Back in May I praised the looks of a custom Xbox 360 controller created especially for Kotaku by the folks at The Controller Shop, and the verdict was nearly unanimous -- that's an ugly controller. Speaking as the man that selected the colour scheme, everyone was wrong.
But I'm not here to review the gorgeous colour scheme of this $US180 Xbox 360 controller. I'm here to determine if this unit, regardless of colour scheme, is worth $US130 more than the standard model.
My definitive answer? Maybe.
First off, the unit The Controller Shop chose to modify for my design isn't the standard Xbox 360 controller, but rather the special version with the directional pad that transforms from useful to useless. That means The Controller Shop only needs to justify an additional $US115 dollars. Piece of cake.
For starters, there's the SureGrip finish, which is described as a "military-grade coating that provides tremendous grip and provides a rubber-like, matte finish". What that means is it has a non-glossy look and a soft feel to it. Does it enhance grip? After using the unit for two months I'd say yes, though the overall effect is subtle. Mostly it just feels satiny, which is a plus in my book.
Then there are these things:
The Controller Shop does do normal buttons. They even do normal buttons in custom colours to match your custom paint job. The folks there wanted to show off, however, so they loaded our controller up with a set of nickel-plated 9mm bullet buttons. These look quite striking, of course, and the action on them is every bit as responsive as the standard set. The difference is hard edges versus gentle curves. I am used to my fingers gliding effortlessly along the surface of my controller, and these just ruin the vibe. Pimping ain't easy; fortunately it is optional.
Optional like the yellow Omni-Grips covering the analogue sticks. Available for purchase separately, the nubbed rubber Omni-Grips are the sort of product I would never purchase of my own volition. The Xbox 360 analogue sticks are just fine. Having said that, I love these damn things. They look silly, but the added tactile sensation and enhanced grip really work for me. The Controller Shop provided sets in a variety of colours with the controller, and now every Xbox 360 controller in the house is sporting a set. They've become part of my arsenal.
And while we're on the topic of grip, that bizarre looking black-speckled finish on the bottom adds quite a lot as well. The Controller Shop calls it MicroSpeckle, tiny black bits mixed with standard colours that make any surface they are applied to feel like it has eczema. It takes a great deal of getting used to, having that oddly bumpy texture beneath your fingertips. At first it feels like it would crumble away under your fingertips, but I've scratched the living hell out of this stuff and haven't made a dent.
After two months of hard wear the paint still looks fresh, the custom logo is intact, and it still looks as gorgeous as everyone else assures me it's not. If you don't like the look, you can always design something else, and there are options available I've not even touched on.
Remember earlier when I said I'd be evaluating if this particular controller adds $US130 more value to the standard Xbox 360 controller? Let's throw that out the window. This isn't a review on this particular product, but rather a review on the quality of work performed by The Controller Shop. This feels like a manufactured product, and not something a group of guys cobbled together in their garage. Like a sword forged for a legendary hero, this is my weapon. There are no others like it.
Should you buy a custom controller from The Controller Shop? If you're in the market I couldn't recommend a finer product. The question is can you order a custom controller from The Controller Shop?
Unfortunately, the folks at The Controller Shop are so busy perfecting their craft that they've no time to create a proper ordering system. There is no preview function on their website; you just have to take it on faith that the options you are selecting will come together. Come on, guys. You are charging folks from $US90 to more than $US200 for the game controller of their dreams. Hire a web designer.