Playing Mario Kart Wii with my nephews is always fun as I bring out the mini wheels that came with the game, but what happens when they leave and I want to use a wheel with my 360 games? The new 360 Wireless Speed Wheel, is what happens.
At a hefty price of $60, the 360 Speed Wheel needs to provide a lot more than a plastic shell for the 360 controller to justify its cost. Thankfully, it is immediately obvious when handling the wheel that it is no cheap piece of tat. The weight is substantial, the build quality is of a high standard and the button configuration is essentially the same as a 360 control pad, but spread over a wheel. This means that all the usual inputs are present; the face buttons, dpad and triggers, all in easy reach for the average hand.
I used the Speed Wheel on F1 2011 and Need for Speed Hot Pursuit and it did an admiral job on both games. The 360 Speed Wheel feels far more subtle than its Wii equivalent; your car turns right and left in perfect harmony to your movements. The two AA batteries needed to power the wireless peripheral also provide energy to motors that provide tiny amounts of feedback, enhancing the gaming experience. And since the Speed Wheel connects to the 360 in the same way as a regular controller, more than one wheel can be used at the same time.
There is one inherent problem with the 360 Speed Wheel: the LB and RB buttons are missing. This was not an issue when playing Need for Speed, but in F1 2011 having no RB meant I could not speed through the 1 hour practise session before each race. There is no real reason for the bumpers to be missing, a small issue that can be annoying.
Another problem is common to steering wheels in general. How many of my best lap times do you think I have set with wheels? Zero, zilch, nada, none. Although the 360 Speed Wheel was the best calibrated wireless wheel I have ever used, I am still prone to crashing. The wheel works best on arcade style racers that provide a little leeway for mistakes. Although I found myself reaching once more for the control pad, my partner (non-gamer) picked up the Speed Wheel and wouldn't get off! The easy pick up and play nature of the wheel inspired her to try a racing game for the first time in her life, and she loved it!
Perhaps that is the best use for the 360 Wireless Speed Wheel - introducing casual gamers to the racing genre. However, the solid build quality, brilliant calibration and tight controls means that real gas-heads will still have a great experience trying to compete with their best controller made lap times.