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.
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.