Review by Kevin Steele
Updated June 2004: The review
has been updated to reflect the latest version of the Tornado spinner
and knobs, including the larger black-oxide coated flywheel and shaft
and the integrated custom encoder.
I have a small confession to make. I almost didn't
add the spinner option when I ordered my SlikStik, simply because I didn't
think I would use a spinner enough to justify the additional cost. I
knew that I could always use the trackball to “simulate” a
spinner, and that would be good enough, I reasoned. At the last minute
I added the spinner to my order, but I still doubted whether I really
Soon after I got my SlikStik unit, however, I quickly
learned just how wonderful a spinner can be. Games such as Arkanoid and
Tempest were a thrill to play once again. Then I bought a new aluminum
knob for the spinner, and it was even better. My slide into spinner addiction
had begun. I became a spinner connoisseur, obsessed with making it as
smooth, fast, and responsive as I could make it.
Now, as I sit here reviewing the SlikStik
Tornado spinner, I realize there's no turning back. The spinner
madness has completely overtaken me.
The first thing that I noticed about the Tornado, even
before I opened the box, was the weight — I was surprised that
the small box it came in weighed so much. Once I opened the box, I saw
why: the Tornado was every bit as sturdy as it looked in the pictures.
It's an all-metal M1 tank of a controller.
The SlikStik Tornado with Integrated Encoder Board
The design is extremely well thought-out, with an aluminum
bracket holding the shaft in place with two pressure-fit bearings, a
large flyweight, a metal encoder wheel and the attached custom encoder
board. Your choice of three different aluminum knob styles tops off the
unit. It's a professional-looking piece of equipment, and it's obvious
that a lot of care and attention went into its creation.
The Tornado spinner design uses a dual pressure-fit
bearing system and a sturdy aluminum bracket to ensure that the shaft
stays true and straight, while at the same time greatly reducing friction.
The bracket design also keeps the encoder wheel properly aligned with
the encoder board, which simplifies installing the unit. The bracket
even has cutout notches on the back to allow you to keep your screwdriver
straight when inserting the mounting screws, a very nice touch.
Back View of the Tornado
The bearings are permanently mounted into the bracket,
and the entire assembly feels very solid. In fact, there is no alignment
or adjustment at all necessary when installing the Tornado spinner. Just
drill a 7/16" hole, screw the Tornado into place, attach the knob,
plug it into your computer, and you're done. It took me all of about
5 minutes to mount the unit in my SlikStik.
The Tornado mounted between two joysticks
The flyweight on the Tornado is large and provides
a lot of momentum. It gives the unit a very substantial feeling of mass.
The flywheel's vertical orientation also ensures that it stays aligned
and on-axis with the shaft, minimizing the chance of spinner “wobble.” Both
the flyweight and the spinner shaft have a black-oxide coating that looks
Side view of the Tornado
The encoder wheel used in the Tornado is made of very
solid galvanized zinc, with 42 metal teeth. It is actually screwed into
the top of the flywheel weight, which means that it should never work
loose during game play and slip when the spinner is spun rapidly.
The encoder board is a custom board designed exclusively
for SlikStik. It's tiny, and fits entirely on the spinner bracket.
The encoder unit uses a dual-optic system, and has an attached dual
USB - PS/2 connector cable. The Tornado spinner basically acts as a
single-axis mouse, and is recognized as such by Windows when plugged
into the computer. It even has connectors that allow you to wire up
three buttons to the unit to act as the mouse Left/Middle/Right buttons.
The custom SlikStik encoder board
The SlikStik Tornado comes with your choice of three
different aluminum knob styles: the "O-Ring" knob, "Duo-Tone",
and Skirted. The knobs are all unique custom SlikStik designs, and are
all designed for great gameplay.
The three SlikStik Knob Styles (L to R):
Skirted, O-Ring, Duo-Tone
The knobs are available in several anodized colors
(blue shown above), and will fit any 1/4" shaft, meaning they can be
used with other spinners as well. I'm partial to the skirted knob myself,
but they're all great to use.
Using the Tornado
So, just how does the Tornado fare as a gaming device?
How does it feel during game play? One word: smooth. To give you an example
of just how smoothly this thing spins, I gave it a good flick and timed
how long it spun. I got an amazing average of about three minutes of
spin. The Tornado glides effortlessly when spun — it feels almost
frictionless in motion (of course, if it was truly frictionless the SlikStik
crew could give up creating arcade controllers and make millions with
their perpetual motion device!) It's really hard to overstate how smoothly
this spinner moves.
Close-up of the Tornado Spinner Installed and Ready for Use
One of the first things I wanted to do
after installing the Tornado was to tweak the analog spinner settings
in MAME for all of the spinner games I play. Actually, however, I didn't
need to adjust many games, as the Tornado's default settings seem just
MAME Analog Controls Dialog
While adjusting the analog control settings
in MAME, I decided to see if I could induce some “backspin” in
the Tornado. 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. Luckily,
backspin just isn't a problem with the Tornado. I was completely unable
to cause backspin with the Tornado in Windows, and I was only able to
get some minor backspin in MAME games when I raised the analog dial sensitivity
settings to unreasonable (i.e., unplayable) levels. In normal game play
you should never see any hint of backspin.
One of the most subjective parts of this
review has to be this: how does the spinner “feel”? When
playing games, I've found the Tornado solid and very responsive. You
can feel the mass of the spinner, but it turns so quickly and with such
a light touch that it makes it feel very responsive. Another nice thing
is that it is almost totally silent when spinning — I had to put
my ear up next to the control panel to even hear it. I've found my scores
in Tempest are improving, mainly because it's easier to quickly spin
and accurately stop at a specific spot. Sadly, I still suck at Arkanoid.
I really, really like the Tornado Spinner. I can't
find anything bad to say about it, other than the price ($89.95), and
even that I feel is very reasonable considering the excellent design
and construction of this spinner and the unique SlikStik knob designs.
I suppose I could complain about the sparse documentation, but considering
that there are no adjustments or calibrations necessary and you just
basically screw it into place and plug it in, what do you really need
The Tornado Spinner in the Original MAMEframe
Even if you don't have an arcade controller or cabinet,
you could easily create a spinner controller unit by just mounting a
Tornado spinner in a wooden box and using the 3 mouse button inputs on
the encoder board to add three arcade buttons — everything would
be controlled by the Tornado. Four drilled holes (for the Tornado shaft
and three buttons), a few screws, and presto, you have an awesome plug-and-play
USB spinner gaming device.
I know it borders on hyperbole, but the SlikStik Tornado
spinner is one of the best arcade controller I've used yet. It's easy
to install, it works perfectly, performance is exemplary, and it's built
to last. (And I just can't seem to stop spinning the blasted thing when
I walk by the arcade game...it's like arcade crack!) If you're into retrogaming
and you enjoy arcade games that originally used a spinner controller,
I can't recommend the Tornado highly enough.
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