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The Best Designed Video Game Controllers

With the new Xbox project announced at E3 this year, codenamed “Scarlett”, everyone is wondering what the next generation of consoles will bring. There’s predictions of the consoles being stream-only, and doing away with discs entirely. There’s even rumours of keyboard and mouse support for the next home console from Microsoft.

Usually reserved for PC gamers, the keyboard and mouse allows for more accurate playing and faster response — particularly in FPS games. But there’s just something more comfortable about a handheld controller, and a bit more exciting too — many consoles in the past have come up with ways and means to innovate the design to bring a whole new level to console gaming.

In this article, we’re celebrating the best of console controllers. We’re honouring them in no particular order, however, so no arguments here!

The DualShock series – PS1/PS2/PS3/PS4

Many a gamer’s virtual weapon of choice against such classic villains as Sephiroth and Doctor Neo Cortex, the DualShock is an example of a controller design that has stood the test of time.

For better and for worse.

The hand grips are comfy and the buttons perfectly placed, but some gamers have pointed out their frustration at the placement of the D-Pad on the DualShock — a placement that has remained even with its most recent iteration, the DualShock 4. The D-Pad on a DualShock is situated on the left side, opposite the main buttons, meaning it has a prime location…but it’s hardly ever used. And, in truth, the D-Pad isn’t that well designed; compared to the Xbox’s circular D-pad design, it feels a little restrictive in terms of fluid movement.

Still, the controller, particularly the PS4’s, is a comfortable one, and the in-built speaker ramps up your immersion in a game. Speaking of the PS4’s controller, it does feel strangely too lightweight. It has a weirdly hollow feeling, so it doesn’t feel very durable. The fact that some have survived a few Dark Souls 3 induced tantrums is nothing short of a miracle.

GameCube controller — GameCube

Many lists place this as the number 1 best-designed controller of all time, and it’s easy to see why. Sturdy, comfy, and with a satisfying guide-click when the left analog stick is used, the GameCube controller is everything you need from a video game controller.

The colourful action buttons, at first glance, seem oddly-placed. In practice though, they are perfectly spaced for their role: the big green “A” button dominating the set is a fan-favourite, and as the primarily-used button, it needs to be the focus. The red “B” button a short reach across from that act as the secondary action or cancel feature, then the two “Y” and “X” buttons surrounding the main “A” button’s perimeter are lesser-used, but not unwieldly to get to.

The only weird part was the Z-button. It didn’t serve much of a purpose, and was weirdly isolated from the rest of the controller.

But all in all, the GameCube controller was a triumph of controller design. Which is probably why all attempts to “improve” or “innovate” the controller often feature on lists of the worst designed controllers. Remember the Resident Evil 4 Chainsaw controller? Sure, it looked cool, but it wasn’t going to help you outrun Dr. Salvador’s decidedly more well-practiced chainsaw skills.

The Best Designed Video Game Controllers - 1

The Xbox 360 controller — Xbox 360

Unlike the previous entry on this list, the full series of Xbox controllers cannot be called “well-designed”. Where the 360 and Xbox One controllers are sleek, easy-to-handle bits of kit, the original Xbox controller was almost as unruly as the Wii U controller. At least the Wii U controller had the excuse of housing an entire screen in its centre that needed it to look like a futuristic baking tray — the not-so-affectionately named “The Duke” was unnecessarily cumbersome. It was large, but it was not in charge; using this to play Soul Calibur 2 was frustrating to say the least.

But back to the delightful controllers. The 360 controller stands out as being one of the best in this line of controllers. It was sleek, responsive, and although some loved and some hated the D-Pad design, this controller was just a wholesome delivery of good design without any frills or gimmicks.

The Wii remote — Nintendo Wii

Before Nintendo’s Wii U mis-step, there was the Wii. A hugely popular console that sold out everywhere in the run up to Christmas 2006, part of its selling point was its motion controls, which worked via the console’s ground-breaking controller design.

It was unlike anything gamers had seen before; up until then, controllers had followed a pretty standard, universal design: a game pad with two hand grips (well, the N64 tried to add a third on, and it was as hideous as it was pointless) movement controls on the left, action buttons on the right.

Now, we had two controllers — one for each hand, a remote on the right and a “nunchuck” on the left. The revolution blew everyone’s minds and also broke a fair few fingers and TVs. There was the option of the Classic Controller Pro for those slightly more intensive games, such as Monster Hunter Tri, but the Wii remote held up well on its own for most of the games offered on the console. The concern that it would only work for “movement gimmick” games was unfounded, as sprawling, story-based games like The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess proved the Wii remote was comfortable, responsive, and multi-talented.

Special mention — Atari 2600 joystick

As noted by, the delight of this controller is in its simplicity. Plus, the design is just iconic for video gamers everywhere, even those too young to have played a console that used one of these. It wouldn’t fly today, and hasn’t really stood the test of time (imagine trying to play Demon’s Souls with a stick and one button).

We defy you to not hammer that classic red button while shouting “Pew! Pew, pew, pew!”

There’s been some fantastic controller designs in the past, so we’re looking forward to seeing what the next generation of consoles bring. Maybe we’ll get lucky and see one of the firm’s rapid prototyping models leak online soon. Will we be sticking to the normal gamepad design, or will Sony and Microsoft take a leaf from Nintendo’s book and change it up entirely?