History Lesson: Strange game controllers
From the Gamecube chainsaw, to Wii’s Sonic screwdriver…
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a comfortable controller. The way it fits perfectly between your hands, the way every button press feels just how you like it.
But sometimes, companies will try to rock the boat by coming up with something different: something that may well revolutionise the idea of the controller as we know it.
Unfortunately, they pretty much fail every time. Still, they make for entertaining viewing, so here are some of the more eccentric creations we’ve seen over the years.
Zelda: Twilight Princess GameCube controller
This special Twilight Princess controller wasn’t ever officially released. This is a prototype designed by Nubytech, a now defunct company also responsible for the Resident Evil 4 controller (which we’ll get to in a bit).
Nubytech was all set to put this Link-i-fied controller into production, but when the constantly delayed Twilight Princess was eventually confirmed to be a Wii launch title, with the GameCube version only playing a supporting role, the controller was scrapped. A few years ago, this prototype sold for $2,500.
When California studio Paradox Development’s controversial fighting game Thrill Kill was scrapped, the game engine was saved and later used for Wu-Tang: Taste the Pain (known as Wu-Tang Shaolin Style in the US), a four-player fighter starring members of the world’s greatest rap group.
The game came as a standard edition and a limited edition containing this PlayStation controller shaped like the Wu-Tang symbol. It looks cool, but it was extremely uncomfortable to use.
Resident Evil 4 chainsaw controller
It’s a tragic irony that what may very well be the best controller design ever is also one of the least comfortable to use. That’s what you get when you make a controller out of a chainsaw, we suppose.
Despite manufacture Nubytech claiming that it improved the Resi 4 experience, the reality was that its horrible button placement (like the L and R buttons being plonked on each handle of the chainsaw) made it a nightmare to play with.
Katana: The Soul
Just in case you didn’t think a chainsaw was a ridiculous enough weapon to turn into a controller, here’s one shaped like a traditional samurai sword.
Katana: The Soul was released by Hori for an eye-watering $150 and was designed for Onimusha 3 on the PS2. It’s safe to say it’s a ridiculous design but fair play to Hori for having the bottle to try it.
When Taito released its popular block-breaking game Arkanoid on the NES, it decided the D-pad on the regular controller didn’t provide the precise and subtle movement needed to move your bat.
To get around this, it bundled the game with the Vaus Controller, a special analogue dial that gave you more control over the bat. Neither the game nor the Vaus were sold separately, so if you ever buy the NES version of Arkanoid second-hand make sure you get the controller with it.
Ace-Edge flight stick
Bandai Namco’s Xbox 360 exclusive Ace Combat 6 was fully playable with a standard controller, so it could probably be argued that a massive two-part flight stick is maybe a little overkill.
Still, the special edition of the game – which came with the game itself, the Ace-Edge flight stick and a custom faceplace for your 360 for the ‘bargain’ price of £150 – was no doubt welcomed by those who take their dogfighting seriously.
Dragon Quest Slime controller
The Slime is easily the most popular character in the Dragon Quest series, so it’s probably little wonder that Hori decided to make a controller based on it back in 2004.
While most companies would make a standard controller and stick a picture of the character in question on the front of it, Hori instead decided to make a large plastic Slime and jam the innards of a fully-functioning DualShock PS2 controller up its undercarriage.
Samba De Amigo maracas
If you’re a gamer of a certain vintage, the very notion of quirky controllers should immediately cause the Samba De Amigo maracas to shake their way into your consciousness.
These were bundled with the Dreamcast version of the game in 2000, and sold in such limited numbers in the west that official UK or US versions of the maracas (without the game) can regularly go for well over $100 online.
Left-handed Mega Drive controller
Sometimes a company will try to come up with a revolutionary new idea that ultimately doesn’t make it off the ground. This is the fate that befell this prototype controller that was said to have been developed by Sega of America.
It’s a reversible controller that lets players separate the D-pad and buttons, meaning left-handed gamers can swap them over if they want. The idea was scrapped, though, meaning lefties had to continue to make do with standard controllers.
Sonic Screwdriver Wii Remote
Most of the controllers in this article are all style and no substance, but the official Sonic Screwdriver Wii Remote is actually a pretty solid piece of kit for Doctor Who fans.
Not only does it work just like a normal Wii Remote, it also has a built-in battery that can be recharged via USB, making it arguably better than the standard Remote and its AA battery fixation.
If using the NES Zapper to play Duck Hunt isn’t exciting enough for you, you can scream obscenities at the ducks instead with the LaserScope, Konami’s daft headset.
Not only does it shine a laser onto your TV to improve your accuracy, it doesn’t actually have a fire button: instead, it’s voice activated, so you have to shout “FIRE” (or anything else you like) to trigger a shot. You can also detach the mic and use it as a normal pair of headphones, albeit the worst pair of headphones ever designed.
Let’s take a breather with a genuinely cool-looking controller. This Batarang-shaped effort was produced by PowerA to coincide with the release of Batman: Arkham City.
Not only does it light up and even let you choose which colours the LEDs should be, it’s also of particular interest to PlayStation fans because both the Xbox 360 and PS3 version of the controller are laid out in the Xbox 360 style. Sadly, the analogue sticks have some dead zone issues, meaning it’s all mouth and no utility belt.
Mortal Kombat II and III Kontrol Pads
Mortal Kombat was so successful on home consoles that a company called Innovation were given the license to make the Mortal Kombat II Kontrol Pad and the Mortal Kombat III Kontrol Pad.
Each controller came with a cartridge slot and a selection of cartridges, on which were stored the special moves for certain Mortal Kombat characters. If you selected a character in the game then inserted their cartridge into the controller, you could press the four long buttons to execute their special moves instantly.
Somewhat stupidly, the Kontrol Pads only came with some of the cartridges: you had to buy specific controllers to ensure they supported the characters you wanted, even if that meant buying a Mega Drive controller when you owned a SNES.
Cheetah was one of the most well-known third-party controller manufacturers back in the early 90s, mainly thanks to its brilliant Amiga joystick, the Bug.
Somewhat less brilliant was its CharacteriSticks range, a series of five joysticks shaped like popular film and TV characters: Bart Simpson, Batman (Batman Returns), Batman again (Animated Series), the Terminator and an Alien.
They were all hugely uncomfortable, especially the Bart Simpsons one: the main fire button was on the top of his head, meaning his spiky hair jabbed into your hand any time you pressed it.
Nintendo Hands Free controller
Microsoft is currently doing brilliant things for disabled gamers with the Adaptive controller, a modular device with large programmable buttons and the ability to attach other switches, buttons, mounts and joysticks to it to fit the player’s particular disability.
Back in the NES days, Nintendo tried something similar (though far less intuitive) with the Nintendo Hands Free controller. It was worn like a vest, and a special straw was placed in the user’s mouth. A stick placed under their chin controlled movement, blowing the straw activated the A button and sucking on it activated the B button.
Sammy Keyboard Controller GC
Given its online nature, Phantasy Star Online is a game with a large focus on communication. But what do you do when a game like that is released on the GameCube?
Well, if you’re Sammy, you release this absolute unit: a GameCube controller with a ruddy huge full-sized keyboard wedged into the middle.