A great video game controller leaves its mark by utilizing features that become industry standards. The NES made the D-Pad an integral part of the gaming experience. The N64 controller introduced rumble, an expansion slot, and most importantly, an analog stick. Sony’s Dual Shock introduced a second analog stick, and the Sega Dreamcast introduced pressure sensitive triggers. More recently it seems the 360 controller have made the “Home” button a new standard, and the Wii controller with motion control. All of these features have helped mold our modern day control pads, but surely there must have been one controller that had the greatest influence. I believe that right goes to the SNES controller as it has laid the groundwork for all controllers, and features a design that is still emulated today.
For starters, the SNES Control Pad is the first controller to feature four face buttons. It is not just the number of face buttons either, but the layout of the four buttons is also important. The buttons are laid out so that your thumb can access them as naturally as possible. The “Cross Buttons” are a proven layout that has been handed down across all major console control pads to this day. It is easy to over look this fundamental design choice in the grand scheme of things, but it has impacted game controllers as much as the analog stick.
The left and right triggers were also born on the SNES controller. These shoulder buttons were actually slightly ahead of their time. While usually an after thought in many SNES titles (though more creative games like F-Zero and Star Fox made great use of them), shoulder buttons play a major role in the way we use today’s dual analog stick controllers. We wouldn’t be running and gunning like we do in all FPS shooter titles on home consoles.
The overall aesthetics of the control pad are also a defining factor. The curved edges of the controller allowed people to completely wrap their hands around the controller almost perfectly. I do believe that this is the first controller that was designed around comfort. You could argue that the Genesis control pad was, but I personally find it to be too large, and uncomfortable, along with a slightly awkward button layout.
How about we take a look at a handful of controllers inspired by the SNES design?
1. The redesigned NES controller is almost a replica of an SNES pad. Of course it’s missing two face buttons and the triggers, but the overall aesthetics are in place. Notice the flow of the A and B buttons and how they follow design choices made in the SNES pad. Also, the rounded edges are nearly identical to its younger sibling. Also worth noting is that this pad is much smaller than the SNES controller.
2. Playsation Controller: It should come as no surprise that the Playstation controller is based off the SNES pad, as we all know the Playstation was originally developed to be the SNES CD add on. Aside from a few modifications to its design, the core concept matches the SNES pad. Sony must really love the SNES controller, because aside from some minor modifications on each console generation, the pad has stayed virtually the same. Obviously, it is a proven formula.
3. Hori’s Gamecube Controller: Hori developed this controller for the Gamecube when Nintendo released the GBA Player for their console. Aside from the GCN’s distinct button layout, this pad is an SNES controller right down to the curves on each side. Though never released outside of Japan, it didn’t stop people from acquiring one.
4. Wii Classic Controller: The Classic controller is the true evolution of the SNES Controller. While the pad features a more sleek design, the shape is still very similar to its older brother. The button layout is identical, and the only real addition is the dual analog sticks. It resembles a Dual Shock, but the Dual Shock resembles an SNES pad.
Is the SNES Controller the most influential controller? Of course it is all a matter of opinion, but looking at the fundamentals of controller design, I can’t see anything else more deserving of the title. What controller do you feel deserves the honor?
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