What makes a good console? There are many elements, including its performance capabilities and, of course, what games are available for it. However, an often-overlooked aspect of a classic console is its game controller, an element that can help to propel a console to legendary status.
From simple two-button affairs in the 1980s, game controllers have come a long way. Modern gamepads have to be more than just conduits between you and the game. They must now act as remote hubs for content including movies, music, and images. As console become media machines, you are just as likely to use your controller for searching for legal online poker or selecting songs on Spotify as you are for fighting in Mortal Kombat 11.
So, does a controller that can do it all automatically make it an all-time classic? Not really, which is why I decided to rank some of the very best game controllers that have existed. Here’s the thing, my gaming youth was in the 1990s, so I have little experience with controllers from the 1980s. With that in mind, the following list encompasses gamepads from the 90s right up to modern-day:
- Xbox Elite Controller (Xbox One)
Microsoft has had a mixed history with game controllers. The company’s original Xbox came with an oversized, ugly, and frankly average controller experience. For the Xbox 360, Microsoft drastically improved on that original with a game controller that was so nearly excellent. It’s a similar story with the standard Xbox One controller, which is brilliant but not quite great.
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However, Microsoft finally put it all together with the Xbox One Elite Controller, which is probably the best console gamepad ever made. From its premium steel and rubber design to features such as interchangeable paddle buttons, analog stick tops, hair-trigger locks, and button customization. Yes, this is an expansive gaming perk, but it is so worth it.
- Sony DualShock 2
Like Microsoft, Sony has consistently created excellent game controllers through its PlayStation generations, but only with the PlayStation 2 did the company hit the ball out of the park. With its DualShock controller, Sony created a design that has stayed with the PlayStation brand through the launch of the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, with some added tweaks.
Featuring two analog sticks, the DualShock 2 of the PS2 introduced more nuanced console gaming, especially in first-person shooter and racing titles. Sony’s controller was such a triumph that it won an Emmy award in 2007 for “Peripheral Development and Technological Impact of Video Game Controllers” by The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
- Nintendo 64 (N64)
While the three-pronged design of the N64 gamepad was something of a love it or hate it aesthetic, this was a game-changing piece of hardware. For a start, it introduced console gamers to analog game controls, with the central prong mimicking a joystick.
Sure, this was not as accurate as a PC joystick, but the N64 still delivered while other controllers were still stuck on a simple button and D-pad configurations.
- Wii Remote
Here’s the thing, I am not particularly in love with the Wii Remote. Still, it is hard to deny the impact it had on gaming, at least for a small window where Nintendo’s Wii console impacted popular culture in a way few consoles have before or since.
The Japanese company convinced the general consumer that the future of home entertainment was waving your arms around with the motion controller. Admittedly an amazing leap in technology, the Wii Remote pushed the Wii towards becoming the most popular console of all time.
Conclusion As always, these kinds of lists will cause massive debate. Let me know if you agree with the choices, or if you want to champion another game controller, such as the forgotten Sega Dreamcast controller or even the mighty Nintendo SNES gamepad.