Here Are Your Top Ten Controllers of All Time

[Cover image designed by Marshall Bock]
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These are the results from last week’s reader poll of the best first-party controllers of all time.

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#10 – Genesis / Mega Drive 6-button controller

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In addition to being one of the first control pads with rounded grips rather than the hard right angles of most controllers up to that point, the six face buttons made this controller one of the best of its era for fighting games and other arcade ports. One of the first times in console history that a mid-generation controller redesign became the new default controller for a platform.

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#9 – Wii Remote and Nunchuk

wii-remote-and-nunchuk

It was likely more due to the simplicity of this controller combo that it made this list than its motion capabilities, although when motion controls were well-implemented–like with light gun games–it could be very special indeed. The fact that the “Wii-mote” was essentially just an NES controller turned vertical and the nunchuk is basically the middle prong of an N64 controller was a brilliant dose of sly nostalgia.

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#8 – PlayStation 2 DualShock 2

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Sony took an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to its Dual Shock successor, leaving the look and layout identical to the original but adding pressure-sensitive analog face buttons, sturdier analog sticks, and a sleek black finish. They were apparently so proud of it that the PS3 controller is basically indistinguishable from it visually.

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#7 – PlayStation 4 DualShock 4

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The fourth iteration in the DualShock line kept the original design largely intact, only spaced out to make room for its new touch pad (which can also be clicked in, adding yet another “button”). Not pictured is the light bar on the top of the controller that changes color to help differentiate players or serve other unique game-specific functions.

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#6 – Nintendo 64 Controller

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People were initially confused by the N64 controller’s three-pronged design until they realized that it smartly allowed users to hold the controller different ways depending on the type of game they were playing. It was also one of the first consoles to launch with an analog stick on its controller, something that has been the norm ever since.

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#5 – NES Controller

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Striking a perfect balance between the simplistic joystick and single button of the Atari 2600 and the overly complicated keyboard-like controllers of the Intellivision and ColecoVision, the NES controller also introduced the world to the “d-pad,” which controllers continue to have in some form to this day.

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#4 – PlayStation DualShock

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Arguably the most significant first-party controller redesign in video game history, adding not only one but two analog sticks to the original PS1 controller made controlling 3D games as viable on consoles as on PC for the first time ever. It’s hard to say why it ranked above all of its improved-upon successors other than the nostalgia people have for the many amazing games they played with it.

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#3 – Xbox 360 Controller

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It’s not terribly different than a DualShock, except in the two ways that mater most: wisely swapping the left analog stick with the control pad, and filling out the handles in order to better fit larger Western hands. Having two triggers and two “bumpers” also feels more versatile than the DualShock’s four shoulder buttons. Perhaps most crucially, the guide button was also a major revolution and has been copied by every console controller ever since.

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#2 – GameCube Controller

gamecube_controller

Essentially taking the N64 controller to its logical and more streamlined conclusion, the GameCube controller was one of the last traditional console controllers to still have a bit of personality while Sony and Microsoft battled to have the most utilitarian controllers possible. It wasn’t perfect for every type of game, but like any good Nintendo controller, it made controlling first-party games a Zen-like experience.

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#1 – Super NES Controller

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While it seems to have two less buttons than its (redesigned) Sega counterpart, those lost buttons were actually moved to the top of the pad, introducing the world to the concept of the “shoulder button.” Keeping the number of buttons you need to use your thumb for to a manageable four while moving the remaining ones to the top to be pressed by your unused index fingers was one of the biggest revolutions in controller history, with most console controllers only having four face action buttons to this day. Of course, like with the DualShock, people probably just love this controller because, well, they used it to play the SNES library. What else is there to say, really?

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13 thoughts on “Here Are Your Top Ten Controllers of All Time

  1. Don’t kill me for this, but I always found the SNES contoller a bit ugly. Maybe I would have placed in #1 one among N64, NES and PS Dual Shock. Anyway is always wonderful to see all these controllers all in one place! 🙂

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  2. I would rather play an action game with #10 or #11 than any other controller on the list. Rocking pad designs are the apex of two dimensional control. Of course, the current “retro” fanbase seems to prefer games that focus on menus over twitch games, so they are fine with the mushy SNES d-pad and cut your thumbs NES bricks. The 360 controller is the greatest driving game controller of all time, with one of the worst digital pads. The Sony d-pad is possibly the most uncomfortable ever designed. Strange list indeed.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ideally, controllers should’ve gotten progressively better overall as time has gone on, but that isn’t the case. As you’ve pointed out, trends change which makes companies design controllers to fit those trends, and that leads to aspects of controllers taking a step back in some areas (like all the terrible digital pads over the years).

      Also, there’s just an inherent overlooking of Sega in general in terms of its contributions to gaming history – for reasons I haven’t quite figured out – which leads to their products being unfairly left off of lists and discussions like this.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Agreed. It’s definitely more about how exclusive, expensive or moe things are for today’s niche gamers, and the younger generation sees Sega the way mine sees Atari. Its a different conversation, but the color palette limitations and low sampling rate on non-FM sounds that are weaknesses of the MegaDrive/Genesis overshadow its blistering CPU speed for RPG and Nintendo first party obsessives.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t believe it (Victor Mildrew style)!!!

    I’m with Game Sack on this one, the Saturn Mk II controller was the best pre-anologue creation. That’s subjectively factual!

    Liked by 1 person

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