25 Best Video Game Controllers
It might seem strange to come up with a list of the 25 Best Video Game Controllers, as many of you may not even remember 25 video game consoles. But, believe it or not, controller design has gone through many phases with many interesting innovations. Some controllers are designed to operate with specific games, while other controllers are made with a consoles capability in mind. Many of the controllers in this list are influencing controllers that are being designed today. So, without further ado, here are the 25 Best Video Game Controllers of all time.
Many of gaming’s best controllers allow us to play games that we simply wouldn’t be able to play without them. The Guitar Hero Controller was the controller that popularized the music genre, and to this day is still one of the best controllers out there for pretending to be a part of Led Zeppelin. Many gamers prefer its sharp digital click to the analog feel of the Rock Band controller, and since the controller was swappable between both games, many gamers continue to use Guitar Hero controllers on Rock Band and other rhythm games to this day. That's why it starts off our list of the 25 Best Video Game Controllers.
Speaking of games that you couldn’t play without specialty controllers, the NES Power Pad was used on very few games in the NES’s lifetime. However, many old school gamers owned one as it came with the NES bundle back that also included Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, and Track and Field. It was essentially just an array of large squishy buttons that you pressed with your feet, and its existence paved the way for…
Dance Dance Revolution! In the late '90s and early '00s this game was all the rage. First appearing in arcades, the game eventually came to home consoles through the use of the roll-able plastic DDR mat. This was good enough for most gamers, but real hardcore DDR players would go on to mod their plastic mats into wooden platforms or metal stages to get the best response they possibly can from their J-Pop foot stomps.
The NES Zapper was the second piece of the NES bundle pack controller trifecta, and to this day it is still one of the most beloved light guns in existence. It worked (which is more than can be said for other light guns), and its sharp click let you know exactly when you were pulling the trigger. It was also the weapon of choice for Captain N, the Game Master!
Here’s a problem. Many fighting games require six buttons to operate, but modern day controllers only have four face buttons. What do you do? Well, if you are cheap you assign your heavy punches and kicks to a shoulder button and just deal with the awkward control schemes. However, if you had fifty bucks in your pocket you could buy one of these babies which allowed you to have all six buttons right on the front of your controller for easy access.
Speaking of easy access, have you ever had a problem nailing quarter circle and dragon punch motions on a controller or joystick? Well that’s where the Hit-Box comes in. The Hit-Box replaces directional commands with sensitive arcade buttons, turning complex motions into a series of button presses. Quarter circle forward simply becomes pressing the down and forward buttons one after another. It’s a great way to tighten up your fighting game skills without spending hours having to train your muscle memory.
Motion controllers were recently introduced to the gaming world, and the PlayStation Move Wand is honestly one of the best. It’s color tracking system was really innovative, the motion sensors inside it were very sensitive, and the face buttons were easy to hit even when swinging it wildly. Unfortunately, the lack of sensitivity on the PlayStation Eye and the delay you would get when playing PlayStation Move games, coupled with a small list of games that actually supported the controller, made the Move the least popular motion control peripheral.
A lot of people like to complain that the Wii U Pro controller is just a ripoff of the Xbox 360 controller, but honestly, who cares? The controller feels great. It sits in your hand perfectly, has very responsive buttons, and is the controller of choice for more traditional Wii U games. The only valid complaint is that the analog sticks are somewhat awkwardly positioned, but even that is just nitpicking. It deserves its place on the list of the 25 Best Video Game Controllers.
Handles, glorious handles! The PlayStation One controller was essentially an SNES controller with two more shoulder buttons and a more ergonomic shape, but what a difference this made. The introduction of handles to the controller means that your hands didn’t get tired as often when going on gaming binges. The face buttons were also far more responsive than anything we had seen on the market so far.
If you were a kid with an NES, then the NES Advantage was the accessory you wanted to get. Sure there weren’t any games that actually required the sensitivity of a joystick back then, but joysticks were what arcade cabinets had, and if you were a real gamer you wanted your home setup to be as much like the arcade as possible. Also, turbo buttons! This was one of the first popular examples of turbo buttons on a controller, and if you were playing any game that requires you to mash buttons like an idiot, the NES Advantage was a near necessity.
#15 on our list of the 25 Best Video Game Controllers is, admittedly, a bit of a cheat because it isn’t really a controller as much as it’s a part of a handheld console. Still, it’s one of the best ways to control games that we have seen in ages. Everyone is trying to come up with new ways to control videogames. Motion control was a big thing this generation. Smartphone and tablet integration is coming next generation. Heck, Nintendo even fooled around with allowing you to connect handhelds to your console with the GameBoy Advance and Gamecube. But the only method of new control that really stuck was the touch screen and the DS was largely responsible.
Sure the Dreamcast controller was kind of a gigantic flying saucer monstrosity. Sure, the buttons were small and the triggers were a bit hard to hit. But the Dreamcast controller had one thing that no other console has had to this day: memory cards that were their own portable systems. The VMU was one of the most interesting and innovative devices that gaming has ever seen. The ability to play microgames on the go with the save data from your console games was genius. In a way, it can be considered the predecessor to Sony’s cross-play functionality on the Vita.
The Xbox S Controller’s shining achievement was that it wasn’t the original Xbox controller. While the original controller was a lot like holding a big sloppy burger in your hand, the S controller fit into your hands nicely. While the original controller had a strange slanted button layout, the S controller had a cross layout like we were all used to. It also had more buttons than almost any other controller at the time, adding new functionality through the black and white buttons. It was just a great solution to a horrible problem caused by its predecessor.
What controller list would be complete without this baby? It may be boxy and have sharp edges, but it was the first controller to really popularize the “game pad” layout. It was so simple! Buttons on the right side. D-Pad on the left. Start-Select in the middle. Nearly every other controller that has come out since has been a product of this one simple formula.
The original Sega Genesis had three face buttons. The Super Nintendo had four. So Sega said they would one up Nintendo and make a new controller with six buttons on its face, and it worked! There weren’t many titles that took advantage of the six-button Genesis controller, but for those that did it certainly provided unparalleled levels of control for its time. It also served as the basis for the fight pads mentioned below and many professional gamers still mod their old Genesis six-button controllers for tournament use on modern day consoles.
The Nintendo 64 controller did so many things right. It was the first modern day controller to use an “analog stick” (it was actually digital but it felt like analog.). It had an expansion slot that let you put in memory cards or, even better, the rumble pack which was one of the first examples of dedicated console controller vibration. It was also the only controller ever designed for people with three hands!
Sometimes simplicity is genius and that is the case with the Atari 2600 Joystick. One stick. One button. Infinite possibilities. Back then games were simple but elegant, not needing shoulder triggers or analog sticks or d-pads to work. All you needed was a way to move and a way to do a thing, and that’s exactly what Atari let you do.
With triggers that are incredibly responsive yet large enough to simulate an actual trigger pull, the Xbox 360 controller essentially solidified the consoles place as shooter console of choice for this generation.
Every company jumped on the motion control bandwagon last generation, but it was the Wii that started it all. The Wiimote itself was great, allowing us to play tennis and bowl right in our living rooms, but it was the Wii Motion + that eventually made this controller spectacular. With the WM+’s new rotation sensor, the Wii was able to detect the orientation of the controller along with its position relative to its user. This made motion tracking far more accurate than it originally was.
The PS4’s controller is really an interesting piece of hardware. It does away with the traditional start and select buttons in favor of an options button, a share button, and a touchpad. This actually makes sense if you think about it. These buttons have been misnomers for ages and the PS4 challenged that. The touchpad is also super sleek and allows for far greater controls in games and game menus. There’s even a light bar on the back which does some interesting things with the consoles motion sensing capabilities, but does cause the controller to chew through batteries like crazy.
The Xbox One’s controller is a testament to the philosophy of, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” It’s essentially an Xbox 360 controller with slightly smaller triggers and a shorter pull distance, more responsive bumpers, a better d-pad (thank god), and a home button that was moved up and out of the way. Overall it has all the great features of the Xbox 360 controller, just tightened up in a slightly smaller package. Did you know that Microsoft actually spent millions of dollars in order to come up with this controller design? A million dollars alone was spent just to make the face buttons look the way they do.
The Dualshock 2 was as close to controller perfection as we are going to get, for conventional controllers at least. It was everything that the original Dualshock was, but greater, and standardized for all PS2 games. The Dualshock 2’s layout was so good, Sony hasn’t had to change it. The Six Axis and Dualshock 3 used the exact same layout with the exact same analog sticks and exact same buttons as the Dualshock 2.
No matter what anyone says, the keyboard and mouse is still one of the best controller interfaces for video games, period. Not only is it the interface that first-person shooters were essentially designed for, it’s also far more flexible because ... well, it has more buttons. Imagine playing World of Warcraft without the number bar? Imagine playing a text adventure without actually being able to type words? Imagine playing SimCity without a mouse? For PC gaming, a keyboard and mouse is where it’s at.
The Super Nintendo controller is the prototype controller for all modern day video game controllers that are currently in use. It was the first controller to use the cross layout for face buttons, and the first controller to make use of shoulder triggers. Sure, later controllers may have added more buttons and joysticks but the SNES controller started it all.
Finally, we have true gaming excellence in controller form. The Gamecube controller changed its button layout according to the actual usage of the buttons themselves. The A button, for example, was the most commonly used button, and thus was the biggest. The B button was another “main” button but was used less than the A button and usually was used to cancel choices so it was red and smaller. The X and Y buttons tended to be auxiliary functions or menus so they had straighter shapes and were included along the perimeter of the A button. The C-stick was usually used for the camera and thus was loser and smaller than the analog stick. The d-pad was located below the analog stick as most games used analog movement on the Gamecube. The Z button was a faster digital alternative to the L and R triggers, which had lots of pull distance but were incredibly fast to respond and fit the contour of your fingers. The Gamecube controller was good game design condensed to fit in the palm of your hand, that's why it's #1 on our list of the 25 Best Video Game Controllers.