The humble video game controller has gone through a lot of changes over the years. Compare the NES pad to the Wii remote, and you could argue that it’s come full circle. But there have been plenty of evolutionary dead ends along the way. Here are five we left behind.
Original Xbox controller
The original Xbox controller has been the victim of some pretty significant revisionism. Words like ‘abomination’ and ‘disaster’ are bandied around, but really, at the time, it was fine. Yes, it was the size of a dinner plate, but that was its only real crime.
But the fact remains: never again will a controller be so unnecessarily large.
The Gametrak Game System just tried to do a little too much, a little too soon. We’d had the EyeToy, but keen to improve the accuracy of motion control, Gametrak tethered your hands to a base unit via a couple of cables.
It was released in the UK in October 2004 with fighting game Dark Winds, but it was Real World Golf in August 2005 that caught the public’s attention. Though a rather plain game, it was critically well-received, and peaked at #12 in the UK chart.
You can now get it for £1.
Real World Golf didn’t hit the US until April 2006, by which time everyone knew what Nintendo had up their sleeve. As Ars Technica wrote in their review: “it really shows what we have to look forward to once the Nintendo Wii with its novel controller is released.”
And with that, cables were consigned to video game history.
Not enough room for a full size steering wheel and pedals, but want that real wheel feel? You needed an UltraRacer: a tiny wheel mounted on a long body shaped like the middle prong of an N64 pad.
I obviously thought I needed one: I had the N64 version, the UltraRacer 64. It was a curious thing: the wheel had a spongy outside, and too little travel in it to be particularly helpful. It was unusual to hold too: one hand clutching the body, the other poised over the wheel.
It’s not hard to see why the market isn’t flooded with strange mini-wheels now.
Nintendo 64 controller
The three-pronged controller didn’t really catch on, either: even Nintendo dropped it after the N64. It wasn’t the only one though: the unreleased Panasonic M2 – developed by 3DO then sold to Matsushita – had a rather familiar pad.
The three-prong design may not have been to the controller’s detriment per se, it just proved completely unnecessary. Like wisdom teeth.
Atari Jaguar controller
Atari were pretty much on their own in the mid-’90s in thinking that video game controllers needed to have a keypad. Certainly Nintendo, Sega and Sony didn’t agree, and given the Jaguar’s lack of success, neither did the public.
Heck, these days most phones don’t even have a keypad. It’s probably safe to say that we’ve seen the last of them on controllers.
But the Jaguar controller, like the Atari 5200 before it, supported overlays: game-specific sheets of plastic attached over the keypad. A rudimentary early touch screen, forerunner to the Wii U GamePad? There are similarities.
So there you have it, the Atari Jaguar was in fact ahead of its time. Sort of. In a way. A bit.