With this new generation of consoles coming, the controller seems to be the most talked about feature. (You know, other than that whole DRM thing) I don't remember the controller design being all that important up until the Playstation 1 / N64 era. Moving into "3D" worlds required much more precision than ever before. Manufacturers had to concentrate on more than going left or right and having 2-6 input buttons.
The controller had to be an afterthought for most console designers before the early 90s.
The NES came with its harsh rectangle and stiff D-pad. The Colecovision had its calculator with the joystick at the top. Or the similarly designed Intellivision with the calculator at the top instead.
Sega seemed to have the worst designs. I never really got comfortable with the Dreamcast controller and the few times I held a Saturn controller I wanted to throw it out the window. Even the simplicity of the Genesis controller wasn't exactly perfect. I still have scars from the blisters that controller gave me when playing Royal Rumble.
There have actually been more controller failures than successes. But, being ever the positive person, I'm going to focus on my top three favorite controllers.
3. Xbox 360
There's no way this controller could be in the top list if the D-pad was used more often in modern games. We can all agree, it is probably the worst D-pad on a controller.
But in the age of the console first person shooter, this controller is the best. The triggers, bumpers, and placement of the sticks are ergonomically perfect for the modern console game.
It wasn't until I switched to the Playstation 3 when I realized just how perfect this controller is. And considering where it came from, it's design was no small feat. Just look at the original Xbox's controller (I count it among the worst) compared to where Microsoft brought the design for the 360.
2. Playstation Dual Shock 2: Specifically, the emerald green see through Dual Shock 2 controller.
The weight was great, the design gorgeous, and I could play for five hours without getting tired.
I loved being able to see through the case and see how the Dual Shock worked.
I used this bad boy so much that the analog sticks eventually stopped working. Not willing to throw it in the trash, I took the controller apart and figured out how the thing worked. Turned out one of the pads the joystick interacted with was lose. Just had to reseat it and it worked perfectly.
It felt solid to. I knew I could use it as a weapon if I somehow came under attack while playing games.
1. Nintendo Gamecube
A small confession, I might spend time on the weekends writing love poetry to this controller.
I don't hear this controller talked about often, but no other controller comes close to the Gamecube. My fingers instantly knew where all the buttons were. It was light, it had a lot of beautiful feminine curves, and it came in just about every color you could want.
It felt like the games were built around the controller, whether you were playing MarioKart or Resident Evil 4. Everything just worked.
I still boot up my Gamecube from time to time and just wish I could pair that controller up with my Playstation 3.