Laymen’s Retrospective: My Top 5 Console Controllers
Console controllers are an extremely important part of a console’s success and sometimes the lack of an intuitive and user-friendly controller can play a big role in driving a console into the ground. A good number of us can agree upon what makes a bad controller but I believe that it’s much harder to select your favorites – which is why I come here, today, to talk about my favorite console controllers of all time. I’ll warn you, now: there are some selections I know most people will disagree with, which is why I’m saying now that this is a personal list and nowhere am I claiming that this is some kind of ultimatum.
Figuring out which controllers I liked best was a difficult thing to do, which is why I’m going to give you guys a little breakdown for how I went about this:
- I chose only first-party controllers. Third-party controllers just muddy the waters and often sacrifices are made in either quality or features that serve only to annoy me, even if they sometimes innovate.
- I did not include controllers that I see as peripherals. This means that things like the Virtual Console Controller are out because they plug into the WiiMote, making it a peripheral, in my eyes. Controller extensions or add-ons also do not count.
- I did not consider any arcade controllers or anything of the sort – they’re mostly in existence only to replicate a certain arcade experience and don’t really offer anything new in the world of console controllers.
- I considered multiple generations and reiterations of controllers as separate controllers. I don’t want to lump all iterations of a certain controller layout together, especially when the controller market is so varied. This also means, though, that no more than one iteration of a controller can be used.
With that being said, I bring you number five on my personal top five console controllers of all time:
5. Sega Genesis 2nd Generation Controller
I remember the Sega Genesis for one main reason – Sonic the Hedgehog. I wanted to get into a larger variety of games on the system but a lot of them were cross-platform and I enjoyed playing games on my Super Nintendo way more, for many reasons. It wasn’t until this controller was released that I actually had reason to play some games specifically on the Genesis, initially. This controller’s button layout made it possible for me to compete in fighting games outside of an arcade. While the Super Nintendo controller had just as many buttons, those practically inlaid shoulder buttons made it really difficult for me to play some fighting games effectively. You also had a really smooth-feeling eight-direction D-Pad and you have a controller that was sleek, played smooth, and took its fair share of damage. To me, that makes a pretty decent controller.
Between this and the next entry, this controller sits at the bottom only because this controller didn’t do anything new, particularly, for me, it just perfected the design of a 16-Bit controller.
I can almost feel the oncoming nerd rage for selecting this controller over the Sega Genesis controller. I know a lot of you will likely bombard me with reasons why this system was a total and complete failure but I sincerely don’t care about the success of the system or how poorly Panasonic handled the hardware, its marketing, and software: I thoroughly enjoyed quite a few games for the system and this controller is one of the larger reasons why I really enjoyed them. This controller felt better in my hands, it was a little weightier than the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis controllers and took the best parts of both of those and brought them together: you had the three main face buttons and the stand-out shoulder buttons. The buttons on the controller felt solid – almost a little too much so – and the D-Pad felt great. It’s really a shame that this controller didn’t get some more love in terms of design because, with some work, this could have been the best controller of its generation, but it fell just short. Goldstar tried picking up from where Panasonic picked up but… it was mostly hard to salvage it after that point.
This controller also helped introduce the gaming controller as usable for more than gaming – while the Playstation’s controller was more user-friendly, the 3DO controller certainly had a hand in this as it had controls for music CD playback, as well, marked plainly on the controller.
3. Sega Dreamcast Controller
The reason for this landing in this position it has can be summed up very simply: VMU. That little device ate up almost as much play time as the system itself did and that is saying a lot, where I’m coming from. I’m never a fan of big, bulky controllers, especially ones that make me feel like I need to have bear paws in order to use effectively – yes, Microsoft, I’m looking at you – and this controller was needlessly big. While the DualShock was out a year prior to this one coming out on the market, the analog stick on this system did feel very good to use. Everything else, really, aside from its size, felt very standard for that time – fairly light, solid, and durable. It was that little VMU accompanying your play that really made using this controller feel unique. I would be playing a game like Soul Edge and my fighter would be moving around on that little screen, interacting with the actions taken in the game. You could take the thing out from the controller and play little minigames, depending on the game, and the results from those minigames would often influence actual gameplay and give you items, powerups, and other incentives. This thing served as a memory card and it was strongly encouraged you use it liberally. I loved the VMU and everything about it made me see past the hugeness and otherwise mediocre features of the controller. I’m yet to see anything like it and I would love to see another attempt at something similar.
2. Super Nintendo Classic Controller
This is a first on a lot of people’s lists and for good reason: this is possibly one of the most user-friendly controllers in existence and a lot of the features of this controller are still used today, such as the color coordinated buttons, shoulder buttons, six button-layout, and so on. This set the standard for nearly all controllers to come – that’s the easy part that anyone can relate to. I chose this to nest itself at my second position for the sheer ease of use for me. You could literally pick up and play any game without any confusion, unlike many of Nintendo’s later controllers – most games for the Super Nintendo were fairly simple, control-wise, and this controller, for all those games that were frustrating, could take a mean beating. Sometimes being too light can be a problem but with this controller’s sturdy build, being light only meant it was… er… easier to throw. I actually remember taking a controller, out of boredom, and doing a little manual stress test – simply twisting the controller to the point of no return. I could not, without stressing it beyond the means of normal stress – I didn’t take a hammer to it – break it in the way I intended to.
While the controller gets a lot of point for being sturdy, simple, and incredibly innovating, it was the first out of the gate and it took someone who used to have deals with Nintendo to actually perfect the controller, though even that took a little trial and error:
1. Sony Playstation DualShock 3
This is the king daddy of all controllers. It takes lessons from all controllers before it and melds it into the best feeling, best operating, best functioning controller I’ve ever used. It literally has every innovation from previous controllers, perfected. I don’t know how to talk about this controller without gushing. It’s hard to believe that the DualShock was almost ditched entirely when the Playstation 3 was released, making way for the SixAxis controller, insisting that motion control was the way of the future and that there was no way you could fit motion control and rumble weights in the came controller, citing technical problems. While the first DualShock was awesome, along with the DualShock 2, it was the DualShock 3 that stands out the most among that series of controllers – wireless connectivity, rumble, LED lighting everywhere, analog shoulder buttons, slightly heavier and sturdier build make this controller the best of the series.
So, that pretty much sums it up. These controllers will always stand out, to me, and sometimes a great design doesn’t always lead to enjoyment, for me. I actually can’t wait for the next Sony controller – I saw a concept someone made up and it made me really excited. What did you guys think of my list?