This week on the Herd we’re going to talk about video game controllers. There have been dozens of controllers designed for dozens of different systems. Many of them have been good. Many of them have not been so good. So we wanted to know what the staff thought was the best controller of all time. Will it be from the Atari 2600? Will it be the Nintendo 64 or the Dual Shock? In addition to that we wanted to know what they would like to see on the upcoming controller for the next Nintendo system.
Shelby Says: I am fond of the GameCube controller. I love how comfortable it is to hold and the analogue shoulder buttons are really awesome as well. To my knowledge, the GameCube controller is the only one that has analog buttons that aren’t triggers. The controllers are also extremely tough as mine have been through countless hours of Melee and Mario Power Tennis and they are still going strong. The A button was located centrally between X, Y and B allowing you to easily roll your thumb to press all of the buttons. With other controllers you have to pick up your thumb to reach all the buttons. That small amount of time could be the difference between life and death. The only complaint is how the d-pad was too small for playing NES games with.
The Wii happened. It changed some things in the game industry. Some might even say it cause a revolution. The Wii Remote introduced the world to motion controls. Just in case you didn’t notice, it was kind of popular. So popular that both Microsoft and Sony are introducing their own version of motion controls for their respective systems. The question is, do we want these new controllers?
For years I have heard people complain about how motion controls are the worst thing to ever happen to the industry. I can understand this to a point. There are several Wii games that are nothing more than shovel ware full of waggle controls. I don’t blame this on motion controls but instead on lazy development. I have heard multiple outlets discuss how games should use standard, button controllers. They talk how games have always used these controllers for input devices and since it works fine there is no need to change. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” as they say. You’ll have to forgive my inquisitive nature but why is that? Just because something works fine doesn’t mean that we should stop searching for another solution. Imagine what things would be like if humans would not have invented the television because they decided the radio was as good as things could get. These are closed minded thoughts that I try my hardest not to let inside my head.
As I tend to do, I want to compare video games to other forms of entertainment. Watching movies hasn’t really changed since they were invented. Sure screens have gotten larger, sound and color have been added and the picture has grown sharper but the bottom line is still the same. You sit down and look at a screen for couple of hours. Books have been around for hundreds or years and they have a similar story. You either look at the words and read them or you listen to someone else read them to you. So are games any different? Will we be holding controllers in our hand until the end of time? Of course not. Eventually we will log into our games Matrix style.
So why are some many people upset about controller innovation? As I mentioned before, shovel ware has a lot to do with it. People see all these “waggleriffic” games and assume it’s all motion controls have to offer. It’s hard to blame them since the quantity of these games is rather staggering. Try to think of some games that use motion controls well. The first three games that come to my mind are Mario Galaxy, Metroid Corruption and Zack And Wiki. All of these games used the motion controls in a manner that made sense to me and I believe most would agree that these are all good games. Here is my stance on motion controls, as long as it is fun I don’t care how much waggle you but into a game. If a developer can create a super clever idea to base a game around that only use motion controls, power to them.
Controllers have evolved a lot in the last 30 years. Imagine if you traveled back to the 70’s with a 360 controller. Atari engineers would probably burn you at the stake as a witch, right before they asked you why the d-pad sucks. If you would have given me one when I was younger, I would have no idea how to use it. How is it that we as game players can both demand that things be new and familiar at the same time? I guess we will have to chalk that up to human nature. I don’t think motion controllers are the end all/be all of controllers, but I do believe they are the start down a path of more intuitive and immersive game controls. With technology like Kinect coming to the market soon, one can only guess what the next step will be. I’m not saying the future holds a better option for controllers, but we need to at least see what it has to offer.
Games are based upon technology and I don’t have to explain how fast that can change. To think that games will always require a piece of plastic with buttons is rather silly to me. It is scary to think about how many things are the way they are simply because that is how they have always been. Change can be both frightening and exciting at the same time. I suppose it is just my nature, but I enjoy challenging the status quo sometimes. Anyway, nothing can happen till you swing the bat.
In the latest episode of the Nintendo Okie Podcast we talked about, among the myriad of things, video game controllers and we discussed which we thought was the consensus best controller of all time. That came down, almost unanimously as the GameCube controller, though there was some debate about which GameCube controller was best. For that discussion you’ll just have to listen to the show. Today though I wanted to talk a bit about what my personal favorite controllers of all time have been. These don’t cover strictly Nintendo as there were other great innovations in game controllers. I’ve played nearly every system at one time or another in my life and there have been a number of really good controllers created. Keep in mind these are my personal favorite controllers of all time and not, in any way, a definitive list.
5. The Sega Genesis 6 Button Controller
I’ll fully admit that during the SNES vs. Genesis era that I fell into the Super Nintendo camp. People thought Sega was crazy when they put out a controller that doubled the number of buttons that they had on their current controller. There was no way there would ever be a need for six face buttons, right? Well, apparently that wasn’t the case. The six buttons allowed for more complex control schemes that lead to the controllers we have today. Games like Street Fighter II felt more like they did in the arcade, because the buttons were laid out on the controller in a similar way.
4. The Xbox 360 Controller
It’s hard to believe that the current generation was the first to make wireless controllers a standard feature with a home console. Sure there had been wireless controllers in the past, but they weren’t as reliable as the technology we currently have. The 360 controller also improved on the terrible design of the original Xbox behemoth that required a master contortionist to use properly. This controller seems like it was designed with first person shooters in mind and you can really tell when playing those games that it’s the perfect companion or competitor to a mouse and keyboard for those controls. The only thing, for me, that took any getting used to was the backwards layout of the face buttons when compared to Nintendo’s controllers.
3. The Super Nintendo Controller
Why do we need buttons on the top of the controller? That’s just crazy. Or is it? The Super Nintendo controller effectively tripled the number of buttons that players had used previously on the NES and we thought games controlled perfectly back then. This new way to control games brought about a revolution, that when combined with the Genesis controller brought about the new technology we currently employ. The difference in the curve of the face buttons made it easy to recognize where your hands were and the placement of the shoulder buttons fit perfectly for where you index fingers were anyway it just made sense to use that area of a controller for additional inputs. That design was so good that Nintendo mimicked it with the design of the Classic Controller to create a device that can control any system that’s been released to date. I guess Nintendo did know what they were thinking when they brought about this massive change with the Super Nintendo.
2. The Atari 2600 Controller
Talk about perfection in the simple. The Atari 2600 was a great system when it was released and it’s still a great system now. The ease of use made gaming accessible to a number of people and it began with the joystick. The 2600 controller brought the arcade experience home with a joystick that you held in your hands. The one button input meant you didn’t need to learn complex move sets. It’s a design that Nintendo looked to when creating the Wii Remote and it brings classic gaming to a new generation. Sometimes simple is better.
1. The Wavebird
Nintendo hit a homerun with the creation of the GameCube controller. The big green A button announced that it was the action button and since it would be used most often was prominently placed under your right thumb. The B, X, and Y buttons common to Nintendo controllers were placed in positions around that button that made them easy to reach. The shoulder buttons were curved just enough to fit perfectly under your index fingers and the handles on the bottom were just the right size to fit comfortably in your closed fists. With the invention of the Wavebird Nintendo began the wireless Revolution, but the controller wasn’t the standard for the system. The weight of the controller was perfect even with the bulky battery compartment in the middle of the controller. The wireless capability meant you could sit comfortably anywhere in your gaming area and weren’t hampered by wires that would get in the way. This controller is so perfect that it’s a shame we had to move on. A wireless version of the classic controller based on this design would be a great addition to the Wii system.
There you have it, just a quick look at the controllers that I liked the best. What controllers are out there that you feel should be on this list? Are there any I missed, or are there any wacky controllers you’d like to talk about? Leave us a comment and let us know, or hit up the forums and discuss your thoughts there.