The controller is an integral component of any games console. They are a player’s “handle” on the games. The device through which all interaction within the virtual time and space takes place. With that in mind, it astonishes methat many of the major companies progression in this area have been slow. Little has changed to the humble controller since the 6th generation of consoles.
Nintendo was the only company at the time to employ games designers alongside a team of ergonomic designers to develop their controllers in parallel. This is the company that brought us the d-pad, shoulder buttons, analogue control and force feedback. It’s no surprise they were also the first to spring up with wireless input. The WaveBird appears to be a normal GameCube controller at first. A little chunkier and without the force feedback. However, it’s not until you play with the controller do you really understand it. It’s the sense of freedom allowed – like passing your driving test and learning just how free you can be.
Since the WaveBird all consoles have come with a wireless option, and today’s it’s the standard. The WaveBird wasn’t the first wireless controller released for consoles – even the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) had a third-party offering. However, it is the controller that set the modern standard.
Curiously, in the same generation Microsoft took it upon themselves to update their pad half way through the console lifecycle. Similar to Sony’s launch of the DualShock system for the original PlayStation. The original Xbox pad was bulky. Seemingly cast of the DreamCast mould, it featured triggers and mounted ports for Memory Paks. The “updated” S-pad unfortunately seems to have been inspired directly by the DualShock 2 controllers. With the Xbox requiring more face buttons than the PlayStation 2 it feels as if the start, back, black and white buttons have been set aside almost purposefully. At the time, this rendered beat-‘em-ups practically unplayable on the system.
At the time the market was clearly PlayStation 2 orientated. A gripe I often hear from PlayStation 2 owners is that the GameCube and Xbox controllers are too weird or bulky. Yet when they experience the distancing between face buttons on the GameCube controllers it becomes hard to adjust back to the minimal spacing and symmetrical layout.
With these being only a small comparison of major elements of the controllers I’m never going to convince everyone through reading this article. However I urge to pick up a copy of Soul Calibur II on all three formats. Discover for yourself how the analogue precision, button placement and freedom experienced at the hand of the WaveBird just cannot be beaten.
Obviously times have since changed. The DualSense controller is arguably Sony’s finest ever. Microsoft seems content with slowly redefining the Xbox 360 pad, and Nintendo are, well, being Nintendo. Whichever controller may be your favourite now, it’s hard not to look back at the 6th generation as the consoles that set the standard we live by today.