Get a Grip: Why Your Favorite Controller Sucks

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Sticky buttons, uncomfortable shapes, and clunky joysticks — no game controller is perfect. Here are 12 classics with just as many problems.

NES

The rectangular little heartthrob that could, the NES controller represents all those warm and fuzzy memories we have of rotting our brains in front of a tube TV for hours on end. Unfortunately, time doesn’t remember this controller as fondly as you do. A rectangle? I’m just going to assume that the dog bone redesign was a solution for innumerable cases of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

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Yeah, that looks pretty accurate.

SNES

The prototypical design that laid the groundwork for two console generations of button-mashing and monster slaying, the SNES controller is a big step up from its little brother. Real grips are nonexistent in this design, but grips on any controller were pretty terrible at the time. Also, the face buttons should be rotated 90 degrees clockwise.

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Top right, please and thank you.

Genesis/Megadrive

I think we all remember the confusion of playing Sonic the Hedgehog and discovering that every face button did the same damn thing. That situation was actually preferable to games that required awkward use of all three buttons, and the skinny thumb-punching D-pad made long sessions painful.

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Right where it belongs.

Playstation

Ah, the Playstation, sweetheart of the 32-bit generation. Its controller improved incrementally on previous designs, but came with some serious flaws. The start button in the shape of a “play” button was a little clever, but in practice an asinine design decision. The spongy D-pad didn’t help, either.

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Appropriately long grips? Nah, scrap it.

N64

Quite possibly the mother of all controller abominations. What was Nintendo thinking? A line of rainbow-vomit frankensteins, these controllers went wrong in so many places that I don’t know where to start: an analog stick designed to bite it early, (four!) feverishly conceived camera buttons, another positional change for the A and B buttons, and the near impossibility of using the D-pad and the analog stick in the same holding position. Z-trigger?     Sure.

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Boo.

Dreamcast

Before fighting game fans rip me apart, remember that this console was released near the marriage of high polygon counts and silky frame rates. One could assume that control in polygonal 3D games would have been tantamount to the design, yet I still have nightmares about that joystick. The grips were an ergonomic step backward, and the VMU was nothing more than a novel pipe dream.

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Imagine a controller with a heart. Now rip it out.

PS2

Convinced that there was no better controller on the planet, Sony decided to skip R&D and reuse the DualShock design for — brace yourself — the DualShock 2! Keeping any innovations under the hood in the form of laughably useless pressure-sensitivity, the second iteration of Sony’s flagship design guaranteed that button-mashing would be a thing of the past.

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Same squishy D-pad, now with mushy buttons!

GameCube

Finally, a controller that looks stupid and feels great! Mostly. Except for the GBA D-pad they crammed in there. And the we-won’t-even-pretend-it’s-analog C-stick. Not to mention the awkwardly large range on the analog shoulder buttons. Is that a Z button now? Even better.

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Great for Smash Brothers. Garbage for everything else.

Xbox

Ah, the Duke. Funny how people find endearing ways to defend their stupid preferences, huh? This one’s almost too easy, especially after the S-type popped up. Even so, a new coat of paint did little to hide those shameful black and white buttons.

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The perfect way to mask poor programming.

Wii

I love when gaming brings people together — young and old, casual and hardcore. Too bad that unification came at the price of precise control. The Nunchuk and Motion Plus aimed to correct that; too bad you can’t dress a gunshot wound with colorful bandages. As a bonus, the lightgun-like technology was so outdated, you could substitute the sensor bar with a candle!

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I can think of another way to use a candle here.

PS3

Now the joke has turned dark. New features included an irreplaceable battery doomed to a short lifespan, motion-sensing technology eventually gutted for the cleverly named DualShock 3, triggers made of melted ice cream, and of course, every existing problem with the previous designs.

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Don’t change a thing. Seriously. Ever.

Xbox 360

Quite possibly the least offensive controller of all time, so let’s blow the one negative way out of proportion, shall we? The D-pad is so bad, it’s not even digital. Crafted on an incredibly cheap analog stick housed in a movement-restricting casing (not unlike Evangelion’s soon-to-be-berserk Eva), this choice marked an otherwise solid piece of artistry completely unusable for any fighting game ever.

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This is the D-pad’s true nature.

Article by contributor Drew Noffs.

21 thoughts on “Get a Grip: Why Your Favorite Controller Sucks

  1. and yet i would take any of those controllers over a Dpad and mouse, even the abomination that is the mega drive controller
    the dreamcast was so good except the awful wire at the bottom

  2. I really liked Wii-mote and nunchuk Frankenstein combo. Best for pure laziness, I literally played most Wii games with my hands 2 feet apart, I could grab a beer if kept the wrist strap on. A+ controller.

    And If the Wii U was based around the Wii U Pro Controller instead of the dumb ass tablet. Holy shit that controller/tablet monstrosity sunk the only system this generation that actually HAS games. Or at least games that work, and are exclusive to the console it’s supposed to be made for. FFS that thing pisses me off, especially when they come and give us the Pro Controller which is a pretty damn good controller!

  3. What, no Atari 2600 or ColecoVision controllers? You wanna see some shitty controllers, the ColecoVision takes the cake 🙂

    Not to nit pick but that is not a Nintendo N64 controller, the N64 controller requires 3 hands 🙂 And at least at the time most games were designed to incorporate that controller so you either used the d-pad or the control stick and not both. But it’s not something I ever wanna go back and use. I still remember grinding the analog stick with my palm playing 1080 Snowboarding.

    That being said, the 360 is still my favorite of all them. However for 2D games I love to rock an NES or SNES controller. Of course I grew up with them, but I do occasional hook up my old consoles and I still prefer playing 2D Mario games with those controllers. One of these days I will get a USB adapter so I can use my old controllers on the PC.

    I still don’t understand how Nintendo went from the Game Cube Wavebird controller which I considered to be the best controller at the time, to the disaster that was the Wiimote. I feel like Microsoft aped the design of the Game Cube controller to make the 360 controller which I’m glad they did because the original Xbox controller was garbage.

    1. Well you see my theory is that they made such a perfect controler with the wavebird they knew they couldn’t top it. So they said let’s try something completely new and just let them plug in a GameCube controler if they want. The true successor is the classic controler pro, then the Wii U pro, and now the switch pro.

  4. The age of someone can be calculated to be in their early twenties if they think the GameCube controller was good, because they were kids who only had one system and they played a lot of Smash. The Dualshocks 2 and 3 are inarguably the best controllers to date.

  5. I’ve never felt comfortable with Xbox controllers. They’re just too chunky for me and my small hands. Nothing beats the DualShock 3 in my eyes. Having grown up with PlayStation consoles, my hands have fully formed to grip that thing like its an extension of my own body. I’ll never be more comfortable playing games than with a DualShock in hand, so much so that I’m kind of dreading the day I’ll have to retire my poor old PS3 and adopt a PS4. Those PS4 pads just aren’t the same. 🙁

  6. My hands hurt just seeing some of those designs. I have no earthly idea how we gamers got by playing video games on some of those clunkers. I remember the shoulder buttons on my SNES controllers eventually giving out from heavy use. I HATED the PS2 controller. It felt like a cheap plastic toy with no real physical feedback to my input. I went through a handful of those because of the horrible D-pad that always eventually gave out. The wireless Logitech I used instead was a godsend. I played more hours of Monster Hunter than I care to admit on that thing. I will have to defend the PS3 controller though. I still have the original that came with my console and it’s a workhorse. It was a VAST improvement over the PS1/PS2 versions. It felt a little more ergonomic, had a nicer heft in my hands and it actually had some solid feedback when pushing buttons. My only complaint after switching to a 360 controller is the very loose joysticks.

  7. Eh, NES, SNES, Genesis controllers were fine, unless you had monster hands. Personally, I think the Master System control is superior to the NES.

    The Saturn had the best control of that 32/64 bit era.

    And I know I’m in the minority, but I loved the big, fat Xbox controller. We called it “The Watermelon.”

  8. The og Xbox controller pleases my manly hands, you plebeians. Bow before it, for it is much, much bigger than you.

  9. I still maintain that the Gamecube controller is the most comfortable controller ever designed and worked well for most games on the system. I don’t think I’d ever want to use it for an fps though…

    1. I recently picked up the Hori Fight pad for WiiU, Shaped like a Gamecube controller and I totally forgot how good the controller was. Feels great in my hand.

    2. Yeah, i think the power-a gamecube controller is the best controller, it’s literally just a gamecube controller, but with all the capabilities of a modern switch controller: home button, screenshot button, minus button, a second shoulder button, and, because it’s wireless, the light showing which player you are. You can also switch out the c-stick for an actual analog stick, and switch out the left analog stick for a second c-stick (you know, if you’re insane) I dont have one, but i want to get one for smash on the road, and to use for every other game on the switch, because ergenomically, the gamecube controller is actual perfection.

  10. The PlayStation controller is one of the worst designers ever conceived, unless you have hands like a Lego figure, utterly diabolical. I am baffled, however by the inclusion of the Megadrive pad over the Jaguar controller. The sheer effort it must have taken to ruin that controller blows my tiny mind.

  11. Report: That doesn’t matter. I love the SNES controller, which doesn’t mean it actually sucks. I still love it. Not a whole SUCKY thing. Get a life, man.

  12. You forgot to mention the Sega Saturn’s HSS-0101 (MK-80116 in the west) controller. Yeah, the Sega Saturn was a failure but only just barely compared to some other systems that came out during its time. This is especially notable for this article since the controller was assuredly one of the few things it got right and every fighting game fan’s favorite, as generations of aftermarket controllers were created in its image, most especially including the fightpads Hori and Madcatz made during the early Playstation 3 and xBox 360 era. Sega Limited Service even released Playstation 2 and U.S.B. versions which are horrendously expensive on ebay now. Also, I’d complain about the Playstation’s “ergonomic” grips much more than you did. They jut out and away from the controller in such a way that causes an unnatural split between the middle and ring fingers if you want quick access to that second row of shoulder buttons, and if you have one with an analog thumbstick it’s a bit of a stretch for the thumb to reach it since it was only tacked onto the SCPH 1080 when Sony realized how well the analog thumbstick worked for the N64.

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