The video game controller is perhaps the most overlooked and underrated pieces of hardware in the entire industry. Taken for granted by all of us, it is the literal link between the medium we love to consume and our physical ability to be able to control said medium. In essence, without our controllers, pads and joysticks, we cannot interact with the software that makes the console or PC worth buying in the first place.
However, as easy as it is for players to forget about the controllers they use, whenever a badly designed one is demoed - or one that is just, frankly, a little unorthodox - gamers will always lose their minds in nerdy protest as they realize that their playing experience will be directly and continuously impacted by the new apparatus. Examples of this include the controversial and mega-bulky Nintendo 64 controller, the original and much lambasted PS3 “boomerang” controller (that never even made it to retail), and even controllers like the Wii nunchucks, which were generally well received, were initially treated with suspicion by the masses (or not excepted at all by the hardcore) for going against the grain of traditional controller design.
So with all that in mind, it is unsurprising that tech-savvy gamers have for years been tinkering with the controllers for their consoles of choice - adding new features and making the apparatuses more dynamic and enjoyable for themselves. Not content with what they were given, they used their imagination to modify and, in many cases, perhaps improve upon the creator’s original design. Over the next 30 entries, we will salute these mad scientists of gaming hardware!
Emulated old school games are all the rage. As incredible as many of the current generation of games are - in terms of advanced gameplay, story telling and pure technical achievement - sometimes there’s just no substitute for the classics of previous generations. Typically, when playing these games, you need a generic gamepad, which just doesn’t provide the same experience, especially if you played any of these games with their original consoles controller. However, fish out an old controller and connect it to your PC via USB, to get a more authentic experience.
Mobile gaming is a growing industry. As technology gets better and devices get smaller, more and more people are collecting, exp gaining and running and gunning on the go. So for retro gamers with high tech gear, if you download an emulator onto your smartphone, grab the right ROMS and a vintage controller, you can play those classic SNES games while travelling with your phone and controller in tow. And let’s be honest, you’ll be the coolest looking person on that commuter train!
The Nintendo Switch has by far the most elaborate controller for any console ever put on the market. It has a variety of different parts and - thanks to its screen - can be used as autonomous console. One of the key components of the controller are the detachable Joy-Cons, which are used for almost all Switch games. The only problem is that they’re small and can be easily lost. Cleverly, Nintendo added a “find controller” feature in its menu which, when activated, vibrates the Joy-Cons, making them easier to find.
We’re going to talk a lot on this list about our desires for old school controller peripheries. And while many of these entries involve you manipulating consoles to allow you to use old controllers, this one details a game deliberately implementing a feature that accommodates your nostalgia to the fullest. If you play World of Goo on Nintendo Switch, it’ll prompt you to put your Joy-Con on a flat surface, then point it at the screen to use like a Wii-Mote!
Have a PS Vita and love how it controls, but find yourself exhausted from eye strain and severe neck play during extended playthroughs? Not to worry, because with remote play you can stream games from your Vita through your PS4. This means you can continue playing your favorite Vita games on your favorite Sony handheld while watching the action unfold on the big screen. Ok, this isn’t exactly the best kept secret out there and the somewhat unpopular Vita is a handheld console so it kind of blurs the controller/console line but, hey, it’s still neat.
Nintendo’s WiiMote is one of the most iconic controllers in console gaming. Totally atypical of what a controller was supposed to look like when it came packaged with the Wii in 2007, it quickly grew on Nintendo gamers, ushered in a hoard of casual gamers, and helped the Wii become the best selling console of its generation. Another unique aspect of the controller is that it connects to the Wii via Bluetooth. So, you can, in theory, also connect it to your computer’s Bluetooth, giving you a slick new mouse to navigate menus with!
Wireless controllers are great. Made the industry standard during the sixth generation of console gaming, they allow you to play your game from anywhere in the room without being limited by (or worrying about tripping over) pesky wires. That being said, the wires used to charge them are typically shorter than those on the wired controllers of old! The good news for PS4 owners is that you can charge your controller with a generic phone charger, meaning you can keep playing without having to be physically tethered to your console.
Wireless internet is one of the wonders of the modern age. You can be sitting in any room in your house and have instant access to people and information from all around the world. If you have a dodgy signal, though, this can be a major first world problem, especially if you’re a gamer. Wired internet is always going to be faster and more reliable, and if you have a Nintendo Switch, you can connect the controller directly to your broadband box for lightning quick online gaming!
Some games - not all - give you the option to customize the button configuration for your controller. Many players do this for FPS and sports games to maintain consistency (a great example is the different shooting buttons for FIFA and Pro Evo games). However, this can be a hassle to do for multiple games. If you’re an Xbox One owner, though, you needn’t have this problem, as you can remap the buttons on your controller which will apply to all games you play, meaning you only need do it once!
A few entries ago, we lamented the fact that, as much as we love them, wireless controllers eventually do run out of battery. Therefore, we typically worry about charging them more than anything. But wait, did you know that you can charge other devices with your Switch tablet? If you have a USB-C cord, you can charge your laptop, phones, or tablets using your console’s controller. So while you may spend more time charging it than using it to charge your other electronics, it’s nice to know you can do that in a pinch.
One here that isn’t much of a hack, but definitely pertinent if you’re an Xbox gamer. It’s hard to believe that the Xbox One controller, like the 360, still uses batteries instead of an internal rechargeable battery. Luckily, there are a variety of third party play and charge kits that Xbox users can buy. Again, this is more of an expense than a hack, but if you own one of these consoles, not having to search for two AA’s every time your battery goes dead, it’ll feel like a hack.
Taking your gaming on the road has actually been a thing for thirty years; gamers have been playing their Game Boys on planes, trains, and automobile since 1989. Things have technologically progressed since that handheld, consoles have become more complex with more features, better memory and vastly superior graphics. All consoles - handheld or otherwise - all have internet connectivity, and while you may put on airplane mode on your Vita, DS, and Switch controllers as a courtesy to pilot and passengers, it saves battery life while offline gaming on solid ground.
Let’s face it, slow load times have become an inconvenient fact of reality in modern gaming. While not all games are afflicted with it, the huge amounts of information now stored in our games (especially relative to two generations ago and before) means that some of them take their sweet time to load. With that in mind, many gamers have discovered that when taking your Nintendo Switch games on the road, the fastest way to play is having them installed in its internal memory, meaning quicker load times and a happier gamer.
Driving games are a pretty niche genre. Now, I’m not talking about your arcade racers like Mario Kart and Burnout which anyone can enjoy, but driving simulators like Gran Turismo which are played by a cross section of car fanatics and gamers. Many of these players, particularly PC gamers, like to use a steering wheel peripheral to enjoy a fully authentic experience. But what if you don’t want to splash out for a wheel controller? Whack up the sensitivity on your mouse, put it atop a rotatable stool and rev up!
We’ve already acknowledged how innovative and original Nintendo have been throughout the generations, especially with regards to their controller design. Their latest console and its Tablet/Joy-Con combo is now an exception to this. Aside from there being a variety of cool things you can do with the Joy-Cons pertaining only to the Switch console itself, you can also use them on other devices! Using its Bluetooth connectivity, you can control and play games on your smartphone using your Switch controller.
Another entry here about the N64 controller. A somewhat divisive piece of hardware, many see it as revolutionary, with its toggle sticks helping usher in a new era of gaming veering away from the d-pad for movement (all true), while others see it as clunky and awkward (again, true). If you fall into the former, this is good news for you. With the right adapter, you can use your old N64 controller on your Wii and GameCube consoles, which - akin to the above entry - will allow you to play Super Mario 64 as originally intended!
Not all hacks are purely DIY. In fact, many of them can be done officially, and at a cost too. If you visit the Xbox Design Lab website, you can create and order a customized Xbox controller - everything from the controllers body, to the triggers and even the buttons. You can even have the controller engraved! While most of us are content with a controller that works, there is no denying that there is something cool about having fully personalized controller with your name on it to boot.
I’ve owned a PS4 for half a decade and I didn’t realize this! The jack at the bottom of your PS4 controller is just for online smack-talking, through headsets right? Wrong! You can actually plug a pair of regular headphones in there. Now, you can only hear the audio you would’ve heard through the speaker in the controller, but that’s still pretty cool. The mono audio quality from the controller isn’t the best, plus there are times when you don’t want to hear the noise period.
Another one here from the seemingly more complex PS4 controller. The light on the top is a neat feature, changing from game to game, and within those games, from situation to situation. However, what starts out as a cool novelty quickly dims (pun intended) in significance the longer you use it. So, if you could dim the physical light to save some battery you would, right? Well you can if you go into controller settings on your console. Now, you can enjoy extended Red Dead playthrough sessions without needing to recharge.
Nintendo’s Virtual Console is one of its most valuable and beloved assets. Of all the surviving console franchises on the market, none have a deeper history than Nintendo, and few have a back catalog more acclaimed. And while playing these titles with more modern consoles is fine, it just isn’t - as we’ve already discussed - quite the same. Luckily, some clever chaps have figured out a way to adapt your older, more traditional GameCube controller to play on the Wii and Wii U!
Another entry here for the fans of Nintendo’s cubed console. As slick and neat as the GameCube was, it’s small discs meant limited space which, unfortunately, meant oftentimes you had multiple discs for one game. However, swapping discs can disturb the flow of play and is so PSone! So, luckily, if you have a Wii U adapter, a free USB port, and a little bit of tech savvy, you can connect your GameCube controller to your PC to play versions of your favorite games uninterrupted.
Let’s be honest, controllers are expensive. If you’re like me all holed up in an antisocial cave somewhere when it comes time to play your video games, chances are that on the rare occasion when someone comes along to take you on in a game of Fifa or COD, you don’t have a second controller handy. Not to worry, because if you have a PS Vita, you can use this as a second controller instead. If you don’t have a Vita then unfortunately I cannot help you. Maybe get out more?
As we’ve discussed earlier, Nintendo has had a pretty varied line up of controllers through the generations which have divided opinion as to their respective qualities. While not quite as bulky as the N64 controller, the GameCube controllers' size and button layout is still cumbersome to many. Some of those people created a converter which allows you to play games on the GameCube using the PS2’s much slicker DualShock. It doesn’t work for all games and some hardcore Nintendo fanboys may scoff at the idea but hey, it is easier on the hands…
With the exception of the original Xbox, (and even that was relatively primitive,) online console gaming still wasn’t widely used in the fifth generation, not least of all by GameCube owners. However, for the few that had online connectivity and a copy of Phantasy Star Online, the on screen keyboard was a major hassle to navigate with the controller. However, a keyboard attachment could be purchased to ease this hindrance. And while it could purposefully used with few other games and is, frankly, gigantic, it’s was near essential if you wanted to play this game.
Let’s be honest, just like the above entry, using your PS4 controller to message people or enter search links is a pain in the butt. It’s slow, unintuitive, and correcting spelling or grammatical errors can be beyond tedious. However, there is a way around it. If you download the PlayStation app onto your smartphone, you can delegate messaging your friends - among a litany of other things like purchasing games - to your phone, which is quicker and feels far more natural.
A bit of a quirky one here. Late night gaming sessions are great sometimes. You’ve the following day off, a new game in your disc tray and a few liters of diet soda at the ready to give you early onset osteoporosis. However, not all console controllers were illuminated as they are today. So 15 years ago if you were playing your GameCube in the dark, you’d occasionally have to fumble around for the right button. Except, of course, if you had a Pelican Accessories Afterglow controller, then you could play Resident Evil 4 all night!
Another one here for the GameCube faithful. As we’ve previously discussed, players - particularly the hardcore Nintendo fans that inhabit the world- have an appetite for retro games and retro hardware. Nintendo probably recognizes this as an honor more than any other developer, and a recent update allows gamers to use their old GameCube controllers on their Switch’s. The only thing they need is the correct USB adapter and they can play games old and (some) new with the vintage controller!
We've got an example here of incredible ingenuity. YouTuber Travis Breen, like many people, loves his Nintendo 64. However, Breen saw just one problem with the system: rather than taking issue with the (admittedly cumbersome) N64 controller, he lamented the fact that the console is just that: a home console. So Breen, using actual parts of the console itself, turned a N64 into a portable handheld console, with the screen in the center ala the Switch or the Vita. So, love the original Ocarina of Time? Why not play her on the move?
The gaming grind can be a tedious and frustrating affair: you want to advance through your new favorite game (typically, in this case, an RPG of some kind) but in order to beat that high powered boss in your way or craft a new item or spell you need, you have to either collect or vanquish a seemingly endless supply of enemies or items. Reddit user F0ngen found a way around the grind in Star Wars: Battlefront II on his Xbox by tying rubber bands around the toggle sticks, allowing him to gain credits while not even being there!
An extremely elaborate and ambitious project here that isn’t an undertaking for the average player (myself included). On the sudomod.com website, user banjokazooie managed to put a Raspberry Pi 3 screen into a a Wii U gamepad. The process took the user over three months and almost $200 to complete in full, but the result looks amazing and, apparently, it works and runs smoothly! It just goes to show what you can do with a bit of creativity, ingenuity, and dedication.