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SlikStik Tornado Spinner


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 wanted one.

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.

First Impressions

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.

Tornado Front Shot
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.

Construction Details

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.

Tornado Back Shot
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 great.

Side Shot of Tornado
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 Spinner
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 about right.

MAME Setup Snapshot
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 to document?

Final Result
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'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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