Let's Rank Nintendo's Controllers From Best To Worst

I published an innocent little story yesterday about an N64 controller that provoked an unexpected response. You see, I hate the Nintendo 64 controller. All my friends hate it. Everyone I ever gamed on the console with hated it. I figured it was pretty safe to share that dislike.

Others on the internet disagreed. Some said it was fine, others even said it was their favourite.

Wow. A disconnect like that meant only one thing. Time for a Pecking Order, see where everyone's thoughts on the subject really lay.

Below, I've ranked each Nintendo controller according to how I think they stack up. Not Kotaku as a whole, just me, based on my experiences. You, you're more than welcome to list your own right below.

Some notes before we go on: We're only talking about primary controllers for the company's major home consoles. That means we start at the NES/Famicom, and end at the Wii U. So the control schemes for handhelds don't count, nor do light guns, or "secondary" pads like the Pro controllers, or weird in-betweens, like the Donkey Kong 3 Micro Vs. System.

Even if that last one was awesome.

1. Nintendo GameCube

Hear me out. The GameCube pad (left) looked weird. And wasn't the greatest for third-party games, since its button layout was so different than that of the PS2 and Xbox. It's only when you start to look at the details that you start to appreciate how fantastic it was. How weird and wonderful. The thumbsticks "grips". The isolated, sunken d-pad that I think is the best ever. The directional guides, so you could be sure you were pointing in exactly the right way. The comfortable grip. The weird colour schemes (Purpe? Spice?) The regular GameCube pad was great.

But the Wavebird (right) was fantastic. It added some much-needed heft to the pad, enough to give it some weight in your hands but not so much that it became a problem. Oh, and it was also the world's first effective and successful first-party wireless controller, blazing a trail that Sony and Microsoft couldn't follow until a whole hardware generation later.

2. Super Nintendo

I agonised over this. For the longest time, I had the SNES pad in the top spot. It's just so iconic. The shape, the button layout, the d-pad, the vibrant PAL/JAP colour scheme that is still the single greatest in console history, it's almost the complete package.

So what cost it? Remember, this is my list. And I hated the flimsy shoulder buttons. Especially when Street Fighter was concerned. Four face buttons and two on the shoulder? That's not how Street Fighter worked!

3. Wii U

Yeah, the touchscreen could be better, and yeah, it's expensive, but just take a step back and look at what it can do. It's a "regular" controller, in that it's got two sticks and buttons, with triggers. It's a motion controller. It's a touchscreen device. It can even, via magic, become a handheld gaming system, with some titles able to be played right there. On your pad. Without a TV. That's awesome.

4. Famicom/NES

Simple. Brutal. Effective. They did the job and featured what many will still call one of the best d-pads in existence. But the sharp corners of the NES pad were a killer for small hands, and they're even worse for bigger hands. The Famicom controller was better, not only because it had a softer design, but because of that amazing colour scheme.

5. Wii Remote

Yea, it "revolutionised" gaming. Or at least it did, for some people, between the years 2007-2011. But let's not forget, once you got past the advertising, the Wii Remote was pretty terrible. Waving it around was tiring. You looked like an idiot, especially with a nunchuk. Performance, at least until the release of the Wii Remote Plus, was dreadful, while the cumbersome control scheme meant that, outside of the barest of games (Wii Sports, etc), juggling a "complete" setup was a pain in the arse.

It's no wonder the Wii U saw the company revert to something a little more traditional, leaving the Wii Remote to languish as a party trick.

6) Nintendo 64

Silly design (handles?). Silly button layout (what is that, a second d-pad or four buttons?). But what I hated was that, without fail, every house I ever went to that had an N64, nearly every pad had a broken thumbstick. I'm not talking isolated cases. I'm talking every damn house. You think getting handed an old Mad Catz pad was bad? At least they worked. Trying to play with a jiggly N64 stick was hell.

Petty, maybe, but that's my list! I think even more so than games, my experiences with controllers were uniquely forged by the time I spent with them growing up. Rather than count against me, I think it's fascinating, because as a 32 year-old I bet there are those significantly younger - or older - than me who may have wildly different views based on their childhood. Or adulthood. Or both.

Top picture: Daniel_Huxtable


    You rate the N64 controller last?

    Man, that thing was ergonomic, looked great and I still have it set up with 3 10+ year old controller that don't have broken joysticks.

    I'd put it first tbh.

      I still have 4-5 working N64 controllers (and many broken ones) and while the were comfortable the sticks on them SUCK. I like the Gamecube controllers ergonomics and left analog stick but the weird C analog stick was the only problem with it IMO.

      im with you @mattm should be #1
      two of these still at home, still working, no broken thumbsticks...
      SNES 2nd, the rest are... ok

      If they were more durable, I'd agree. But all of mine ended up breaking to a point of being unusable.

      The only issue I had with the N64 controller was the ridiculous button assignments that most games used by default. The ones you could change, no problems, but the ones you couldn't......!

    When it comes to the SNES controller the PAL/JAP controller is far more superior to the NTSC one simply due to the fact that the face buttons are colour coordinated, its much easier for someone who hasn't played a SNES to get into the controls where as with NTSC someone who hasn't played might say "How do I jump?" "B Button" "Which one is B?" with a PAL its "How do I jump" "Yellow Button"

    Trust me I remember those scenarios happening a few times when kids would come over who haven't seen a SNES before but wanted to see what it was.

    No way Wii U and Wiimote last.

      lol, the Wii U is really comfortable to hold.

        It is but i wished it had bigger 'Prongs' on the underside of the controller so you can grip with bigger hands. Im waiting for a case that has that.

    N64 shouldn't be last. It revolutionised controllers.

      Rumble Pak! the first controller to bring the arcade experience to home, definately doesn't belong in last.

        Yes, exactly!

        And joysticks on controllers! Z buttons!

      Not true PS1 dual analog was released about the same time. the only difference was that the PS1 controller was better. In that you could use all the buttons at once.

        Dual analog was released on April 25, 1997.

        N64 was released by Nintendo in late 1996 but the controller was shown in 1995, so yes, it did revolutionise and Sony copied, also, the Playstation controllers are probably the worst out of any consoles, they are so uncomfortable.

    Wii U controller is so much more comfortable then I thought it would be. Love that controller.

    The gamecube controller was great for some games. Not so great for others though IMO because of those oddly sized face buttons. Anything where you're hitting each button equally often (eg fighting games) it falls down. It does sit pretty comfortably in the hands though.

    I'd argue the Wii Remote is way too high here, unless you're also considering the Classic Controller Pro as part of the package. Also what about the Wii U 'Pro' controller with its stupid stick layout?

    The thing that absolutely throws me out now, having not been a SNES owner and not really spent a huge amount of time with Nintendo's handhelds, is the fact that X and Y and A and B are swapped around relative to Sega and Microsoft's controllers. That combined with the lack of coloring on them means that if I don't constantly think about it, I'll hit the wrong button. X and Y are particularly brain-bending for me.

    The N64 controller!

    Trying to repair one currently, slooow going.

    1. SNES
    2. N64
    3. Nes
    4. WiiU (only cos its actually comfortable to hold)
    5. Wiimotes (the seperated control scheme felt right, but hate the 'holding a stick' feel)

    GC controller somwhere at the very bottom, only just above the playstation controller, both too small and too uncomfortable shaped.

    Last edited 13/02/13 11:35 am

      That's the first time I've ever heard anyone describe the Gamecube controller as "uncomfortable".

        Big hands mate, little controllers are awkward to use, therefor uncomfortable.
        2 best controllers in existance for me comfort wise, original Xbox (the duke) and Dreamcast.

    Some of the comments about what makes the GC controller great apply to the N64 controller as well. It too has a recessed D pad, indentations on the analogue stick, not to mention a very good button layout.

    But my god, how on earth can you not rate the WiiMote last? It is just truly horrible for playing games with. Sure it may be interesting and fun for a short period of time, but look how quickly that wears out.

    How 'bout some SEGA love for once!
    RetroGameTech has an excellent video on the evolution of controllers;

    Never liked the cube controller, 5th place.

    1. GC controller.
    2. Case Closed, best controller ever, I'm done, that thing fits my hands better than any glove could hope to, I wish I could use it for every game I play. I'd update the c-stick to be properly analogue and call innovation a day.

    The N64 controller is the only controller I've ever had that required disassembly and lubrication when you bought it brand new to stop Mario Party playing siblings from destroying it in a month. I understand why you put it last. Still it holds a special place in my heart for the countless hours of 4 player Goldeneye I spent with it. The Wiimote is shit though.

    I know I wrote something similar on the GC pad the other day, but I don't get the love. There is a reason why Nintendo has made its buttons and sticks more like those on the Xbox, though I agree the triggers were fantastic. I also hated the directional guides for the sticks. It seems to contradict the entire point of analogue controls to me.

    tl;dr - The GC controller wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either.

    Loved the feel of the Gamecube controller and while I agree that a good sum of games had difficulty with the layout and so on, it was marvelous to hold in your hands.

    Also, Mario Party, anyone claiming to have played MP and still have a pristine N64 controller is talking out their ass, no exceptions. I bet even the mention of Mario Party is enough to make any N64 owner flinch and check to make sure they still had at least 5 layers of skin on their palm before winding the robot again.

      Have you ever taken apart an N64 controller? You should see the way they wear. They simply used the wrong material for the stick's housing, and never revised it.

        yep, used to take it apart regularly to clear the fine control stick dust that had accumulated inside the housing.

    Let's rank kotaku writers from best to worst.

      1) Mark Serrels
      2) Everyone who writes for Kotaku US
      3) Monkeys w/typewriters
      6) Patricia Hernandez

    N64 controller totally deserves to be last... or possibly second-last to the Wiimote, if only because the sticks were so poorly-designed an invariably became looser and looser until they were unusable and Nintendo never bothered to fix the problem.

    This should be titled: Lets Rank Nintendos Controllers Best to Better

    Yes the N64 controller is weird looking and is the only controller, wherr i had to be shown how to hold it. I won't leave out that every house, which owned a N64 also had a controller with a broken joystick.

    But, it was a very comfortable controller and was quite easy to use.

    1) SNES
    2) Wii "classic"
    3) N64
    4) Wii remote/nunchuk
    5) Wavebird
    5) Gamecube
    6) NES (I know it's a classic but I can't believe gamepads ever had CORNERS. This and the Sega Master System controller were a pretty epic fail, in retrospect).
    7) I'd probably put the Wii U tablet controller here but not having actually used it, this would be unfair.

    SNES then who cares...

      That list up there is all kinds of wrong. ALL KINDS!

    SNES and NES should be the bottom 2, but you got number 1 spot on.

    Gamecube controller is one of the best ever, only bested by the 360 controller.

    What a weird writeup. The GCN controller needed heft? It already had enough of that, it's not like a sixaxis or something. Personally not a fan of the Wavebird, mainly because I like having the rumble there and cables were never a problem. And praising the GCN d-pad? The one thing that EVERYONE hated about it (particularly fighting game fans)? Though I never really had a problem with it, because I don't think I ever used it as an actual d-pad.

    Me, I don't particularly rate the NES or SNES controllers. Sure, they defined a lot of things that carried forward into future controllers in terms of button layout and stuff. But they're just damn uncomfortable to use. Especially SNES, after long and intense gaming sessions with that thing the bottom edges really dug into the sides of your middle fingers and it hurt pretty bad.

    Sideways remote is probably the absolute worst control scheme though. But the nunchuk setup is great. I'm not that big a fan of the Gamepad's circular control stick holes (give me my octagons dammit!) or the fact it has clicky sticks, and the lack of analogue shoulder buttons is disappointing (mainly thinking for F-Zero here), but otherwise it's a pretty fantastic controller, and amazingly comfortable to hold and use considering its size.

      GCN > Gamepad > N64 > Nunchuck > SNES / NES > sideways remote.

      And for the fun of it, handhelds:
      DS > 3XL > Virtual Boy > SP > GBA > Game Boy / Pocket / Colour > 3DS / DSi / iXL (couldn't decide, some bad points are counterbalanced by good between them) >>> DS Lite

    Gamecube is a perfect choice for #1

    I have large hands and to this day it is still the most comfortable and easy to use controller I have played. (My brother with smaller hands also agrees) The grips fit the hands more comfortably than any controller made so far (playstation and 360 controllers included). The shoulder buttons had a depth to them with a proper click at full press, joysticks still work without a problem and the buttons were designed well with the primary ones getting the most ergonomically spacing/size. I agree the C-stick could have been improved but besides that, easily #1

    N64 controller was very good because of its versatility and comfort but it falls behind in build quality, I own about 7 and all but one have required new joysticks and some needed new shoulder buttons or z buttons. Good article.

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