Why can’t Nintendo ever seem to get a controller right?

But the GameCube controller….

You know what, you guys already know where this discussion is going so let’s get this one out of the way first. I’m gonna Tarantino it for a minute here and start with the middle of the article.

The GameCube controller: charming, yet frustrating

You all love that GameCube controller and I know it. The GameCube controller was OK. I loved the feel of it and I liked how the A button was extra large and I kind of liked the placement of those Y and X buttons. Everything else about it made me uneasy. The “C stick” or whatever you want to call it felt weird to hold for extended periods, like in an FPS game. The L and R buttons had far too much tension on their springs (although I liked that satisfying click they had). The D-pad just sucked, its worse than the Xbox 360 D-pad. There, I said it.

Alright, back to the beginning.

The Wii U is coming out soon and with it we have not one but two different controllers for the console (three if you count the original WiiMote). I’m doubtful about the overall comfort and feel on these controllers. Not from anything I’ve seen or even held, but largely from a troubled history in the last 2 decades of controller design with Nintendo.

Nintendo just can’t seem to get controllers right anymore. Personally I think they were a little blindsided by the Sega Genesis controller which basically played like a dream (still does). Its evident that since the otherwise great SNES controller Nintendo has just been too preoccupied with trying to be “different” to really focus on what makes a controller “good”. Let’s take a look at all of the major Nintendo controllers in the last 2 decades to understand why I’m skeptical at best (and again the SNES one was great, so get off my back).

The Nintendo 64 controler: 3 arms required

People knew right out of the gate that the N64 controller was wrong. It had 3 hand placements! What? Anybody could look at the trident shape and instantly see that it had some major problems. Sure it looked kind of neat, but shifting hands to play games in different ways was just stupid. That tiny analog stick definitely introduced many of us to the wonders of analog movement, but the stick was also incredibly uncomfortable and made my thumbs sore after extended playthroughs. Don’t even get me started about Mario Party, which would pretty much break this thing.

The WiiMote and Nunchuck: a controller split down the middle

I hate the WiiMote. I really hate everything about it. The flailing around in games that isn’t necessary. The separated analog stick from the rest of the controller. The straight and uncomfortable remote-control design. The stupid cord in-between the two things. Its all pretty dumb. Nintendo did a solid and corrected themselves by including a nice little plastic sock to put the thing in and make it easier to hold, but now you have this floppy plastic thing that feels bizarre. I’m most annoyed by the inclusion of only 1 analog stick as well as the separation of these 2 parts of an incomplete controller. For all the bells and whistles the WiiMote has I really think Nintendo dropped the ball on the overall design here, again electing to do something way different than the competition while neglecting the comfort design of what could have otherwise been a pretty sweet little controller.

The Wii U GamePad: wide grip for in-your-face gaming

I’m going to give a big optimistic pass to the GamePad for now since I’m not too sure how it will feel. The biggest skepticism I feel is probably with the small analog sticks, the button placement and the wide-grip to suit the large screen inside. That wide grip feels OK for short play sessions, but I’m not so sure about the long sessions of Call of Duty where precision will be key. Feeling comfortable will also be key in those situations. I’m just not sure on this one, based on my experience with past controllers. I’m just not convinced that Nintendo is going to get this whole “screen in a controller” thing right, at least on the first pass.

The Wii U Pro Controller: right idea with the wrong execution

And this is where Nintendo gets so close its just painful. Yes the controller isn’t out yet, but we can already see major issues with the design here. A design that, I’m convinced, was merely to show people that Nintendo is still different, even though its now focused on delivering a hardcore experience. The placement of those analog sticks are the first sign that nobody really play-tested this thing through much. Might not look like much, but the close proximity of those X and A buttons to the upper-right analog stick means that they will probably get pressed on accident pretty often. That right-side stick should honestly be seated lower for comfort in the first place. Reports that the controller feels too light and cheap are also not putting me at ease about the thing.

And while this might be little more than a rant, I really do think the common thread here is that Nintendo is not willing to ever concede to more ergonomic designs. It must put out something that looks and feels and plays different, but doesn’t necessarily need to be comfortable or tailored to the hardcore gamer. That also means that these controllers tend to be pretty off in their shape and feel. Ultimately this is one of the reasons why I’m not very excited about the Wii U‘s prospects of being a hardcore console experience and I hope Nintendo can figure this out sometime soon.

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About Ryan Saul

Hailing from Portland, OR I work by day and blog by night. I like to consider myself a video game connoisseur, playing as many new things as I can get my hands on. Its hard to hold me down to one game for very long before I move on to the next big thing. Luckily, that works pretty well in terms of video game blogging.

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