A Twitter post sparked an interest in knowing what we all think the best controller of all time is. Naturally, we took the time to ask each team member what their pick was and also what their first controller was.
My first controller was the NES stock controller. Simple and straight-forward. The best controller of all time is the GameCube controller. It feels very natural in your hands, the joystick is tight, and the A-B-X-Y buttons have a soft click. The L and R triggers have a threshold of movement that will respond in games, then if pressed all the way will click which can perform an additional function in-game. The Smash Bros. version features a longer cord.
I was asked to write about what I think the best controller of all time is and it got me thinking about some of the controllers I’ve played with over the years. There have been a few I’ve thought are pretty special over the years.
The Saturn analogue controller (affectionately called the fat controller) was pretty excellent and obviously had a big influence on the Dreamcast controller which I also enjoyed. The Gamecube controller was fucking amazing, Nintendo do pretty well with controllers but I’d go so far as to say this is their best, certainly in my eyes. The Sega Master System gets a mention here too purely because it was the first controller I ever used to there’s an air of sentiment there.
The PlayStation 4 controller gets a mention purely for being the best controller Sony has ever made, and a massive improvement on their previous efforts which were all comparatively a bit shit. And the S controller for the original Xbox was a huge step up from the original Duke controller which came bundled with the machine and was a little bit wank.
The best controller of all time in my opinion though is the Xbox 360 controller. The only thing I can really pull it up on is that it wasn’t rechargeable out of the box, you need to get a battery pack for it otherwise you had to use normal batteries. Other than that it was pretty much perfect – well-weighted, very responsive and really well made. So good in fact that the Xbox One controller is just essentially a tweaked version of this controller.
The first actual controller I had as a kid must have been on the Master System, a rather chunky NES style rectangular conception. It looked pretty cool in black and red but wasn’t the comfiest. It was pretty much the same as the NES except the D-pad was very different. Rather than the traditional cross style D-pad, this was a more analogue design with multi-directional functionality. It was essentially one square piece which you could roll your thumb over rather than press left or right. It wasn’t the best but was of its time and I never had any issues with it.
I thought to choose my all-time favourite controller would be difficult, turns out, not so much. It’s the PS3! Looking back, I’ve always favoured PlayStation controllers, and have owned all their systems. For me, when the PSOne came out the controller was a real game-changer what with their more ergonomic design compared to the N64 (two years later) and the Sega Saturn who were its main rivals at the time. You may think why not the PS4 controller, well the main reason is I’m not a fan of the ridges underneath, plus it’s on the heavy side. For me, it’s just not as comfy as the PS3 one. A close second is the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller which really is comfy, and I do love it, however, with years of playing the PlayStation I’ve rather gotten used to the D-pad at the top and the stick below, that’s the only reason it’s number one. It was very, very close.
My first console experience was with the Nintendo Entertainment System and thus its controller was really the first one I interacted with for any length of time. Overall it was a solid experience offering great functionality with a good length cable. Its small rectangular body housed a decent D-Pad and four main buttons, A + B for action, start and select for options and menus – in fact, it was much akin to Sega’s Master System offering.
I also had the NES Advantage which was a beast of an arcade stick, made from enough metal and good quality plastic that you could have probably killed someone with it if you were so inclined. A nice touch was with the addition of a couple of extra ‘game-changing’ buttons – turbo mode with a dial to knock it all the way up to eleven and slow motion.
For me though, I would have to say, that Nintendo’s 2002 WaveBird is my favourite controller of all time. It was an upgraded version of the already very good GameCube pad that felt a little more complete when holding it but notably added wireless play. I had previously used other wireless controllers but this was the first time that radio frequency technology had been used opposed to infrared. Instantly the experience was lifted to a whole new level and paved the way for the future controllers. The two-hybrid analogue / digital shoulder buttons also made the most satisfying click when reaching the mid-way point of a press.
I also wanted to give a shout out to the original Xbox S controller which later inspired the excellent Xbox 360 pad, which probably is the best controller of all time realistically. And as they say, it isn’t over till the fat lady sings or in this case the fat lad with the plastic guitar. 2005’s Guitar Hero controller saw the era of the stay at home rock star and at the time it really blew me away, such a great idea fooling the world into thinking we could all actually make it in a band.
The first controller I recall using wasn’t a joypad at all but a joystick. The Atari CX40, and boy what joy it gave, on my Commodore 64. Whilst one button and a stick was all you needed back then since the dawn of games consoles the controllers have become more elaborate with countless buttons and features, however for me the pinnacle of joypad design ended with the GameCube controller, in particular, the WaveBird, the first truly wireless controller. It was almost as if it were moulded for your hands, every finger had a place to sit, every button within reach. The triggers had some give, yet were responsive and that big fat A button was perfectly placed. It was like Nintendo gave you a lump of modelling clay asked you to grip it, baked it and turned it into a controller.
The first controller I can remember using was a joystick for a Commodore 64. Mind, that wasn’t the first I owned, that would have been the Sega Master Systems controller and I can remember spending hours trying to beat Alex the Kidd or playing Sonic the Hedgehog. I can also remember ergonomics were not even heard of in those days. Sharp angles on every corner. I am pretty sure it was meant to be a deterrent to stop kids from playing video games for hours.
For my favourite controller, I have gone with something much more modern and some may refer to it as the most advanced piece of engineering created in the past ten years. That would be Xbox Elite pad. Whilst pricey, it is absolutely fantastic.
I’ll get the negatives out of the way first as I want to make sure I end on a high with this one, whilst giving a balanced view. I do have two gripes with the pad. First is the d-pad. Whilst I think Microsoft has made some massive leaps in improving the d-pad in the past few years, and optional d-pad attachments do help it, there is still room for improvement. That said, it is not a show stopper as the d-pad is not something I use too regularly with the games I play.
The second negative, after hours and hours of use, I can sadly say one of the analogue sticks is showing wear. One of them seems to have dropped slightly and has picked up a bit of a dead zone. Given the price, I would have liked to have thought these were virtually indestructible. This is the biggest downside of the controller. But having used multiple other pads over the years, analogue stick wear has been an issue on any pad I have ever owned. Maybe I should have expected it from my experience. But I still feel slightly disappointed by this negative.
Back onto the positives. Upon receiving your new Xbox Elite pad, everything about this pad has a premium feel to it. From the packaging to the carry case, to the magnetic stick and d-pad attachments. The Matt black finish, silver attachments along with the glowing Xbox button make the pad look absolutely gorgeous.
With the attachments, you get two different d-pads. A circular one and a standard d-pad cross. My preference is to use the circular one due to being able to “roll” it easier for those Street Fighter fireball type moves. In terms of the sticks, you get three different types. A standard set (tops concaved), a standard set with domed tops and a longer set (also concaved). My preference was the longer set. I wish I could say it was due to the accuracy it gives you, but it is more to do with having shovels for hands.
Ergonomically the pad fits in your hands perfectly. The buttons are all instinctively placed and coupled with its rubber grips, it makes it incredibly difficult to go back to another pad. The pad has obviously borrowed ideas from the modding industry with the inclusion of 4 removable paddles that fit under the pad. These are configurable from the other input buttons and take a bit of getting used to if you are new to them. There is also the inclusion of hair triggers, which are incredibly handy for use with FPS or any game where you may require a quick reactive response from the quick pressing of the triggers e.g. firing a weapon.
The customisation does not stop there. Within the settings from your Xbox dashboard, you can tweak various sensitivity settings. Or even download optimum settings for specific games. Is this not what a controller is about? Giving you absolute control. I suppose purists may argue these extras on the controller may give you an advantage online against other players without them. But there are so many people using further modded pads this kind of brings the playing field back up now modding has become so widespread.
Ok, I have slightly over-exaggerated the best piece of engineering in the past ten years. But the Xbox Elite controller is mightily impressive.
Special mentions: Dreamcast, oh how I loved you. Amazing controller and loved the VMU. Even if it felt a little underutilised. Nintendo for multiple pads and the innovation they have brought us over the years and the PlayStation DualShock, an amazing controller that came out 15 years ago, I’m still waiting for it to be updated (I say tongue in cheek).
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