Video games are unique as an interactive medium because of the element of interactivity. From something simple like picking dialogue options to navigating open-worlds, the player has the ability to directly influence the world. However, a bridge must be created between the player and the world of the game; that bridge is the controller.
Many people have written or produced content about game controllers. Despite that, it's still fair to say the average consumer doesn't often think about their game controller unless it isn't working. Companies have iterated and innovated on the concept of the controller for decades. Some companies break the mold and create something that revolutionizes the gameplay experience. Others break the mold and create something that's total nonsense. Either way, they certainly spice up the gameplay experience in their own way.
10 Innovative: NES Gamepad
Of course the NES gamepad is considered an innovative controller. It's fair to say that (almost) every controller that followed owes inspiration to the NES's classic design. It's wildly simple: a directional-pad, two face buttons, and two menu buttons of sorts. While this is more than what is seen on an Atari 2600 controller, for example, it cut down on a lot of button bloat from keypad controllers that were popular for some reason.
The controller hasn't aged perfectly. The box-like design isn't the most comfortable to hold, and it's limited for anything beyond the console it's designed for. Despite that, it's the backbone of any modern controller.
9 Nonsense: N64 Controller
Nintendo is smart at designing controllers. They're willing to take risks to make something work. As gaming moved into a 3D space, developers realized that an analog stick was needed to properly maneuver in more than just eight directions. Otherwise, it was a challenge to play games in the FPS genre, for example. Nintendo made this analog stick the focus of their N64 controller for a reason.
The rest of the design though? It's like two controllers rigged together haphazardly, and games never made full use of everything it had to offer. If they did, the player would need three hands. It's often mocked for a reason, but it's hard to argue it isn't at least charming.
8 Innovative: Sony's DualShock
Sony took lessons from Nintendo in terms of 3D gaming, with two very important features: analog sticks and a rumble pack. The DualShock marries the best parts of Nintendo's weird controller into a shell that makes sense for human hands.
The DualShock just works, and works well. There's a reason why Sony is still sticking with a similar model through all these years, even though the controller has gotten chunkier over time. It's simple and elegant, and established a solid model for what would become the modern game controller across most non-Nintendo platforms.
7 Nonsense: Apple Bandai Pippin Controller
While the major players in the console game have hardly deviated from traditional controller layouts, every now and then a new competitor will step up. And when this competitor steps up, they're willing to shock the world with controllers so strange that it feels truly alien.
This isn't about the Xbox Duke controller, no, the Duke is fine. This is about the Apple Pippin. The ill-fated console created through a partnership between Apple and Bandai. It served as a multi-media platform, and as such incorporated a trackball in the center of a boomerang-shaped controller. Needless to say, it didn't change the world overnight.
6 Innovative: Nintendo DS Touchscreen
Touch-screen devices were already all the rage in the early-to-mid 2000's. PDAs, tablets, and some early smartphones were working to incorporate it into their ecosystem. Nintendo, however, saw another way to utilize a touch screen: in gaming.
The Nintendo DS, despite how gimmicky it often felt, provided a whole new way to play handheld games. The second screen created so much extra space for developers to work with, seamlessly integrating maps or virtual analog sticks controlled with the stylus. It didn't always work perfectly, but there's still something cool about being able to work with two screens simultaneously to play through a game.
5 Nonsense: CD-i Spoon
It's rude to say that the CD-i controllers were bad as a whole. It was a multi-media device, and unlike the Pippin provided controllers for the different platforms. Unfortunately, many of its worst controllers could also still be used for gaming, so the best of them all gets a special mention.
The most infamous would have to be the controllers lovingly called "a spoon." It's shape and button layout actually works fine for edutainment games or point-and-clicks, weirdly enough. However, the Spoon was sorely under-equipped to handle anything more action-oriented. Phillips was smart to give consumers other options.
4 Innovative: Nintendo WiiMote
There's a tad bit of bias in giving Nintendo three spots for innovative controllers, but genuinely they are one of the few companies that actually tried to reinvent the wheel. It didn't always work, but when it did they had a smash hit. Their greatest of smash hits would have to the be the Wii Remote.
The pioneer of modern motion controls in games, the WiiMote is simply in its design but incredibly smart. It was a stick to waggle for sports games, but it also had a boatload of peripherals to help it evolve and serve new purposes. It may not be an ideal way of playing every game, but the WiiMote and the Wii helped gaming truly surge into every household.
3 Nonsense: The Atari Jaguar
Controllers with keypads were mentioned earlier as a relic of the Wild West of game consoles. Keypads gave a large range of commands to the player, at the cost of form factor and comfort. They may have died out, but Atari was certain to make sure it would never make a comeback.
The Atari Jaguar controller is a chonker. It isn't the worst to hold in the hands, but boy is it not exactly pleasing to the eyes. The keypad is a big part of this problem, sticking out like a sore thumb and ruining what would have been a fine design. It may have its fans, but it definitely didn't do the Jaguar any favors in the market.
2 Innovative: The Xbox Adaptive Controller
This article mostly touched upon ways in which controllers changed how games were played. In terms of regular controllers, it's hard to beat the quality of Xbox One controller. However, Microsoft are also the best in other categories. The Adaptive Controllers changes who can play games.
Fully-customizable and designed for both PC and Xbox consoles, the Adaptive Controller opens up the world of gaming to people with limited mobility or other disabilities. Aside from having a sleek design and a great purpose, the controller is also moddable with peripherals to cover as many bases as possible. Anything that brings the world of gaming to a wider audience should be lauded as something truly incredible.
1 Nonsense: Plug-and-Plays
This isn't just about the SpongeBob nose controller, or the one that looks like Shrek, or the other weird designs. Jakks Pacific, the creator of many plug-and-play consoles, seemingly had no standard for designing controllers. They only needed to do exactly what the games required of them. After that, their shape was all up to making a cool looking toy.
The Batman TV Game controller was shaped like a Batarang, with sharp points on the handles and edges all around. Grips were added for comfort, but it hardly helped. It wasn't even the worst of the bunch. The fact they still exist, and continue to have awful designs, is a testament to how much nonsense people are willing to put up with.
Pokemon Unite is falling far behind the competition when it comes to the metagame, cosmetics, and fun events.