Many would like to dispute the relevance of the Big N in the gaming industry these days but for all the company's faults, I think Nintendo will always have a place in gaming. Skeptics like to criticize Nintendo but the thing is, much of Nintendo's competition often takes notes from them and we've seen this all too often in the form of the various controllers Nintendo has conceived. Nintendo has graced us with six different home consoles since they've been in the business and having spent quality time with five of them, I've decided to lay out my top five Nintendo Controllers.
05. NES Controller - Nintendo Entertainment System
The NES was my very first game console and as such, I spent countless hours with the rectangular device glued to my hands. Much as I adored the NES and this piece of plastic, long hours of playtime lead to some hand cramps due to the controller's edges. Unlike the Famicom Controller, the NES Controller lacks the more rounder, softer edges.
But enough about the negatives. On the plus side, the NES Controller is a heck of a lot easier on the eyes when compared to the Famicon Controller's coloring. The design of the NES Controller is probably the most simplistic of anything controller Nintendo has ever made, but at the time and one could even argue that even today, keeping things simple, control wise, really is for the best. Nintendo was trying to convince American gamers that gaming was not dead and the last thing they needed getting in their way was some super complex controller. Those bright red A and B buttons below the Nintendo logo, a sizable control pad, that was invented on Nintendo's Game & Watch handheld devices, and the start and select buttons were all gamers needed to play with power.
Looking back, I'm amazed that so many games on the NES played as well as they did with such a barebones-looking controller. We got a lot done with just A and B. With Mario we could run and jump, with Mega Man we jumped and shot, with Simon Belmont, we jumped and whipped. The buttons were also highly responsive as well. After all these years, I still own the two NES Controllers that came with my NES that my dad bought me for Christmas in 1993 and none of the buttons feel worn down or stick.
The NES Controller is also probably the most iconic controller design in the history of the medium. How many other controller designs have you seen on t-shirts, belt buckles, coffee mugs and countless other things outside of gaming?
04. N64 Controller - Nintendo 64
Nintendo often gets accused of never doing anything different. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was a radical departure from the first game. It was also a lot tougher and the gaming community cried salty, salty tears because of this. They also shook things up with the design of the N64 Controller, which bared little resemblance to the company's previous controllers. Reactions to this controller were similar to those of Zelda II. I'm starting to see why Nintendo seldom switches things up.
OK, so outcry towards this controller wasn't completely unfounded. The C buttons may have been too small for their own good and ultimately made fighting games on the N64 a no-go. Then there's the design itself. I mean, just look at it. Thing looks like an upside down pitch fork.
But don't let the odd appearance fool you. Despite what it may seem, I've actually found great comfort in holding the N64 Controller for hours at a time, something I cannot say for the NES Controller. The analog stick in the center made playing 3D games like Super Mario 64 and the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time a breeze. No longer did I need to hold a button with the left or right directional pad to make Mario run. Applying a full tilt of the analog stick in any direction of my choosing sent the plumber sprinting off in the desired path.
This baby is what mad analog controls popular. Sony was hyping the PlayStation to hell and back with it's 3D games, yet for all the promotion of such, the PS Controller lacked a proper method for 3D movement. This wouldn't get corrected until 1998 with the release of the DualShock, almost 3 years after the PS was released. Even SEGA arrived with an analog solution for the Saturn after seeing the N64 Controller, but like Sony, this was years after they system was already on the shelves. Nintendo knew moving in 3D games was going to be a very big deal and unlike their competitors, they made analog control standard for their controller right from the start.
The N64 Controller also had a big open slot underneath it which could be used to insert memory paks for saving data or the Rumble Pack, arguably the more important use of the N64 Controller slot. In inserting the Rumble Pack, gamers could receive force feedback in the form of rumble, depending on the game. This is now a standard feature in all controllers.
03. Wavebird Controller - GameCube
This may be cheating a bit since the Wavebird didn't come with the GameCube, but this puppy is such a monumental step up from the original device. The Wavebird eclipses the standard GCN Controller so easily that I feel it would be disrespectful not to include it here.
The original GCN is a highly durable piece of plastic and even though it may look strange, it's very comfortable to hold. At first glance, the Wavebird may seem like a bulkier version of the GC Controller. The main thing this baby has over the standard controller is that it's wireless. I don't think Nintendo was the first to come up with wireless controls, but they sure did make it a thing. With the Wavebird, you could be up to 30 feet away from your TV and still play your game. Yes, this means you could even have business in the bathroom and still fight Molgera in Wind Waker and trying to complete Event 51 in Melee. You know, that is, if that's your thing.
It runs on two double A batteries that should last you a long while provided you get a good brand. If you can track down a Wavebird, definitively pick one up. It's great for playing GCN games and N64 games via the Wii.
02. Wii Remote - Wii
This is a very welcoming controller. It has fewer buttons than most controllers and it functions like a TV remote. You can even use it to turn on the Wii, giving us yet another reason to be lazy. While many like to bemoan the use of motion controls (you know, people dreading that whole "change" thing), they were essential in helping Nintendo sell the Wii and bringing in a lot of outsiders to the world of gaming. With the Wii Remote, throwing a bowling ball was handled in the same manner as if throwing an actual ball, except without the weight. Swinging a baseball bat was also done in the same method of swinging a real bat. Playing first person shooters and rail shooters was changed so drastically with the Wii Remote that playing a FPS without pointing at the screen felt bland.
The Wii Remote could also be turned to the side to work like a NES Controller, which was great for the the NES titles that would hit the Wii's Virtual Console service. Thanks to this baby, I almost never had to fire up the NES to get my classic Mega Man, Castlevania and Super Mario Bros. fix. Did I also mention that the Wii Remote is wireless? Occasionally, you'll have to plug in the Nun-chuck but even then, that just plugs in to the Wii Remote itself so you can still stit a respectable distance from the TV.
Any complaints I have against the Wii Remote would be that the 1 and 2 buttons are a little too small for my liking and the control pad, much like the GCN's controller pad is also on the diminuative side. But the pros far outweigh the cons. The Wii Remote looks sleek, it can take abuse, it's wireless and no jagged edges means lots of comfy hours of gaming. Smart move on Nintendo's part making this baby backwards compatible with the Wii U because I was not ready to put her down.
01. SNES Controller - Super Nintendo Entertainment System
If you've read this far, you could probably guess that is was going to be my number once choice. In so many ways, the SNES Controller is the perfect device for gaming. Don't believe me? Let me enlighten you.
Forsaking the rectangular design of the NES Controller, the SNES Controller sports curvy edges, allowing for a nice, comfortable grip. The control pad isn't near as stiff as the NES Controller and in addition to the A and B buttons are X and Y buttons. Not only are the X and Y buttons a litgher color of purple than the A and B buttons, but they look and feel noticeably different from them, despite being the same size. This four face button setup on the SNES Controller gives it an almost arcade-like quality. In fact the SNES had some pretty successful arcade ports like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat II. The addition of the L and R shoulder triggers made the SNES controller excellent for fighting games. Capcom put those buttons to good use by allowing X to switch his weapon set in Mega Man X, a feature that would later be brought over in Mega Man 7, 8 and 10.
You cannot tell me Sony was not influenced by the SNES Controller when they made their PS Controller. The four face buttons, the placement of the Start and Select buttons, the L1, L2, R1, and R2, buttons You could even argue that the PS Controller was so successful because it took inspiration from this controller. The reasons I love the Classic Controller and Classic Controller Pro on the Wii is because they make me feel like I'm using an SNES Controller.
The SNES Controller may not have been wireless, and it certainly didn't have analog control or rumble. But it did give is shoulder buttons, two extra face buttons, an exceptional control pad, and quite possibly the best in-hand comfort I've ever felt from plastic. The fact that it was extremely light in weight was also a huge plus.