Video game controllers. Gotta love ’em. Where would we be without them? (Besides playing XBox Kinect?)

Back in 1985, Nintendo set the standard for the video game industry. Now, there were many game consoles that predated the Nintendo Entertainment System, some by almost a decade, but the gray box forever changed gaming.

For those who are unfamiliar with game controllers of the past, here is a visual for you.

As much as I love the whole idea of Kinect and controlling a game without a physical controller, there is something about holding a controller in your hand while you play a video game. Maybe it’s the tangibility, maybe it’s the finger aerobics, who knows. Whatever the case, I love holding controllers. I love pushing the buttons. Heck, I even love spinning the 64 joystick around until I get Bowser stigmata on my hands! My favorite game manufacturer is Nintendo, always has been, always will be. They are great, even down to controller design!

For those of you who live under a rock, this is the NES controller. Very simple and straightforward: A, B, Select, Start, and a D-Pad. With this layout, Nintendo cemented the standard of game controls: the left hand toggles the joystick or D-Pad, while the right hand does the button pushing. Pretty standard, but before this, gamers had systems like Atari (Element 8 on the Periodic Table), which, though simpler, was the reverse. It had a joystick to be controlled by the right hand and a single action button for the left.

The NES arguably saved the entire game industry from a complete market crash in 1984, so it’s no surprise that it was the most popular system of its day. In fact, up until very recently, Super Mario Bros. on the NES was the most sold game in history! (And it was dethroned by yet another Nintendo title, Wii Sports!) With such wide exposure, it makes sense that the efficient design of the NES controller set the standard for later consoles.

The basic layout of left hand directional control and right hand button pushing can be seen in just about any system to this day. The NES spawned the SNES in the early 90s, and its controller maintains the same basic formula, though a bit more sleek and comfortable. With the rise of the 64-bit era, however, the D-Pad was no longer good enough.

Enter the N64 controller in all its 3-pronged glory. Let’s be honest here, I can think of ONE GAME that used the D-Pad on the N64, and it was some crappy wrestling game I played at my friend’s house in 3rd grade. (Come to think of it, have you ever noticed that used entertainment stores always have like 500 copies of wrestling games?) As such, I think it’s safe to say that everything else used the center and right prongs for grip, as they would employ A, B, Z, maybe the C buttons or R, and the joystick. But, even with the update to full three-dimensionality, the controller layout remained the same. Even the cockeyed placement of the A and B buttons echo the SNES controller, which echoes the NES controller! It’s like a family tree!

I must admit, waaaaay back when the Wii was in production, and it was under codename “Nintendo Revolution,” I read that it would use a one-handed controller. I immediately thought of the benefits of having a free hand while gaming. I mean, not having to pause the game to get more pizza? Sweet. What I didn’t realize, though, was the sheer ingenuity of the Wiimote.

It is every controller in one. And boy, is it a thing of beauty.

In and of itself, the Wii was revolutionary. For the first time ever, we got to move with the game. We could go bowling in our living room! To this day, almost 5 years after its release (bet you feel old now, huh?), it remains quite innovative. But the controller. Wow. By turning it sideways (a la New Super Mario Bros. Wii), it becomes the NES controller, paying homage to the days of old. If you plug in the Nunchuck, it becomes the N64 controller. If you plug in a GameCube controller, it becomes Gam… wait. Scratch that last one. And, if you can’t decide which controller you want to play with, use the Classic Controller to get the best of everything!

Nintendo obviously thought the Wiimote through very thoroughly, and it shows. Below I have compiled a list of some of the innovations of each progressive handheld Nintendo controller.

NES: A, B, Select, Start, D-Pad

SNES: Addition of X, Y, and top triggers L and R

N64: Lost X and Y and Select, addition of back trigger Z and directional C Buttons

GameCube: Regained X and Y (make up your mind, Nintendo), Z moves to become a top trigger, and C becomes a secondary joystick

Wii (with Nunchuck): Addition of 1, 2, +, -, and Home, B becomes back trigger, C and Z become left triggers on Nunchuck, joystick on Nunchuck attachment

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