The Worst Video Game Controllers Ever Designed

Video game controllers have come a long way from the basic joystick with a single button that shipped with the Atari 2600. Along the way, there have been some missteps that proved painful for console designers and the people who tried to use these finger-twisting, awkward plastic torture devices. Here are a few of the controllers whose designs should have been tossed in the trash.

  • Mattel Intellivision: An early paragon of poor controller design, the Intellivision offered the equivalent of a tethered remote control, with two action buttons on either side, a telephone keypad and a directional disk at the bottom that did double duty as a joystick and a paddle. Intellivision games shipped with plastic overlays that explained button functions that were occasionally more complicated than a Defender arcade machine. The controller was too small for most people, resulting in painful cramps after an hour or two of use. The directional disk made controlling some games an exercise in frustration. Adding to the agony, the controllers on early Intellivisions were attached with heavy, coiled telephone wire that would yank the device from your hand if you didn't keep a tight grip.
  • Atari 5200: Borrowing the worst page from the Intellivision's playbook, the Atari 5200 controller had a full telephone keypad, strategically placed below the joystick, ensuring that it was impossible to reach comfortably. Large, heavy and unweildy, the presence of fire buttons on the left- and right-hand sides was a boost to left-handed gamers. Unfortunately, the joystick at the top failed to center itself, resulting in poor control on screen. It would also break in a strong breeze. Atari offered further irritation to owners with a trackball controller that was the size and weight of two laptop computers stacked on top of each other.
  • Nintendo Entertainment System: The Nintendo Power Glove ranks as one of the most useless extra controllers ever released. Only two games were ever made to take advantage of the controller's functionality. Today, it's a popular retro fashion accessory for ironic hipsters. The glove featured a full NES controller mounted on the forearm, as well as A and B buttons that could be accessed by bending your fingers. It could also sense hand motion, provided you stood in exactly the right place in front of your television. Designed to fit adult hands, the controller was too large to be used by younger gamers. Although the controller itself was a colossal failure, some of the technology used in it found new life in the Wiimote that ships with Nintendo's Wii.
  • Sega Dreamcast: Sega's concept of an adaptable controller suffered from two major flaws: size and weight. Only gamers with large hands could hold the device for any length of time, and cramps quickly followed any attempt to use the buttons. Battery-operated memory cards that plugged into the controller and an optional rumble pack ensured that the biceps got a good workout during gaming sessions. And when the batteries in those memory cards died, they took all your game saves with them.
  • Xbox: When the Xbox shipped in 2001, it quickly became known as the biggest console on the market, strictly in terms of its size and weight. A giant, heavy console calls for a giant, heavy controller, and Microsoft answered that need with the Duke, one of the largest video game controllers ever made. Gamers with big hands loved it; it fit well and prevented cramping. Unfortunately, kids and Japanese gamers, who lacked NBA-size hands, couldn't reach the buttons mounted on the controller's face. Microsoft later released a smaller version, known as the S controller, and shipped the Xbox 360 with a controller friendly to most hand sizes.
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