The 7800 is different from the 2600 in that it was supplied with joysticks with two (independent) ‘fire’ buttons. Many 7800 games are programmed to take advantage of this second ‘fire’ button. In the US, the 7800 was supplied with the CX24 joystick. The CX24 is not the most popular joystick, as the length of the shaft and the location of the buttons have a tendency to cause hand cramps after just a few minutes of game play. A great guy who goes by Yurkie on the AtariAge forum will modify your CX24 controllers by shortening the shaft and adding a ball knob. I had Yurkie do this to a set of CX24 joysticks for me and this mod makes a huge difference. If you have a set of CX24’s and find them difficult to use, consider having Yurkie mod them for you.
The 7800 was released in Europe in 1989 and Atari supplied the CX78 gamepad with all European 7800’s. The CX78 is similar to the NES controllers and was well received. The CX78 is a great option if you are unhappy with the CX24’s. Although some folks would have you believe that the CX78’s are hard to find in the US, they can be purchased new from Best Electronics at a very reasonable price.
Many 7800 games (like Ms. Pac-man, Centipede, Space Invaders, etc.) only require a single fire button. For these games (and almost all 2600 games), a normal Atari CX40 joystick will work perfectly on your 7800.
What I have found is that I prefer different joysticks for different games. For single fire button games, I will use my CX40. For two fire button games that require a lot of use of the second button, I prefer my modded CX24. For other two button games, I will use my CX78 joypad.
Finally, there are a few 7800 games (I will cover these in a future post) that either require a light gun or can be used with one. Atari never made a light gun specifically for the 7800, but they are not hard to find. Atari supplied one with each XE Game System and Best sells their own Atari compatible light gun. Remember, with a light gun, you need an old fashioned TV with a glass screen!