Is This The Worst Controller Ever Made?

Is This The Worst Controller Ever Made?

This is the controller for the ill-fated Atari Jaguar, a peripheral so so poorly conceived that even 18 years later it looks as stupid as the day it was first unveiled.

Hitting the market in 1993, the Jaguar was the last console Atari – former powerhouses of the video game market – would ever release. This was the machine that broke them, and it was the Jaguar’s controller that broke our hands. And our hearts.

Sensing the fact that games were becoming so complex they’d require more complex controllers, the Jaguar, in one way, got it right. In addition to the seven primary face and shoulder buttons, it contained a large pad beneath them that housed a further 12 buttons, arranged like a telephone’s keypad.


The thinking behind these was that they could function almost like a PC keyboard (or Atari’s own 5200 “telephone” peripheral). It even, as was the fashion of time in PC land, was hoped that games would make use of “templates”, pieces of paper that would be laid over the pad to show users what each button did in that particular game.

It was a good idea. In theory. But the games of the time just weren’t yet that complex, the templates proved to be a silly idea and the size of the extra buttons meant adding a huge arse to the bottom of the controller, one that made the pad difficult to hold, made it uncomfortable and made it tougher for the user to hit the buttons.

Perhaps the worst thing about it, though (aside from the fact the pads would come unplugged if you even looked at them), was how such foresight could be applied to the bottom half of the controller and not the top. In the early ’90s, the video game market was slowly realising that 2-3 “primary” buttons were not enough to control many modern games. Titles like Street Fighter II had shown that more buttons were needed, and companies like Sega – with its redesigned Genesis pad – responded.

The Jaguar, supposedly a generation ahead of the Genesis and SNES (which had six main buttons to begin with), released with a scant three face buttons and two shoulder buttons. It simply wasn’t enough. Control schemes for games either had to remain basic, convolute themselves in the name of cramming into those five “top” buttons or begin relegating actions to the cumbersome bottom pad.

Eventually, Atari realised this and released the Atari Jaguar Pro Controller, which featured six face buttons instead of three, but it was too late. By the time this pad hit the market in 1995 the Jaguar had only a few months left to live, and with its demise Atari would soon follow with it.

While the controller is far from the worst ever made by anyone, it certainly must rank among the worst first-party offerings from a major hardware manufacturer. And though it was far from the only problem with the Jaguar – its lack of quality software (Aliens vs Predator and Tempest 2000 excepted) was a bigger concern – it still serves as an example of how something as seemingly innocuous as a control pad can help influence the fortunes of a console.

The Jaguar’s was seen as a joke, a joke that persisted until the console’s early demise. Two later controllers (the “Boomerang” PS3 pad and the original Xbox “Duke”) that were notably mocked learned from that lesson, and were either replaced before launch in the case of the “Boomerang”, or with a vastly superior model in the case of the “Duke’s” successor, the “S” pad.

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.

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  • I threw out my Atari Jag just yesterday. There was so much promise at the time, Tempest 2000 and Defender were awesome, had they managed to get a license for Mortal Kombat, the thing may have survived, but the Playstation came along and just blew it out of the water.

  • Number pads with removable plastic overlays were normal in videogame systems in the 80s. The Atari 5200, Intellivision, Colecovision all included them in the standard controller. Even the Atari 2600 had an optional numeric controller.

    But of course, few games in the 80s were designed to actually use the number pad buttons.

      • I also had one of the old Hanimex systems with the numeric pad. I think it was late 70’s – very early 80’s. I think it also had overlays for the TV for some of the games from memory.

  • I actually found it eerily comfortable.

    That said, I also loved the Xbox Duke controller and the Saturn 3D controller.

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