Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Top Five Controllers

The Wii U Gamepad was formally unveiled at last week's E3 2012 event. It seems like the perfect chance to talk about my five favorite controller input devices in video game history. These can be listed by comfort as well as innovation and impact. Will your favorite make the list?

5) The PlayStation 3's Dualshock 3

The original controller on the original PlayStation did not have analog sticks. It was only until the Nintendo 64's analog stick gained popularity that Sony added two analog sticks to their controller. The reactionary innovation of Sony knows no bounds. With the Dualshock 3 controller for the PlayStation 3 you have the pressure sensitive buttons and analog sticks that can be pressed in (the L3 and R3 inputs), much like the previous Dualshock 2. However, new to this iteration of the Dualshock was the Sixaxis technology, allowing for simple motion movements. Some games used this better than others. Although the evolution of the PlayStation brand's controller has the same basic design throughout its life, the third installment is arguably the best.

4) The Xbox 360 Controller

Outdoing the PlayStation's Dualshock controller in comfort, form, and function, the Xbox 360's controller is a modern miracle in design. It expertly combines past controller ideas and meshes them together with new ones. The diamond pattern of the four face buttons from past controllers is here, but they're given a jelly bean-like feel and look to them, two analog sticks-- not adjacent like the Dualshock, dual triggers and dual bumpers on the top of the controller, and the Home button, allowing players to see which player they are as well as sending them to the dashboard to check out information on the Xbox Live account and new achievement updates were some of the more notable qualities of the controllers. The only knock you can give to the controller-- and it is a big one for 2D games-- is the mightily mediocre d-pad, one of the worst in recent memory.

3) The Nintendo Wavebird

The terrific thing about Nintendo's Wavebird controller for use on the GameCube and then later the Wii was that the player no longer needed to hassle with a long cord connecting the controller to the actual system. The omission of rumble was unfortunate, but it allowed the Wavebird to go uncharged for play times in the range of 50+ hours. The Wavebird was yet another innovation in controller design by Nintendo that is now a mainstay. All controllers nowadays are wireless, though they don't need a separate receiver plugged into the system like the Wavebird did. The comfortable controller allowed for relief when playing games for extended periods of time, and the arrangement of the buttons and triggers was a breath of fresh air-- and they felt nice, too. Overall, the Wavebird was a welcomed addition to many GameCube owners' homes.

2) The Wii Remote and Nunchuk

While not the first device to allow motion controls to enter homes across the world, the Wii most certainly made them quite popular. But I'm not going to talk about motion controls much here-- as much as they were novel and fun to use in games like Wii Sports, Red Steel 2, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (the latter two required the Wii MotionPlus attachment). Instead I'd like to talk about the IR pointer used in FPS games, TPS games, and rail shooters. This was the thing I was most excited about with the Wii remote and nunchuk, and the games that used it made dual analog look like a dinosaur. I'd also like to broach about how cozy the controller combination of the Wii remote and nunchuk was. You could play with your hands apart, on your lap, in the air, anywhere. You could actually relax and not have your hands bound together. The nunchuk added bonus inputs to games, and you pretty much had all the buttons and inputs you needed when the two were tied together. Perhaps my only complaint with this setup is that the nunchuk and Wii remote weren't wires-free from one another. They had to be tethered together. That said, the Wii remote and nunchuk remains one of my favorite controllers around.

1) The Super Nintendo Controller

The ultimate controller for 2D gaming, the Super Nintendo controller is what I consider to be one of the most influential gaming input devices around. Since its inception in 1991, it made the diamond pattern of the four faces buttons a mainstay for nearly every controller that followed it. It made shoulder buttons the new hotness, and it was just easy on the hands to hold thanks to the rounded edges of the body. Nintendo could have simply taken their NES controller and painted it purple, but no, they advanced this hobby once more, as they are wont to do. Many days and nights were had sitting around the old Super Nintendo and playing classics that wouldn't have been possible to play as well or wouldn't have played as well on the NES like Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, multiple fighting games, and more. Note: the Super Famicom version of the controller is basically set up the same way, but it has different colored buttons.

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