Friday Roundtable: Our Favorite Controllers

Controller design is one of the most important aspects of gaming. Controllers are our connection to the virtual worlds we visit, and their designs play a big part in our enjoyment of the games we play. A good controller is integral to a good gaming experience (unless you’re playing Kinect, in which case disregard everything I just wrote).

Videogame controllers have taken many forms of varying shapes and sizes in the decades since their inception, and this week Joe, Chad, Martin, and Rexly sit down to discuss their favorite ways to take control of their games.


At the time, this looked like it was from the future.


As far as controllers go, I, as with many other things, tend to like what other people hate.

The Sega Dreamcast controller is one of my favorites. I just love the way the thing feels… the grips on either side are extremely comfortable and the whole thing just has a good weight to it. The cord came out of the bottom, too, which was weird. It drove my friends nuts, but I enjoyed the absurdity of it. The coolest thing by far though, was the VMU. The Dreamcast memory unit had a screen on it that showed through the controller when it was plugged in. It wasn’t always practical to look at when playing a game, but in games like Resident Evil: Code Veronica your health was displayed on it, so you wouldn’t need to keep opening a menu to see how close you were to dying.

The Nintendo 64 controller is also near and dear to my heart, mostly due to the Nintendo 64 being my favorite system of all time. I can still remember staring at pictures of it in game magazines (back when the system was still called the Ultra 64!), reading about how you could hold it in different ways depending on what game you were playing, dying to get my hands on it. It introduced the analog stick to the masses, and I still remember when I finally got to give it a try at a Toys R Us demo unit. I knew that that game, that system, and that controller were going to completely change the entire industry.

Look at the curves on her…

I’m a big fan of the Wii Remote and Nunchuck combo when I’m feeling lazy, which doesn’t really make sense. I wasn’t sure I’d like having my analog stick and my buttons so far apart from each other, but when I’m really tired, it’s convenient because I can sprawl out on the couch and have my arms far apart but still be able to play the game.

For traditional controllers on current-gen consoles, though, I love the Xbox 360 controller. The only thing keeping it from being a perfect controller is the abysmal d-pad, but they have that new model now with the transforming d-pad, so that’s a non-issue these days.


I remember when I bought my PlayStation. The other two systems that were out at the time were the Saturn and the N64…both of which had terribly clunky controllers next to the PlayStation. Sony has been rather conservative in its controller design, adding things like analog sticks

Is this controller perfection?

(TWO of them, I might add) and force feedback built-in. Were they following Nintendo’s lead? Sure. But the PlayStation controller was the next logical step from the perfect control pad of the 16-bit era, the SNES controller. Sony seems to live by “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” in the controller department, which is one of the reasons I’ve stuck with them for so long – familiarity. I can pick up any generation of PlayStation controller and use it. It’s a gimmick-free, easy to handle design, and I love it. On top of this, it’s pretty logically and symmetrically designed. It’s, in my opinion, the pinnacle of controller design.

On the other side of things – keyboard and mouse is the way to play PC games. I find it odd when people claim to prefer gamepads for shooters on the PC; apples and oranges, I guess. As for strategy games – there’s a reason the RTS genre hasn’t been very successful on consoles. You need the mouse. As for the keyboard? What can I say, I love having a plethora of hotkeys at my command (of course this can depend on the developer providing a customizable control scheme).

 Oh, and Namco’s GunCon? I had one of those for Time Crisis on PlayStation. Got rid of it because when my friends came over that’s all they wanted to play. Incorrigible bastards!

The weapons of choice for FPS players.

Finally, I’ll mention what used to be an essential part of PC gaming equipment that has since (as flight sims have lost popularity) fallen by the wayside – the joystick. In 1999 I spent the summer playing Falcon 4.0 with a rather expensive CH Products flightstick and throttle. Glass-filled stick, modeled on the F-16’s controls – man, that was a sweet way to play a game! I ended up using it through several other flight sims (notably European Air War) before finally retiring it in 2004 when my computer no longer had a port for it.


Chad raises many great points, although calling the Nintendo 64 controller “clunky” is blasphemy! If you haven’t already guessed, the Nintendo 64 is my favourite controller of all time. It has its faults, for example, the position of the D-Pad is less than ideal and the joysticks wear out in no time, but for me, it’s one of the most comfortable. Plus the Z-trigger on the controller’s underside was sheer genius, making games like GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark so much more satisfying to play.

I have to agree with Chad when it comes to playing shooters with a keyboard and mouse though. I get on just fine with most control pads but the PC just offers a level of precision that no other method can match. The same goes for flightsticks. Whatever the hell happened to those? I remember spending £90 on one just so I could play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance (to put this into perspective, that’s three times what a Nintendo 64 controller fetched back in the day). Nothing was cooler than this bad boy stick glowing blue and the force feedback slamming back towards you every time you went into hyperspace.


Remember the controller the original PlayStation shipped with? Looking back on it now, it was funny that they launched a system built around 3D games without 3D control.

The Dualshock hasn’t changed much since the PS1 (adding analog buttons for the PS2, which no one used, and more “trigger” like shoulder buttons for PS3), and I still don’t think it’s perfect. For one, I really don’t like how the analog stick is below the d-pad. I think it’d be much more comfortable if the d-pad and left analog were flipped since d-pads aren’t used as much anymore.

Truth be told I haven’t used the Dualshock 3 much, but I remember using the SIXAXIS when the PlayStation 3 first came out and I hated it. It was way, way too light. The entire thing was hollow and felt fragile. Didn’t Sony claim that they couldn’t put motion control AND rumble in the same controller?

If purple wasn’t your style, there were also black, orange, and clear!

Oh, I almost forgot the GameCube controller. I love that thing. I liked collecting the different colors (a habit I’ve had since the Nintendo 64), but again, I loved how it felt. The shoulder buttons are probably my favorite of all time… they’re analog, but have one final “click” when you push them all the way in, registering another button press. I liked the button layout as well… having one button be the “focus” and the others surrounding it actually worked well. The GameCube controller is STILL the only way to play Smash Bros.


Well perhaps “clunky” isn’t the right term for the N64 controller…but when you didn’t know how to hold it, it could be a little daunting to look at. It actually IS a very good controller, it just didn’t make the best first impression on me. Even though I don’t think you can beat the SNES controller, Nintendo has at least proved that they don’t shy away from trying new ideas, and in the case of the N64 it actually worked out pretty well.


A true classic.

The SNES is pretty superb – perfect for classic 2D sidescrolling in games.

I was wondering what everyone’s thoughts on third-party controllers were. Personally, I usually can’t stand them although I have come across a few winners.

The most impressive third-party pad I’ve used (and own) is a HORI N64 Mini Pad. Released in Japan towards the end of the Nintendo 64’s life, it can only be described as a hybrid of Nintendo 64 and GameCube controllers (HORI must have had insider access to some design plans or something). Although it’s a bit on the small side, the joystick is superb, and it doesn’t wear out on you like the official controllers do. It makes playing 3D platformers an absolute dream.


I’m not a fan of third-party controllers, I was always afraid they’d damage my system somehow. They sell like hotcakes, though…you wouldn’t believe how many of the chinsy GameStop branded controllers we sold when I used to work there.

I do, however, have a cable I bought online that lets me use my Nintendo 64 controller on my Wii. A guy makes custom cables that allow you to plug the Nintendo 64 controller into the GameCube controller port. I didn’t like playing Nintendo 64 games on the Wii before because they never felt right; now it’s the authentic experience, but in 480p!


Like Chad, I started out with the original PlayStation. Despite the analog sticks that were on it, I never really used them. Instead, I just used the d-pad. Weird, I know. It wasn’t until the PlayStation 2 that I started to use the analog sticks way more than the d-pad. What I liked about the PlayStation controller was the vibration. It was a pretty good way to interact with the game on a different level.

I didn’t own a Nintendo 64 but my cousin did, and I always went to his house as a child and had my Mario fix there. To this day, the controller is still so interesting to me because of its control scheme and its shape. When I first discovered the Z-button, my mind was blown because Nintendo put a button IN THE BACK. However, the single analog stick was hard for me to adjust to because of my exposure to the dual analog sticks since childhood.

With the current consoles, I love and hate both the Xbox 360 and PS3 controllers. They are both great controllers, but I think there are some things to work on. For the PS3, I am not a big fan of the SIXAXIS controls because they are rarely used, and when they are used in a game, it is not as effective. For the Xbox 360, its flaw is partly because I am so used to the PlayStation 3 controller. The fact that the d-pad is at the bottom where the left analog stick should be is very strange. Despite the flaws, whenever I pick up both controllers, they feel the same in terms of playability. Sure I might need SIXAXIS or the d-pad might be in the wrong place, but they are very familiar controller schemes no matter which side of the console war you stand on.

The BnB writers have shared their thoughts, and now it’s your turn. What controllers from gaming’s storied history are your favorite? Which ones do you want to crush as soon as they hit your palm? Let us know in the comments below!

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