Despite the fact that video games are a young medium, we as an audience already have many fixed expectations for our virtual worlds. Points should be awarded, progress must be saveable, and no matter how evil and dastardly the enemy, they should always lock doors with correctly colour coded keys. For many games, these expectations extend to the control system as well. Who would design a PC first person shooter without defaulting to W-A-S-D for movement, or a PlayStation racing game without mapping the acceleration and steering controls to the dual shock sticks?
However, for some games, the designers take great pleasure in coming up with a unique control system, and it comes to define the style of play. As shown by the stodgy PSP port, Katamari Damacy just isn’t the same without the PlayStation 2’s dual shock analogue sticks, and Loco Roco makes excellent use of the PSP’s wide shape and two shoulder buttons.
Still, there’s only so far you can go with a traditional gamepad. A few talented, brave and frankly bonkers designers have managed to convince and cajole their corporate paymasters into creating a special, unique add-on controller, solely for their game.
We scoured our memories of gaming over the last twenty years to come up with the ten most unique controllers. For our list we limited ourselves to console gaming; since there’s no standard equipment for a PC gamer, it’s harder to tell what’s a departure from the norm. And while, as the home of serious simulation, the PC boasts many fine driving wheels and joysticks, it doesn’t have the requisite craziness you can find on consoles.
With built-in motion sensing, some think the Wii might be the end of mad third-party controllers, but let’s hope not. Here’s to many more years of bonkers controllers…
10 - DK Bongos
For use with Donkey Konga 1 and 2, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat
Nintendo GameCube, 2004
The drum solo might now be so far past its sell-by date that it’s growing mould around the edges and turning into a particularly ripe smelling cheese, but pounding out a rhythm is still, by default, enjoyable. Adding Donkey Kong to the drumming mix not only enabled Nintendo to mine a rich seem of puns and banana-themed graphical tricks, but also to produce a fairly good game. The controller hurts your hands after a while and they never produced the boxing tie-in it so clearly deserves, but the GameCube congas are still a worthy investment, especially if you fancy yourself as a ninja percussionist.
9 - Capcom mech controller
For use with Steel Battalion
Microsoft Xbox, 2002
Although some way behind slime monsters, hot alien babes and murderous artificial intelligences, mechs are still a sci-fi staple. While no-one has ever come up with a convincing explanation for why the military would actually give tanks legs, that didn’t stop Capcom making a ‘realistic’ controller for its Xbox mech simulation, Steel Battalion. The size of the controller pushed the price of the game up to a staggering $200 / £130, so it deserves its place on this list due to its ambition alone.