ to create the default ones.

The big surprise? Except for Tempest (more on this later)…..this little beauty worked with default Mame™ settings “out of the box”! I was really surprised by this….and pleased.

Some of the specific games I tested the spinner on included—

  • Kick™
  • Major Havoc™
  • Blasteroids™
  • Cameltry™
  • Arkanoid™
  • Tempest™
  • Super Breakout™

Virtually all of them worked flawlessly as I mentioned with little or no tweaks. I previously had an Oscar 3 Spinner installed on my cab and for that spinner to work properly I had to have the Analogue controls spinner speed cranked almost to the max to get an acceptable range of motion. Unfortunately, this caused a bit of the “stuttering/choppiness”. The TurboTwist™ was so sensitive that I had to actively lower the sensitivity in Mame™ on a couple of games below the default.

Ultimately I really only made minor changes to some of the cfg files for smooth game play.

All of the games I threw at this spinner worked great. I particularly was thrilled at the fact that I literally found my score in Arkanoid™ go up quite a bit with the new spinner. Having a quality part that does its job well really makes all of the difference.

 

Sounds Good but What About Backspin?


KEVIN'S EXPLAINATION ON BACK SPIN (from his Spinner Round up article on RetroBlast)--
If you haven't used a spinner, let me explain a bit about what backspin is, exactly. Basically, if a spinner spins faster than the encoder can recognize, the encoder may get “confused” about which direction the encoder wheel is moving — the end result is that the onscreen pointer/character will suddenly reverse direction in the middle of a fast spin. It may even reverse direction a couple of times, leaving you with a paddle or character suddenly “jumping” back and forth onscreen. Obviously, having backspin is bad. “

OK, the only game I had to spend any real time with to get to work well was Tempest™. The TurboTwist™ is so sensitive that the amount of backspin made the game virtually unplayable. I had to turn down the analogue sensitivity a lot, but ultimately I found the sweet spot that made the game very playable and reduced the backspin enough so that it’s not a negative factor in playing the game.

I’m not sure if it was my computer (?) or general Mame™ settings that caused this, but again, I only found this problem with Tempest™. While as Kevin did in his tests where he cranked up the sensitivity to “unreasonable levels” I was able to introduce backspin into all of the games when I did this….but it’s simply not a problem you’re going to find with this spinner.

 

Knob

As Henry Ford said, you can have it in any color as long as it’s black. For now the unit comes only with a black knob with a small screw on the side to secure it to the shaft.

But since the shaft is ¼” you can upgrade it to just about any knob you want from Oscar (try Ebay!) or other such vendors. When I installed the unit I put my Oscar Mame™ etched spinner knob onto it and it feels great.

Groovy Game Gear is working on a new spinner knob that looks really cool that will allow for you to insert a classic arcade game token or one of the new ones available at arcadetokens.com. It’s not ready yet, but should be available soon.

 

Mounting


Pretty much a no brainer. Drill hole. Screw into place. Attach knob. Plug in USB (or PS/2) cord. Enjoy.

Personally I was able to easily remove my Oscar Spinner and screw this one into place. The only problem I encountered was that the encoder board interfered with the hooks on my panel (these are the hooks used to attach a control panel to an arcade machine).

I was able to simply move the clamp down ½ “ and all was fine after that. Installation was simple. I’m sure you’ll have the same experience.


How Does the Spinner "Feel?"

OK, this is subjective. But in a side-by-side comparison with my Oscar 3 (which I still have installed on my cocktail machine) I really like the TurboTwist™ way more (sorry Oscar!). The Oscar almost feels too “heavy” in comparison. I tried playing Arkanoid™ on my cocktail using the Oscar spinner and on my stand up using the TurboTwist™ & there’s no contest for me in the feel. TurboTwist for me wins hand’s down.

Conclusion

I don’t have a full test bed of spinners to compare this to as Kevin did, but I think this is a well-built product that is guaranteed to bring you a ton of enjoyment.

I have absolutely no real complaints other than the lack of some basic directions (newbie’s may needs some help).

 

Is it worth $69?

There are more choices this year than ever before for spinners. I recommend that you read through Kevin’s reviews (he covers them all right here on RetroBlast) in addition to my comments on the TurboTwist™ in this review and make your own decision based on your mounting/financial constraints.

I think that the added ability to hook up a trackball directly to the encoder and the unique plastic encoder wheel make this a great value and for me is well worth the price of admission.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mitch Gerson, 37 years old, resides in Manhattan with his wife of 4 years. He discovered the magic of MAME™ around November of 2002. Two years and two complete arcade cabinets (one stand up and one cocktail, both built by the author) later he’s still going strong coming up with various custom peripherals for his arcade cabs with no end in sight. His, home arcade has now expanded into Pachislo machines and now includes Metal Slug, Jet Set Radio and Tekken as his favorite new toys.

Do you have a comment or question?

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Groovy Game Gear

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