7 of the Coolest Controllers (2014)
Controllers, controllers. You’ve held them a thousand times, pressed the buttons zillions of times, you’ve probably even broken them a couple of times. But they’re your portals into the wonderful world of gaming – they are your aerials. They’re as arguably as iconic as the games consoles themselves – at least, when the controllers in question are designed properly.
Here, we take a look at seven of the best controllers to grace the sprawling galaxy of gaming. The list may go in ascending order, but make no mistake, all seven of these controllers are out-and-out winners (and that’s not just comforting talk for the losers either). Let us begin!
NINTENDO TEACHES US THAT B COMES BEFORE A IN THE ALPHABET
Like just about everything else NES related, this controller has become an icon of retro gaming. 2 main buttons, the A-button nearly always being jump, the B-button then being ‘run’ or ‘shoot’. Yes! Games don’t come much simpler than that. Games like The Legend of Zelda or Teenage Mutant Ninja (forgive me, Hero) Turtles offer an interesting subversion – instead of shooting bullets, you can swing swords and other deadly weapons!
Even the body of this controller is as simplistic as you like – just a raw, manly rectangle, not even a hint of a curve for your fingers to rest in while struggling all the way through a Mega Man game or Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. This WAS the 80s, where your health and safety were absolutely not a concern. So the edges of the controller are digging into your hands? What you gonna do about it, go running to your mommy?! Well, better controllers than the Nintendo Entertainment System’s have come and gone, I think it’s fair to say. But that wonderful grey, black and red colour scheme! Ooh la la!
6. SEGA Mega Drive (3 Button)
“MEGA DRIVE CONTROL PAD” IT PROUDLY STATES, IN CASE YOU THOUGHT YOU WERE HOLDING A GODDAM CALCULATOR
Bulky as you like, with that sleek black design typical of the Mega Drive, the 3-button Mega Drive controller mightn’t seem much on paper. Is 3 buttons enough? There ain’t even a Select button! And why not just go for the later released 6-button controller, an essential for the Mega Drive’s Street Fighter 2 port? I could have done, but that would just be unfairly neglecting this curvy number that’s sat in millions of children’s hands across Europe and the world from the late 1980s onwards. 3 face buttons and a Pause button still proved enough for Mega Drive games all the way into the mid-90s – after all, the legendary Sonic games, including the epic Sonic 3 & Knuckles, only needed one face button plus a rip-off D-pad!
What was good enough for Golden Axe, the Revenge of Shinobi and Streets of Rage still proved good enough for Ristar, Comix Zone and Rocket Knight Adventures. Just make sure you know your A-B-Cs, quite literally in this controller’s case; those who don’t will find themselves doomed to futily calling the back-up cop car again and again in Streets of Rage, leading them to fire a humongous, hellacious bazooka at no-one in particular. And then how will you beat the bosses?!
NOT MUCH I CAN SAY ABOUT THIS DOGGY-BONE SHAPED CONTROLLER – IT JUST ROCKS TOO MUCH
That is, the colour-coded Japanese or European version of the controller! Well, I’m no electronics designer but the mantra of simple design being effective design really comes to life with the SNES controller. Building on the NES controller, this fella adds two more face buttons plus a marvelous idea in shoulder buttons. Turn more sharply in F-Zero! Aim diagonally up and down in Super Metroid! Throw bottles of holy water at plants in Super Castlevania IV!
Well, that mightn’t seem so groundbreaking, but shoulder buttons haven’t gone away since the SNES joypad implemented them. One of the most famous and most stylish controllers around! The trick is to try to get yourself one that’s in tip-top condition – all that frantic platforming in the Donkey Kong Country series and all that mashing of the Y-button to shoot in Starwing does eventually take its toll!
4. Nintendo 64
THAT IS ONE BUSY MOFO. YOU COULD PROBABLY DRIVE THAT MIDDLE HANDLE THROUGH SOMEBODY’S GULLET
And now for something completely different… front to back, this controller is off the wall. You’ve got two big action buttons on the right, A and B. OK, that’s good, they changed the colours from the SNES, but it’s still simple enough. Then you have these 4 little yellow directional buttons called C-buttons. Is that C for camera? Gosh, a stick might have been better, but it at least let us see where our character is in the new 3D environments. And we can use them to play instruments and use items in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time & Majora’s Mask! That’s nifty. You’ve got your shoulder buttons. And then you’ve got what gamers were waiting for: the Control Stick! 3D games are finally a thing! Marvel as you make Mario tiptoe slowly rather than run in Super Mario 64! Younger gamers today will laugh at how that amazed us all. But then wait, what’s this?! The controller ain’t finished yet?! Yes, as a holdover from 2D days, Nintendo sort of tacked on a D-pad right at the arse-end of the controller, and makes it as scarcely used as the L-button (well it turns off the music in Mario Kart 64, there’s one for you). So that’s three big handles on the controller, making it impossible to cover all the buttons! Too mad!
On the back of the controller, we’ve got the Z-trigger, literally like a gun trigger, which was an inspired piece of design and helped make games like GoldenEye and Perfect Dark. And finally! There’s s slot in the back for expansions – yes, in the actual controller. You can jam a Controller Pak (a usually unnecessary memory card that holds about 16 bytes of memory), the Rumble Pak (now standard issue for all controllers, but the Rumble Pak, shipped with Lylat Wars, came first!) and the Transfer Pak (compatible with a few games, but basically used so that you could see your Pokémon in 3D on Pokémon Stadium). What a crazy joypad! It’s let down only by its perfunctory analogue stick, which appears to be made of dead skin and tends to be as mobile as a cinder block. If you’ve ever tried to rotate the Control Stick in a Mario Party minigame, then you’ll know what I mean. And if you’ve ever tried doing that with the palm of your hand and managed to tear yourself apart with a blister, then you’ll know how painful that is! No wonder Nintendo had to distribute gloves to those who hurt themselves trying to make that Fly Guy… fly.
3. SEGA Dreamcast
A BLUE SWIRL INDICATES THAT IT’S PAL!
Four face buttons, an analogue stick, a D-pad (was that not heavily trademarked by Nintendo?) and a couple of triggers underneath. Nothing particularly fancy. But wait, is that a screen on the front? And it comes out?! What is this sorcery?!? This is the Visual Memory Unit (VMU), which functioned as a memory card for the console and even had a few little gaming buttons by itself.
Well, is the VMU technically part of the controller? Isn’t it a peripheral? Does it deserve that much inspection? Possibly not, but it’s such a crazy, cool and unique idea that it has to be talked about. The VMU had the ability to play mini-games downloaded from some games on SEGA’s criminally underrated final console. Get your Chao on it from the Sonic Adventures! You could even use them to exchange data! But the VMU wasn’t the only peripheral that the controller could take. How about the microphone! Or the fishing rod! This controller may be bulky, but it’s in all the right places – I like mine with a little meat, don’t you?
2. Nintendo GameCube
THE WAVEBIRD AND ITS LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM OR WHATEVER THE PROPER CONTROLLER PARLANCE IS
Wasn’t the GameCube just the weirdest little thing? A wee purple box of tricks – with a handle! The controller was just as crazy, crazier even than the N64’s handles and ports for Rumble Paks and other doo-hickeys. This time around, Nintendo improved on a number of facets from the previous model: first and foremost, the analogue stick is actually worthwhile now, and not a tool for sadomasochism. So much so, it’s common to see Nintendo 64 controller mods where the original Control Stick is hacked off and a GameCube one gets put in its place!
Next up, there’s another analogue stick, the C-stick, replacing the C-buttons of the N64 and giving even freer control, usually over the camera. Finally, the shoulder buttons have a most satisfying squishiness to them! Squish squish! It’s perhaps let down a little by a too-small, clunky D-pad, but the D-pad rarely comes into play. Taunts in Super Smash Bros Melee and change of weaponry in a couple of games, that’s all. Check out the highly desirable Wavebird wireless controller for the maximum in GameCube efficiency (as told by a magazine back in the day, probably) – or better still, see if you can bag yourself the Resident Evil 4 Chainsaw Controller! I’m told it’s about as ergonomic as a brick, but it looks divine!
1. Sony PlayStation Dualshock
THERE’S JUST SOMETHING SO REASSURING ABOUT THAT BATTLESHIP-GREY COLOURING
The functional controller that caters for the movement needs of any gamer, and still in use in Sony consoles to this day (now in Wireless form!). Yes, the original PS1 controller was essentially a carbon copy of that of the SNES, the console Sony’s first foray spawned from, but it soon paved the way for a newer model that put twin analogue sticks in just the right places – but it wasn’t the Dualshock! It was actually a go-between controller known as the Dual Analog controller that accomplished that particular feat. Soon, however, Sony phased out the Dual Analog and the now-threadbare looking original PS1 controller in favour of the Dualshock – and to this day, with the arrival of the PS4, the shipped controller is known as the Dualshock 4. You get all that?
With a built-in rumble feature, trumping the N64’s anchor-of-a-yoke that Nintendo came up with, the controller’s award-winning* design simply fell into the hands of millions of gamers worldwide, giving us supreme control over Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon. This in addition to the two additional shoulder-buttons (there from the start) made the PS1 controller and the Dualshock in particular rather simple in its overall design, but very, very effective.
*The ever reliable Wikipedia informs me that the Dualshock controller (presumably in all its guises) “won the Emmy Award for ‘Peripheral Development and Technological Impact of Video Game Controllers’ by The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences on January 8, 2007”. Isn’t that something!