Reviewed: July 22, 2002
Type: FreeStyler Board
I’ve been using ThrustMaster controllers since 1990, and over the past 12 years I have owned and used just about every single wheel, joystick, gamepad, weapons control system, and yes; even those famous pinball paddle buttons that attached to your keyboard. Those clever designers at ThrustMaster always seem to find that niche gaming market and create the perfect controller, so it was not a huge surprise when they released the FreeStyler Board for the PS2.
Snowboarding and skateboard games have descended upon the gaming world like a plague of locusts. These games range from hardcore sims to the crazier trick games with insane speeds and mad air. If you have played any of these games then you may have secretly envisioned yourself on the slopes while feverishly mashing the buttons and tweaking those dual sticks on the PS2 controller. The FreeStyler Board gets you that much close to the dream.
Here are some FreeStyler features:
Since the board only serves as a directional controller you will need to use the handy palm-controller for the rest of the buttons. This small device resembles a TV remote and fits into your palm giving you easy access to all the buttons found on your regular Dual Shock plus a 4-way D-pad. If you simply aren’t comfortable using this remote there is a place to plug in a regular controller at the base of the board.
Installation is a snap and consists of opening the box and plugging the cord into your PlayStation. There’s nothing special required to make this controller work with any PlayStation game that would benefit from such a controller. I tested this board with several games in my library and here are the results.
SSX and SSX Tricky were the first two games I fired up. I’ve been playing both of these games non-stop since the day they released and have taken most of the characters through all of the events and filled most of their trick books. I was anxious to see how this board would enhance an already-amazing snowboarding experience. The first thing I noticed was that these games require the use of the right thumbstick to punch and knock down other snowboarders. This meant I had to make immediate use of the controller port and plug in my Dual Shock almost defeating the purpose of the board. Then I found that the board was very twitchy and didn’t allow me the smooth turning motion of the analog thumbstick. The tilt sensors in the board either had me going straight or edging hard into the snow. Also, without front or rear tilt sensors I had to use the controller stick for front and back flips. With so much reliance on the regular controller, the board just seemed to get in the way and was more of a distraction than anything else.
Tony Hawk 3 is the definitive skateboarding game on any system, and using a board controller would seem like the obvious next step in putting the gamer into the game. Unfortunately, the novelty of the board wore off after only a few minutes. It was great fun in free skate mode but just wasn’t precise enough to pull off the tricks required for the career mode. While the board does a good job of turning your rider and an amazing job of allowing you to balance rail grinds, there is no forward or backward tilt making it impossible to perform and maintain “manuals” (riding on front or rear wheels only) for any length of time.
Transworld Surf was the final game I had that made sense to play with this controller, and while this is my least favorite of all the games I tested, it turned out to be the most fun. Surfing by nature is more suited to the left/right tilt of the board and there aren’t that many button commands used during gameplay other than to tweak some tricks. This allowed me to use the palm-controller, which combined with the board to make the perfect surfing experience.
When it comes down to deciding to purchase this controller you simply have to ask yourself how many games do you own (or plan on owning) that will make good use of it. There are plenty of games available that will “use” it, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they will play better or add any enjoyment. In most all of my tests the controller simply added additional awkwardness to some already-difficult games. Perhaps I was too used to playing with a Dual Shock, but for me it was like learning to type with my toes.
At $60, this controller is a major purchase; so make sure you have at least a few games that will support it and the patience to relearn the gameplay mechanics. Expect a steep learning curve, but if you stick with it the extra level of immersion may just be worth it.