Why does a controller matter?
The controller is an oft-forgotten but key part of the gaming experience. At the end of the day it’s the only thing where the player is physically connected to what’s happening in-game so it really is significant! I’m surprised that more isn’t made of controllers when new games and new consoles are considered and reviewed, so I thought I would collect together my thoughts on the three main console controllers; Xbox One, PS4 and Switch – just looking at the standard ones that some in the box. I believe there are two main things that make a good controller: responsiveness and comfort.
The controller needs buttons that feel completely responsive, to remove as much of the barrier between the player’s actions and what happens on screen as possible. Any disparity, such as latency between button press and action, or even just the feeling that the button is harder/easier to press than it should be and the immersion of the gamer in the game is lessened.
The controller needs to be comfortable simply due to the length of time that it will be held by the gamer. Even a quick 5 minute thrash around a track in a racing game it a fairly long time to tightly hold on to something like that, let alone the multi-hour sessions that a lot of us get involved in. If the shape, weight or feel of the controller isn’t great it’s ultimately going to hurt!
Controller Comparison: Xbox One
The Xbox Controller has evolved over the years from the massive ‘Duke‘ controller that came out with Halo in 2002 all the way through to the recently released ‘Elite‘ controller for Xbox One. I believe that the Xbox controller is the best available right now because it really nails one of the above criteria – responsiveness. The basic feel of it in the hand is fine, if nothing remarkable, but every single button, be it face buttons to triggers just feels right in-game. The triggers are smooth for accelerating and braking vehicles and also quick for firing weapons. The shoulder buttons are easy to press for changing settings but also solid for throwing punches and other melee attacks. The face buttons are heavy enough for precision timing without being too heavy for quick button-bashing. They really have nailed it!
Controller Comparison : Playstation 4, ‘Dual Shock 4’
The current Dual Shock excels in the other stipulation above – comfort. Although I have some issues with the buttons being slightly spongy and their placement being odd (why are the triggers the bottom of the controller? They often catch on things) these minor gripes are made up by the great feel in the hand. The wider size compared to previous Dual Shocks is a better fit and the weight and depth of the controller feels great even after extended gaming sessions.
Controller Comparison : Nintendo Switch, ‘Joy Cons’
These are a totally different beast from the two controllers above. They are designed for a different purpose as the need for them to be easy to take off and used in multiple ways – on the console, by themselves or together on the grip – is more important than their responsiveness or comfort. In some ways the Pro Controller for Nintendo Switch would be a closer comparison but I really wanted to compare only what you get in-the-box here. What’s great about the Joy Cons actually is that they don’t have to skimp too far in order to achieve their versatility. Whilst in a direct fight they would be third best here in both responsiveness or comfort they actually get remarkably close considering all the things they need to be able to do.
All three of the controllers that you get in the box with these current consoles have their strengths. And all three are decent in the other areas too. It’s crazy to think how far we’ve come: 15 years ago I would have been putting down the original Xbox controller and picking up a Dual Shock 2 and not enjoying the feel of either in my hands. With these controllers available today we really are spoilt!
What about you? Which is your favourite controller on consoles at the moment? And which is your favorite ever?! Let us know in the comments below.