Controlling the Pain

Controllers. Gamepads. Remotes. The interface between you and the little man/robot/animal/alien/vehicle/celestial body/etc. on your TV. The handheld device that grants you control over the pixels and polygons on the screen. Video games and their consoles are defined by their controllers; they live or die by this little hunk of molded plastic we hold in our hands.

Ideally, a controller should be lightweight and easy to hold as opposed to the earlier joystick bricks. It should be comfortable in the hand for hours of play. The buttons should be placed intuitively, within reasonable reach of one’s thumbs or fingers and provide fast response to the actions on screen. It should provide very little barrier between the player and the game; it should be a natural extension of the player body and mind.

Boy, did Nintendo miss that memo with the NES.

The Cassette Tape & the Wood Panels

The Cassette Tape & the Wood Panels

WAAIIIT!! Time out! Before you start flaming me, have you held an NES controller recently? I mean seriously, that rectangular design? Those pointy corners? The sharp edges? It’s like it was designed to fit into a VCR, or I don’t know, a “ROBot,” not someone’s hands. I can say from experience that after playing the NES for any length of time you get nice red “pock marks” in your palms and that’s not counting the discomfort while you’re playing. Sure this was Nintendo’s first real console so they may have been still learning, but then why did the Japanese Famicom controller at least have softer, tapered edges and rounded corners? DO YOU HATE AMERICA NINTENDO?!?

Now /This/ is more like--WHAT DID YOU DO TO THE D-PAD?!?!

Now /This/ is more like–WHAT DID YOU DO TO THE D-PAD?!?!

It took Nintendo three freakin years to finally release the “Max” controller, which at least didn’t feel like you were holding a stack of shims. Of course, they couldn’t make it perfect and had to arbitrarily replace the D-pad with some crappy faux “analog” disc because “oh the Master System & Genesis have an eight-way D-pad, let’s make one too.” No, Nintendo. No. We don’t need sloppy eight-way controls in our 2D games. It took them another five years before they finally made a decent-shaped controller that also had a decent D-pad. But really, this was only because they were completely rebuilding the NES anyway to make it look like the Snes, so naturally the new controller mimicked the Snes’s superior design.

Now We're Getting Somewhere

Now We’re Getting Somewhere

Now don’t take this rant the wrong way, I love the NES, like so many others it was my very first video game console. But that love came with a price, a price my hands had to pay. I’m sure I’m not the only one whose hands have suffered at the controller of the NES.  At least now Nintendo has moved away from making clunky, brick-like controllers. Oh wait…