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Top 20 Worst Video Game Controllers of All Time

VOICE OVER: Ryan Wild WRITTEN BY: Nicholas Steinberg
Some of these controllers had interesting ideas, but they definitely missed the mark when it came to form and functionality. For this list, we'll be looking at some of the most infamous and despised pads in gaming history, including some lesser third-party creations. Our countdown includes the Nintendo 64 Controller, Nintendo Wii Remote & Nunchuk, PlayStation Move, Sega Dreamcast Controller, Duke Xbox Controller and more!
Transcript
Script written by Nick Steinberg

Top 20 Worst Video Game Controllers of All Time


Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 20 Worst Video Game Controllers of All Time.

For this list, we’ll be looking at some of the most infamous and despised pads in gaming history, including some lesser third-party creations. While many of these controllers had interesting ideas, they definitely missed the mark when it came to form and functionality.

What do you think was the worst controller ever? Let us know in the comments below!

#20: Nintendo 64 Controller

There’s no denying the Nintendo 64 Controller is an iconic, innovative device. Whereas Sony’s PlayStation launched with a controller that seemed stuck in the past, the N64’s analog stick and Z-trigger gave players new ways to interact with 3D games. But strip away the rose-colored glasses and it becomes clear that the N64 Controller gets more love than it deserves. The trident-like design was awkward, making it impossible to hold and comfortably reach all the buttons at the same time. Meanwhile, the actual analog stick was terribly designed, with a connecting point that eroded quickly with regular use. The N64 controller will always be an important part of gaming history, but it’s time to admit it was kind of junky.

#19: Coleco Telstar Arcade

An unholy melding of console and controller, the Telstar Arcade is easily one of the weirdest video game systems ever made. Released in 1977, Coleco’s first generation console is notable for its triangular design and peripheral integration. The Telstar had three built-in control inputs: a steering wheel for driving games, a gun for shooters, and a paddle for Pong. While the controllers themselves were sturdy and responsive, the software they were attached to was a step behind what Atari and other game makers were putting out at the time. Telstar was undeniably novel in its design, but gamers wanted new genuinely new experiences — not a glorified toy that was outdated the moment it hit store shelves.

#18: Nintendo Wii Remote & Nunchuk

The impact of the Nintendo Wii and its brilliant adoption of motion control cannot be overstated. When the console launched in 2006, everyone and their grandmother wanted to pick up a Wiimote and play Wii Sports. Unfortunately, much like the N64 controller and Super Mario 64, the Wiimote and its Nunchuk attachment seemed designed with just one type of software in mind. With the exception of Wii Sports and a handful of Nintendo first-party titles, using the Wiimote and Nunchuk was a painful experience. While much of blame falls on the Wii library’s shovelware problem, the Wiimote’s lack of 1:1 motion control didn’t help matters. Thankfully, Nintendo largely moved away from motion control by the time the Switch came around.

#17: PlayStation Move

With precision, accuracy and responsiveness, it’s hard to deny the PlayStation Move was a serious step up on the Wii’s motion controls. The problem is Sony stuck with Move for a generation too long. Sony’s decision to tie Move into PlayStation VR arguably held its surprisingly good virtual reality headset back, as the aging motion controllers lagged behind the superior controllers used by rival VR sets like the HTC Vive (rhymes with five) and Oculus Rift. The Move controllers were easily the PSVR’s biggest weakness when it launched in 2016, breaking the immersion of numerous games thanks to drifting issues. While we respect Sony’s dedication to the Move, it should have ditched the controllers at the end of the PS3 lifecycle.

#16: ColecoVision Controller

Home consoles from the early ‘80s aren’t exactly known for their sleek controller designs, but even among its contemporaries the ColecoVision pad stuck out like a sore thumb. The original controller looks less like a game controller than an off-the-shelf telephone, only with a big ugly joystick where the earpiece should be. Like many controllers of its era, the ColecoVision joystick suffers from poor build quality, with little in the way of precision or responsiveness. There are a ton of nice big buttons but most of them are redundant, as the majority of titles only used a few of them. We’ll always have a soft spot for the ColecoVision and its arcade-quality software, but the controller should stay in the past where it belongs.

#15: Sega Dreamcast Controller

Ahead of its time in some ways and woefully outdated in others, the Dreamcast controller was truly a mixed bag. Sega’s biggest innovation with the Dreamcast pad was its two “expansion sockets”, which could house removable memory cards called VMUs that doubled as mini handheld systems. But besides being ahead of the gaming industry’s second screen wave by at least a decade, the Dreamcast controller had little going for it. Uncomfortably large and lacking a second-analog stick, this is also one of the few controllers to have its cord run out the bottom -- a curious design choice that only made the thing more cumbersome. The Dreamcast may be one of the most influential consoles of all time, but we all tend to forget the controller was kind of a drag.

#14: Intellivision Controller

Throw the Intellivision on the pile of retro consoles that thought controllers with numeric keypads were a good idea. The Intellivision was unique among its contemporaries in that it had a flat circular dial for directional control. Capable of 16 directions of movement, this thumb pad was an important precursor to modern D-pads. Unfortunately, it’s arguably the controller’s only redeeming quality. Mattel took its home console’s “intelligent television” design a little too far, as the vertical controller closely resembled a TV remote. The result was a controller that had annoying button placement and was uncomfortable to hold. While it’s surprising that more controllers didn’t copy the Intellivison flat control disc, at least it helped usher in the era of the Nintendo D-pad a half-decade later.

#13: Konami LaserScope

Why shoot a gun when you can just give the order to fire instead? This must have been the thought process behind the LaserScope, a head-mounted light gun made by Konami and licensed for the NES. Compatible with all games that supported the NES Zapper, this cumbersome headset was not only way less fun than Nintendo’s famous light gun but barely worked properly. To shoot an on-screen enemy, players would yell “Fire!” into the headset. Unfortunately, the Laserscope’s microphone was so sensitive that background noise often interfered. Kids also quickly figured out they could shout anything into the microphone and get the same effect -- a feature we’re sure parents absolutely loved. “Hey Alexa, can you fire the Laserscope into the sun?”

#12: Atari 5200 Trak-Ball Controller

Like many home consoles released in the early ‘80s, the Atari 5200 had many arcade ports. Unfortunately, playing these games on the console was kind of a nightmare with the console’s original controller. The Trak-Ball was designed to address this shortcoming thanks to its titular directional input. However, the yellow track ball’s small size and disappointing build quality only served to highlight that you weren’t playing on a real arcade machine. Given the controller is roughly the size of a Sega Saturn, you’d think Atari would have been able to put a bigger track ball in it. While it made playing games like Centipede and Space Invaders a little more enjoyable, the 5200 Trak-Ball was an inessential add-on for arguably Atari’s worst home console.

#11: Nuby Boomerang 64

Hey, at least someone tried to fix the Nintendo 64 controller. Developed by third-party manufacturer Nuby, the aptly-named Boomerang 64 was an attempt to simplify the standard N64 pad. Unfortunately, it ended up creating all-new problems in the process. Putting the analog stick and D-pad right beside each other created some awkward thumb stretching and the placement of triggers on the underside was hard to get used to. But the worst part is the controller’s form factor, as the boomerang design made players’ elbows flare out at odd angles and contributed to a lot of unnecessary wrist soreness. It’s a fun novelty but with the standard controller as bad as it was, N64 owners really didn’t want one that was even worse.

#10: The Duke Xbox Controller

Halo. Online gaming. A built-in hard drive. Microsoft got a lot right with its first home console. The controller? Not so much. When the Xbox launched in 2001, it came packed with one of the largest video game controllers of all time. Nicknamed “The Duke”, the controller seemed like it was designed exclusively with Shaq in mind, as you needed really big hands to hold it comfortably. The worst part is the Duke’s massive size overshadowed the many things the controller did well, which included asymmetrical analog sticks and responsive triggers. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for Microsoft to replace the Duke with the “Controller S”, a smaller, lighter version designed for regular human hands.

#9: AlphaGrip AG-5

Theoretically, putting the mouse and keyboard experience into a controller you can hold in two hands isn’t a bad idea — IF you can execute it. While technically a handheld keyboard, the AG-5 certainly looks the part of a video game controller… sort of. Alphagrip designed its plastic monstrosity to be an alternative to standard keyboards, and one that would be optimal for both typing and gameplay. However, the learning curve was too steep to make PC gamers want to give up their traditional mouse and keyboard. If you were willing to invest dozens of hours into it, the AG-5’s comfort and mobility may have been worth it. But for everyone else, $99 was too high a price to learn a whole new control system.

#8: Roll 'n Rocker

Is “Roll N’ Rocker” the greatest controller name of all time? Absolutely. Does it have anything else going for it? No, no it doesn’t. Built as an accessory for the Nintendo Entertainment System, it was less a controller than a big floor mat with tilt controls. By standing on it and shifting your weight, the idea was for YOU to be the D-pad. However, the thing barely worked and would easily break if you weighed more than 100 pounds. Sure, it was compatible with nearly every NES game but at what cost? A lot of broken ankles, that’s what. Unsurprisingly, the Roll N’ Rocker was a major flop and was quickly forgotten by everyone but the most dedicated hobbyists and collectors.

#7: U-Force

Yet another embarrassing NES controller, the U-Force is a laptop-like device that had players use hand gestures as control inputs. By hovering your hands over different quadrants, you could make your character jump, fire, and perform other abilities. Unfortunately, it all added up to a bunch of hand waving with little to show for it. The device’s IR sensor panels were notoriously ineffective and often failed to pick up players’ hand movements. When it did work, the U-Force could actually be kind of fun, especially in games that seemed tailor-made for motion controls like Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! However, like the Virtual Boy, this is an example of gaming tech that was ahead of its time and would take decades to hit its stride.

#6: Sega Activator

Why use your hands when you can use your feet instead? This Sega Genesis peripheral’s big gimmick was using your lower half as a controller (though you could use your arms too). The octagonal ring sat on the floor, with players “activating” (get it?) one of the eight quadrants to control the on-screen action. Although it gave players a good cardio workout, this had more to do with the fact the device was terrible at registering movements. And even when it did work, the input lag was so bad it made most games all but unplayable. While the Sega Activator was the first full-body motion controller, that distinction means very little given it was a massive flop that barely worked.

#5: Philips CD-i Controllers

It’s fitting that one of the worst consoles of all time would also have one of the worst controllers. The Philips CD-i actually had a number of poor quality controllers to choose from, but the one that came standard with the console was a truly sorry sight. It’s bad enough the console was home to no less than three atrocious Zelda games, but then gamers had to suffer the indignity of using controllers that resembled a third-rate DVD remote. Then there was the CD-i Touchpad, which to this day features one of the strangest joysticks you’ll ever find - an elongated hunk of plastic that just never felt right. Bad graphics, games, and controls… The CD-i’s legacy is nothing if not fascinating.

#4: Atari Jaguar Controller

Atari’s last ditch effort to save its console business was doomed from the start, as it went up against two powerhouses in the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. But the Jaguar also didn’t make things easy for itself by launching with such an inferior controller. Massive, ugly, and featuring more buttons than anyone would ever need, the controller infamously brought back the phone keypad design that plagued so many consoles from the early ‘80s. It also didn’t help that the controllers frequently unplugged from the Jaguar thanks to the loose VGA plugs Atari used. On the bright side, few people had to suffer through it, as the Jaguar only sold about a quarter million units before it was discontinued in 1996.

#3: Kinect

The Kinect might just be the most successful peripheral failure in video game history. When Microsoft launched its full-body motion controller for the Xbox 360 in 2010, it sold more than 10 million units in just a few months. It was so successful that Microsoft would go on to make it an integral part of its next console, the Xbox One, with disastrous results. While the tech was impressive, Microsoft’s vision of a “controller-less world” largely amounted to some dance games and family-friendly shovelware. It didn’t take long for people to realize it was easier (and more fun) to play games with a traditional Xbox controller and interest started to fade. Less than a decade after its debut, the Kinect was fully discontinued.

#2: Atari 5200 Controller

Despite having what is arguably the worst standard console controller ever made, the Atari 5200 held so much promise. Prior to its release in 1982, Atari touted its new controller’s analog joystick as offering more control than the 2600. While this may have been true in theory, the controller fell victim to the limitations of its own design. The joystick infamously didn’t self-center, which made controlling movement in 5200 games a constant source of frustration. While a bad controller is far from the only reason the 5200 was a commercial failure, no one was sad to see it go when the console was discontinued after just two years on the market.

#1: Power Glove

Hey, they did try to warn us. In 1989, you’d be hard pressed to find a Nintendo fan who didn’t want a Power Glove. Famously featured in the 1989 film “The Wizard”, Mattel’s futuristic controller promised an attractive mix of keypad interface and hand motion controls. Unfortunately, the controller didn’t function as promised. Difficult to set up and hard to use, the Power Glove didn’t even have a left-handed option. Not that it really mattered. Despite Mattel’s lofty goal of selling a million units by the end of 1990, it only managed a tenth of that figure and was quickly discontinued. While it’s still an iconic piece of retro gaming tech, the Power Glove’s lack of functionality and unfulfilled promise make it the worst controller of all time.
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