Restoring a PC Engine Twin Commander Controller

tl;dr I restored this PC Engine Twin Commander controller so I could play PC Engine with a controller that resembled more the official controller. The Twin Commander was released in 1988 and includes a box with a second controller port allowing two players to use the same cable. A useful feature since the PC Engine only has one controller port.

After coming across a stash of PC Engine games at a flea market I bought my first ever PC Engine console from eBay.

I went for a Duo-R over other PC Engine consoles because, after some research, I learned that this version plays pretty much every game that was released. One barrier to entry in PC Engine collecting (apart from the price!) is definitely knowing which console to buy. There are so many versions that it’s easy to become confused. The Duo and Duo-R versions apparently play all HuCard and CD-Rom games, meaning you won’t need to buy additional System Cards to play various games.

The console I bought came with this third party Hori 6-button controller.

The Hori Fighting Commander PC that came with my PC Engine Duo-R purchase
The Hori Fighting Commander PC that came with my PC Engine Duo-R purchase

A great controller, for sure, but it really feels like a SNES controller. I really think the design of a controller, and how it feels in the hand, is part of the experience of playing a particular system. That’s why I bought this Twin Commander controller. I wanted to play PC Engine games on a controller that resembled the original controller that shipped with the console.

I know the Twin Commander is not a first party controller, but it’s almost physically identical to one, which should give me the experience I am looking for. Plus, I got this one cheap because it appeared to be broken when I bought it – see the exposed cable in the photos below.

Exposed cable on a PC Engine Twin Commander controller
Exposed cable on a PC Engine Twin Commander controller

The box above allows a second controller to be plugged into it, so you can play 2-player games. If you can believe it PC Engine consoles only came with one controller port! If you wanted to play against a second player you had to buy a multi-tap addon, unless you had a controller like this with a second controller port built into the cable.

I didn’t even bother testing the controller and just assumed that cable would need repairing (due to the loose wire), so opened up the box.

Inside the PC Engine Twin Commander box
Inside the PC Engine Twin Commander box

Inside the box I found that the connector was disconnected from the board, so it wouldn’t have worked anyway. It seems that the controller cable must have been yanked, pulling the cable out of the sheath, and disconnecting this connector from the board.

THe controller cable for a PC Engine Twin Commander controller
The exposed wire on the controller cable

There weren’t any wires missing in the connector. So where is this lose wire supposed to go? I moved on to the controller to see if I could find this extra wire on the controller end of the cable.

Inside the PC Engine Twin Commander controller
Inside the PC Engine Twin Commander controller

F.K Electronics Co. Ltd 1988. This controller is almost 30 years old, so it feels good to be restoring it.

The PC Engine Twin Commander controller case and board
The case inside was also filthy

The inside of the case was dirty, and there was also some corrosion on the turbo button switches on the right.

The stray wire
The wire is loose on this end, too!

I found the other end of the loose wire, and it was loose on this end, too. So it was never used. Oh well, this controller really needs cleaning anyway.

The first thing I did was clean up the turbo-button slide-switch pads that were corroded. I use electrical contact cleaner squirted onto some cotton buds.

Electrical contact cleaner
Electrical contact cleaner for cleaning connections
Use cotton buds to remove any dirt
Use cotton buds to remove any dirt

When cotton buds are not enough try a fiberglass pen. Go really gently as you only want to remove the worst parts of the corrosion and not the pads themselves.

Use a fiberglass pen to remove corrosion
Use a fiberglass pen to remove corrosion

I also used the fiberglass pen on the slow-motion switch located on the back of the board. This was in particularly bad condition. It’s good to squirt on some WD-40 after removing the rust to stop it getting any worse.

Removing corrosion on the slow-motion switch
Removing corrosion on the slow-motion switch

The controller’s case was filthy so I used some ‘magic sponge’ to clean it. Magic sponge is great stuff. It works like an extremely fine sandpaper and will easily clean plastics.

Using magic sponge to clean the controller case
Using magic sponge to clean the controller case

Be careful with magic sponge, though, it is abrasive and will easily take the logo off a console. Also, don’t use it on glossy surfaces because it will dull them. I didn’t worry to much about dulling the face plate of the controller as I polished it later.

The results of using magic sponge on the controller case
The results of using magic sponge on the controller case

After about 5 minutes cleaning with the magic sponge the results were amazing. It already looks like new again.

I did the same thing to the black box and the results were also really good.

The black box before cleaning
The black box before cleaning
The black box after cleaning
The black box after cleaning with magic sponge

 

Another trick you can use is to wipe a bit of WD-40 over the plastic after you have used the magic sponge. The WD-40 really adds a great finish to some plastics, especially black, like this box or the Nintendo 64 console.

To clean the buttons and other parts of the controller I used cotton buds and Windex. Some people like to wash buttons, but unless they are especially grimy I just wipe them down with Windex. I use window cleaner a lot for general cleaning duty.

Cleaning the buttons and pads
Cleaning the buttons and pads

To clean the conductive button pads I use electrical contact cleaner and go very lightly. If the pads are old and well used, the little black conductive pads can easily break off rendering that button useless.

Go easy on the conductive pads
Go easy on the conductive pads, they can break off
Super glue to the rescue on this turbo-fire button
Super glue to the rescue on this turbo-fire button

All cleaned up and fixed, time to get this thing back together.

Putting everything back together
Putting everything back together

The solution to stop the cables being pulled out again was to add a cable tie just after the cable stop.

I added a cable tie to stop the cable being pulled out again
I added a cable tie to stop the cable being pulled out again

PC Engine Twin Commander board

I added a cable tie to both cables which, in addition to the cable stops, should stop them being pulled out again. Here’s the box back together again:

PC Engine Twin Commander player 2 box back together
PC Engine Twin Commander player 2 box back together

Finally here’s the whole controller cleaned, fixed, and fitted back together.

Time for some Castlevania Dracula X!
Time for some Castlevania Dracula X!

Details

  • Model: PC Twin Commander / PC Twin
  • Year: 1988
  • Manufacturer:  F.K. Electronic Co., Ltd.

From what I can find the PC Twin Commander was manufactured by Hori, but I cannot find any Hori branding anywhere on this controller. The faceplate of the controller is also slightly different from the Twin Commander PC (Rev.B) listed on pc-engine.co.uk (11th from bottom). The latter is also listed as being released in 1989, whereas the board in this controller says 1988, so it’s difficult to say that this is a copy of the Hori controller.

 

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