Controllers are the conduits that connect us to the virtual world of video games. When determining the best video game controllers of all time, it’s important to think about a few factors: the design, overall features and gimmicks, and of course, available color variations.
It’s also important to consider what the controller did for innovation within the video game industry.
Below are the best video game controllers of all time in no particular order. Sound off in the comments about any that we may have missed and why you love them.
Xbox 360 Controller: A Game Changer for Wireless Tech and Form Factor Design
It’s safe to say the Xbox 360 controller will show up in all lists like this one, and for good reason. Everything about this controller, from its shape to the button controls layout, just makes sense. It’s a major step-up in design from the original Xbox controller.
It’s constructed in a way where you could have an hours-long gaming session without your hands cramping up. One of the unique designs that help with this is that concave section between the grip and battery back on the back of the controller. It’s an area where your index fingers can rest comfortably inside while maintaining a secure grip on the controller.
Lastly on design, we can’t not talk about how cool the Xbox logo is in the center of the controller. I remember something about the way it lit up that just felt like the future when I was younger.
This controller, along with the Dualshock 3, paved the way for wireless controllers in the industry. Consoles shipped with wired controllers up until this point and shipping the Xbox 360 on November 22, 2005, with a wireless controller was a game-changer. However, the Xbox 360 controller will be more memorable than its PlayStation counterpart from that generation because of its unique design and comfortability.
Gamecube Controller: A Quirky Option That Welcomed Casual Gamers With Arms Wide Open
If I didn’t know anything about video games and saw the GameCube controller in a toddler toy aisle at the store, I probably wouldn’t bat an eye. I would never think it was one of the best video game controllers of all time. In true Nintendo fashion, the GameCube controller has a somewhat unconventional design. But it works?
It has one of the more approachable video game controller designs on this list. It seems a little silly to have so many different shapes and colors for buttons on a controller. When you think about it, it’s a pretty genius idea to help with differentiating the buttons for casual or new gamers.
This controller was Nintendo’s first console launch controller that came with a vibration function built-in and they nailed it the first time. Playing the opening moments of Super Mario Sunshine and feeling the controller violently shake as Peach’s airplane lands on Delfino Airstrip felt next level.
The GameCube controller was also a precursor to the revolutionary HD Rumble in the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons.
Xbox Adaptive Controller: An Accessibility Peripheral Like No Other
The Xbox Adaptive Controller is one of the best video game controllers solely for how far it pushed accessibility in the medium. The majority of video game controllers are made with the assumption that the user can hold and press its buttons.
Xbox’s idea with this controller was to make gaming more accessible to more people with its many flexible options for control attachments. The ports on the back allow users to plug in all types of peripherals that help suit their gaming preferences. This could include specially designed joysticks, switches, and pedals that replace the functions of a typical gamepad. Logitech is one company that manufactures these types of products.
Microsoft debuted the controller in a commercial during Super Bowl LIII in 2019 to an audience of 40 million, according to Nielsen. Microsoft hasn’t given the controller as much support as it could since its launch, but its creation by one of gaming’s biggest companies was pivotal in advocating for accessibility in the industry.
Super Nintendo Entertainment System Gamepad: Simple and Effective
Simple. Sleek. Gray. The Super NES gamepad was so many peoples’ entry into gaming. Why would a controller need any more buttons than this?
One memorable feature of this controller is its concave X and Y buttons. This was the first Nintendo controller to give its buttons different characteristics to make gaming more approachable.
The addition of more buttons and triggers was a big step up from its predecessor, the NES gamepad. It opened up a whole world of game interaction to developers.
It’s a design that was worth reviving as Nintendo offered wireless versions of them for purchase to use with the Super Nintendo library on Nintendo Switch Online.
Wii U Gamepad
Hear me out on this one. One of the reasons the Wii U was a flop was because it relied too heavily on gimmicks. It’s all the gimmicks of the Wii U gamepad that make it one of the best video game controllers of all time, if not one of the most unique.
This piece of tech can be more appreciated following the success of the Switch. The monstrous Wii U gamepad walked so the Switch could run. It was the handheld/console hybrid that Nintendo would innovate on in its next console rendition.
I remember thinking it was unreal playing The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD on my TV and then pressing a button to seamlessly transfer to playing on the gamepad. I truly think the Wii U would have been more successful if that was a feature baked into all games on the system.
Sony Dualsense Controller: A Very Happy Haptic Feedback Loop With a New Look and Feel
The DualSense is hands down the best video game controller that PlayStation has ever put out. For years, Xbox was taking them to the cleaners with their comfortable and colorful controllers.
Another thing that PlayStation lacked when compared to Xbox’s controllers is the weight of them. The DualShocks 2 & 3 both felt like cheaper plastic to me. While the DualShock 4 improved a little bit, the Xbox One controller was the superior controller in that generation.
PlayStation took all their learnings from previous generations for the DualSense. They even have similar grip shapes as the Xbox One controller. It has a futuristic look that’s similar to the sleek and modern aesthetic of the PlayStation 5.
Another reason it’s one of best video game controllers of all time is the haptic feedback. It’s a gimmick that PlayStation has actually gotten right. Playing games like Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart shows how the haptic feedback can mimic the various types of bullet fire in that game and it can even mimic the sound of rain in a game like Returnal.
Xbox Series Controller: It’s All About Xbox Design Lab
Xbox’s latest controller is on this list for one reason: Xbox Design Lab.
Part of tailoring your gaming experience is the customization of your controller. People might buy stickers, skins, or joystick caps to make their controller their own. Xbox took this to a whole other level with the implementation of the Xbox Design Lab during the Xbox One console generation.
The online tool allows you to customize all parts of the controllers exterior from its colors to face button style.
Beyond the Design Lab, the Xbox Series controllers iterated on what had been working for Xbox controllers since the Xbox 360 controller. It’s still extremely comfortable to hold and the new matte texture adds to that feeling.
The addition of the Share Button makes saving screenshots and videos more instant.
Wii Remote + Nunchuk
This is a Nintendo-heavy list and that’s because the company knows how to make a memorable controller. The Wii Remote stands as one of the best video game controllers of all time because of how prevalent the Wii was in the world during its peak. This was the console that your older relatives had out of the three major consoles that generation.
The Wii wasn’t the first gaming console to incorporate motion controls but it was the first to make it as commercial as it did. Motion controls became much more refined and precise later down the line with the Joy-Con controllers. What worked for the Wii Remote, much like the Super NES controller, was its simplicity. It made gaming much more inviting when unfamiliar people knew there were maybe 3 buttons they would need to use with the occasional motion control.
Motion controls were a big innovation for the industry. It can be cheesy at times, but at other times it can significantly enhance the gaming experience by making you feel like you’re interacting with what your video game character is doing. That’s why Wii Sports was so popular: because it mimicked real-life sports in a much more simplistic way, for people who will never go pro in golf.
Enjoying games the way we do wouldn’t be possible without these pieces of plastic and circuitry. It’s interesting to see how the different console-makers iterate on their previous controller models. In Nintendo’s case, it’s nearly impossible to predict their designs as they’re so drastically different from generation to generation.
What’s your favorite controller? Did we miss any of the best video game controllers? Let us know in the comments below.