Console wars are a thing of silliness, and that means that “better controller” is a kind of ammunition used in the comment battles. I realize it’s a subjective conversation, because I’ve actually heard some people prefer the very original design of the Xbox controller. You know, that monstrosity made for giants? But there is something to the conversation, and there are some agreed upon concepts that could certainly help someone find a controller that works best for them.
First, there’s the matter of function. What if, say, your controller only needs one button? Then Atari’s joystick was a contender. What if you just need four? The sharp edged Nintendo controller of yore isn’t going to win any contests for ergonomic design, but it’s hard to notice that when it more than accomplishes its menial task of facilitating simple inputs for simple games. Nintendo’s TV remote style Wiimote also makes the most sense for the goals of that system. Force feedback steering controllers ae best for driving games and there are a slew of flight controllers that we could also look at, but the spirit of this article demands we look at something a little more mainstream.
Let’s look at the peculiarity of the Game Cube controller which is still iterated upon for modern Smash Bros. releases. Fans of the game insist upon it. Why is that? On one hand, it could be a matter of tradition. The controller has been in use since Super Smash Bros. Melee and, much like fighting game players who use fight sticks, it allows them to rely on years of muscle memory. The large range of movement on the shoulder buttons are also appreciated. Some claim that the analog stick, at least fresh out of the package, is “tighter,” than its rivals. I also like the layout of the controller and the fact that it is wired offsets any sense that I am subject to input latency, even though I suck and latency isn’t likely to come up in any of the matches I play in. Still, there’s something to be said about layout.
Now, Smash is a very specific example, and it is primarily played using just a single analog controller. The other two contenders in this scuffle have two distinctly different analog layouts. The Xbox One controller has its analog sticks staggered, so that the left analog stands further from the palm than the right. On the PlayStation 4, both sit near the middle of the controller, equidistant from the grips. Both of these controllers are based on predecessors, and each of them is remarkable in its own right.
To have a preference, like with the Game Cube controller with Smash, might be a matter of legacy; which layout are you used to? In the middle of a game, my brain relaxes and I don’t notice which controller I’m even holding. The relative position of the thumbsticks and the triggers on both controllers are situated in such a way that it accommodates the grip you are forced to take. By this I mean, the place you put your thumbs is going to change the orientation of your hand. If I had to pick, I’d say that the triggers on the Xbox One controller are slightly more comfortable for me using the grip that I do and the controller feels less cramped but, for some reason, it feels like a step back from the 360 controller for me. Ergonomics are a complicated thing!
But that is just me. Everybody has different hands. Preferences, in these regards, are going to be a hybrid between tradition and actual physical traits. Maybe one day, the perfect controller will be made and everybody will agree on it. I’m sure a lot of work goes into each of these designs, even if they appear remarkably similar. Sometimes it even looks like we’ve basically settled on perfection. But until even if perfection is ever reached, and perhaps after, we will continue to have these arguments. Let’s keep them fun and silly because, at their core, that’s what these discussions should be.