10 Worst 1st Party Controllers of All Time

Terrible Controllers 10 through 7

Atari 2600 Joystick

Atari 2600 Joystick.

10. Atari 2600

Some might question why this one is on here. Classic? Yes. Good? Debatable.

This controller single handedly got the idea of joysticks really into everyone's head. With it's digital eight way directional control and single fire button, it was simple, yet accurately brought the experience from the arcade home. However, consider that these controllers had issues with coming apart easily (there were various problems with the sticks actually coming off) and if you were left handed, you needed to either deal with the design of the button being on the wrong side and learn to play like right handed people or you needed a special alternate left handed controller controller (of which there were limited numbers). Frequently what would happen is you would pull the top black casing off of the stick itself and you'd be left with a sort of white tube that was even harder to control then the black plastic that originally covered it.

Another down side to this controller was the actual design itself. The square base and stick meant that unless you placed the base on a table (which would make it hard to control) that you would need to hold it (which was uncomfortable). Holding the controller in one hand and moving the stick with the other, while trying to find a way to press the single action button was uncomfortable, if not impossible. The problem is that if you were holding it, you were pressing up with your left hand and then using your right hand to actually move the stick around, but because it was so stiff, you would really have to jam the stick in different directions with force. The two combined motions tired your hands and proved frustrating.

Another problem was that you were limited to the two dimension axis of the stick and the one action button for your game mechanics. The limited the sophistication of the controller held back the design of the games.

Jim Greer, an independent game developer who's worked for various companies like EA and Origin, now has his own independent game start up called and Kongregate. Jim has his own opinion of the 2600 controller. "About the only positive thing I can say about it is that it was durable enough to bounce of a 9-year-old's head and keep working.", he said in an e-mail. "The joystick only moved about 1mm in any direction, which led any reasonable person to try to break it off" and "Having only one button didn't cut it, even back then. Neither did 8 directions".

The 2600 controller was passable for the time. A simpler controller for a simpler age. However, as we've move on the technology has gotten better. The joystick was a great idea that provided a more active feel to the games, but what people wanted was precise control, which it couldn't offer at the time. This ultimately gave way to the directional pad. It was ahead of its time in terms of design and just needed the technology to catch up so it could be refined. The joystick of the 2600 days has morphed into the thumbstick on today's modern controllers.


Xbox "Duke" Controller.

9. Original XBox controller

The Duke was obviously focus tested by guys who were over six feet tall and 250lbs or by a man eating gorilla. The jokes have been made over and over about the sheer size of the controller, but the size contributed to many issues. When you hold the controller and put your thumbs on the thumbsticks, you hands move so far away from the d-pad and face buttons that you will have a hard time moving your thumb over to them quickly to press something for a time sensitive action.

The black and white buttons weren't a completely terrible idea (after all, the genesis had a six button pad). The problem was the buttons being smaller than the other face buttons made them hard to hit for anything useful. Combine this with the face buttons being all rounded, and you sometimes might end up either pressing the wrong button by accident or having your finger slide off one and hit the wrong button. Try pulling off a combo in Soul Calibur 2 or Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2x is that much more difficult because moving from button to button is such a problem

Expansion ports in the controller were something else that should have gone the way of the dodo before here. You could excuse this by saying that each of the controllers that did the 'controller expansion port' idea brought something unique to the table. The N64 controller had the rumble pack. The Dreamcast had the VMU. By the time we get to the XBox, rumble was built into the controller and the memory card was almost a dead concept (the ability to store save games on a hard drive killed it for most). The only real useful module that fit into the XBox controllers was the voice chat unit. Even with that there's a good chance you never touched the second expansion port in the controller.

John Tam, a producer at Red Octane, had his own worst controller list that he sent along. The original XBox controller clocked in at #3. "The buttons shapes and position were horrible. The overall shape was too big and clumsy."

The controller just was awkward in many ways, some of which would be fixed by later in the 'S type' redesign, but the potential in the original XBox controller wasn't really realized till the XBox 360 controller (which seems to be by far the best designed standard next generation controller).

Sega Saturn 3D Controller

Sega Saturn 3D Controller.

8. Sega Saturn 3D controller

The 80s saw the rise of the gamepad over the classic design of the joystick. The innovation of a gamepad allowed for finer control in most bases because the switch type system in most of the joysticks at the time lacked precision. Then something funny happened. After almost a decade of the rise of the directional pad, Sega released the Saturn and shortly afterward NiGHTS into Dreams with its '3D controller'.

The '3D controller' almost looks like a prototype for the Dreamcast controller. The 3D controller added triggers, an analog thumb control, and a switch to select between d-pad / analog pad to the original Saturn controller. To accommodate the new additions, the size of the controller increased exponentially. It's big. Too big. While not being quite as big as 'Duke', it comes close. It doesn't help that it's also an awkward circular shape and that the hand grips are pretty rectangular which makes it a bit uncomfortable to hold.

The controller also was very cheap. There was no weight to it or resistance for either the d-pad or the analog stick. The flimsy triggers also felt more digital than analog. Triggers that aren't pressure sensitive are useless. The switch that let you pick between the analog and d-pad also made it so you couldn't use them both at the same time, thus removing the possibility to map extra controls to the D-pad for more complex games.

Tim Conneally of betanews.com also sent in his controller hitlist which the Saturn 3D controller resides on. "Besides the fact that this controller did not work with all games, it has potentially no aesthetic appeal. (I.e. highly unsexy) Fortunately, it wasn't the pack-in controller, but I'll never forget when I first saw this unsightly beast on the in-store display units and died a little."

Like alot of Sega products, they end up getting high marks for concept, but a F for execution.

Nintendo 64 Controller

Nintendo 64 Controller.

7. N64

Nintendo took the ball from Sega and ran with it, the N64 controller debuted slightly after the Saturn analog 3D controller. Instead of offering an 'analog pad', Nintendo opted for a thin stick with a thumb hat on the top which is a throw back to the Atari 2600 days. In fact, we may have Nintendo to thank for the rise of the analog stick in the past two generations of consoles as they had the N64 controller out about a whole year before Sony introduced the dual analog design into the Playstation controller. Unfortunately, the analog control on the N64 controller was hit and miss. While it added additional finer control, actually using it effectively in certain games proved difficult as it was easy to press it in the wrong direction, not to mention painful for prolonged periods if you put pressure on the top or sides.

Another major issue was the insane amount of buttons. There were four directional c-buttons, two shoulder buttons, the A, B, and Z buttons... it all got to be too much for one game to use.

The shape was also a major drawback. It had a trident type design where you could hold it in like three or four different ways, none of which let you easily press all the buttons on the controller. It seemed as if at any point in time, you were missing at least a third of the entire controller.

The expansion port on the controller on the back eventually gave us the rumble pack which really was one of first major forays into force feedback design. Unfortunately, the bulky battery eating monster made the controller unbalanced and even more awkward to hold because now there was more weight pressing down on the back.

Even though it's complex monster, it offered a lot of different gameplay opportunities. Outside of that, its a beast of buttons and plastic. One of the most redeeming qualities of the N64 controller is that if you stick a pole into the top, you can easily make Aquaman's trident.


Continued: Horrible Controllers 6 through 2

Table of Contents: 10 Worst 1st Party Controllers of All Time