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Super NES Controller

The default controller for the Super NES

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The Pill

  • Jun 2, 2013
Pros: Plastic isn't wasted...

Cons: ...Because the controller is small and feels like a pill

The Bottom Line: Still not understanding why people love this thing so much.

God bless the controller hand grip. I don't know when these little but essential additions to video game controllers showed up first, but god bless their inventor. He may have rescued my ability to play video games comfortably well into the 32 and 64 bit era and well beyond. To me, the Playstation controller was a revelation because it places a pair of hand grips slanting downward at the bottom of the actual control pad, thus creating a firearm grip which would allow me to naturally get my fingers around those two shoulder buttons. I can't say hand grips saved my life, but they certainly saved my immobile wrist from nasty cramping.

Hand grips, however, were only the tiny step forward after a gigantic leap backward. I tolerate shoulder buttons. I don't hate them or like them, but as most controllers give me a comfortably bulky grip to wrap my hand around plus plenty of height, I can use them. But I will always be cursing the name of mighty Nintendo. Nintendo was the developer which first introduced the shoulder button. Had it chosen a better way to do so, I would have been a lot happier. But instead it chose to introduce us via the Super NES controller, which topped off my crap controller list for a full decade before Microsoft introduced the Xbox and The Hamburger.

Look, I understand that I'm not particularly special to a corporation which creates products based on the laws of supply and demand. People loved the Super NES controller. Nintendo supplied it. There wasn't exactly a ton of demand for a 16-bit controller which could be used comfortably by the VERY small demographic of people with immobile wrists and missing pointer and pinky fingers. The best thing I can tell you about the Super NES controller is that I used it. It gave me control of video games. But that is the only thing it did for me.

The Super NES controller doesn't waste a whole lot of plastic. That's because it's small. I've taken to referring to it as The Pill because it's hard, white, smooth around the edges, and small enough to be swallowed whole with a glass of water. And I'm not a guy with big hands. For me to be calling a controller small is really bad.

I can understand that the Super NES controller was the first of its type, and so it would be natural for a pair of hand grips to not be thought of by its designers. With nothing to really wrap your hands around, the Super NES controller demands that you hold the controller itself, placing your palms and bottom three fingers along the sides, your thumbs on the d-pad and action buttons, and your pointers on the shoulder buttons. But the lack of a pistol grip means you have to force your pointers around the front of the controller, where the shoulder buttons sit. This was never that comfortable for my perfectly good left hand, and I always found myself being torn between placing my pointer on the shoulder button or underneath the small pad, where it really couldn't hold on to anything. As for my right hand, which is the one with the missing pointer, forget it. I always fight to find just the right angle to hold the controller where I can place my middle finger on the shoulder button. I can't say I ever found that perfect angle.

The d-pad is more than a large enough size. But what it has in size, it lacks in diagonal angles. Come on, Nintendo! By the time Nintendo got around to releasing the Super NES in 1990 or 1991, Sega had already gotten a head start in the 16-bit console war with the Genesis in 1989. The Genesis controller used a circular d-pad with the four primary directions on a higher plane than the diagonal directions; basically it was a disc with up, down, left, and right arrows. Nintendo could have used the disc, but they went with the ordinary four-direction button, which is very bad because those fighting games meant to take advantage of the six action buttons were marred when you couldn't perform the quarter-circle motion necessary to perform certain special moves.

Why? Again I ask why did Nintendo give us a pair of shoulder buttons to use as action buttons when they could simply have put six buttons on the right side of the thing? It wasn't until controllers started getting bigger that I started seeing people wrapping their fingers around the shoulder buttons. I had never seen this before then. The lack of pistol grips - which make the feel of shoulder buttons natural - and controller bulk mean you have to kind of mentally remind yourself the shoulder buttons are there. They're not that easy to get to and in many games just perform side functions. But in games in which they're required, it's easy to forget they exist. It also makes combining motions between the action buttons or d-pad and the shoulder buttons very tough because you have to force your hands to move in unnatural ways.

I don't understand the button naming system either. A and B aren't going anywhere because they've been there since Nintendo's stone age. L and R are the shoulder buttons and they make sense because L is left and R is right. But X and Y? What happened to C and D and E? Or Z, for that matter? This is of course a commonplace practice now, so I'm just being curious. Unfortunately, the small size of the controller and the placement of the buttons a bit too close to the edge and - yes, again - the shoulder button placement mean I have to hold the Super NES controller along the edges where I can have my fingers and thumbs on every button at once for emergency use. This is terrible placement.

The Super NES controller should have been more comfortable. With rounded edges, it is more suited to your hand than the boxy NES controller. But with the lack of bulk, the rounded edges mean squat because there's nothing connecting your hands to those rounded edges. This can result in cramping in the thumb joints if you try to place your fingers on every button at once because some buttons are so close to the edge. The Genesis got this right. It had a nice, big, comfortable controller to hold and flat out grab.

The Super NES controller is made of strong plastic, which is excellent for protecting the circuitry from your angry game temper tantrums. It also has a nice, long cord which is thin and easily wraps around it. But otherwise, I hate this thing. I consider it one of gaming's great controller blunders because it created a standard controller device which became tolerable only after years went by and pistol grips were invented.


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June 08, 2013
I think my favorite controller has to be the ones for the Playstation consoles. I also owned some specialized ones in the past to compensate for the weaknesses of certain controllers. "feels like a pill" LOL
June 09, 2013
Yeah, I actually have a review of the Dual Shock somewhere here. That's my favorite too.
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Nicholas Croston ()
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