If you are going to spend the time and money required to amass a large collection of classic Nintendo games, you had better have good hardware to play them. Control can make or break any video gaming experience and there is nothing worse than playing an awesome game and having the experience ruined by using a bad controller. Everyone has memories of going to a friend’s house to play Mario Kart 64 and being handed a InterAct Superpad 64 controller. Here are my picks for what I feel are the best controllers for each of what I consider to be classic Nintendo consoles.
NES: The Dogbone Controller
The NES is well known for its many accessories, all of which I think are awesome, even the PowerGlove. Most people would stick to playing with the original controller, the NES-004, but the one I recommend is the redesigned “dogbone” controller, the NES-039. This is the controller that was bundled with the second, redesigned NES, the NES-101 “top loader”; which I also suggest you pick up if you plan to play a lot of NES. The dogbone controller is excellent for a number of reasons. Its rounded shaped feels very comfortable in your hand. Even the back of the controller is rounded. It has a nicer, sort of rough texture to it which I prefer to the smooth plastic of the original controller. It was manufactured by Nintendo, which means it has the build quality you would expect and it feels extremely robust. Finally, the D-Pad is perfect. It is slightly bigger than the original D-Pad and it just feels better. The controller does have some flaws though. The A and B buttons are on a weird angle. I understand why they did this as that was the orientation of the A and B buttons on the SNES controller but this orientation is not ideal for playing games like Super Mario Brothers where you want to hold B to run and rock your thumb onto the A button to jump. It does still work for those games though if your thumb is big enough. Also, nowadays this controller is kind of rare and expensive depending where you get it. I spent about $30 on mine, but I say it was worth every penny.
SNES: The Original SNES Controller
There isn’t much to say here. As far as I am concerned, you can’t beat the original SNES controller. The buttons and D-Pad feel perfect, it feels very sturdy and it is perfectly comfortable. There are lots of third party SNES controllers, some of which are wireless which can be a selling point but none that I have tried compare to the original. If cord length is an issue you can always pick up extension cables online for dirt cheap.
N64: The Hori Mini Pad 64
I didn’t even know this controller existed until I saw a picture of one on r/n64 on Reddit recently. Chances are, you have never heard of it either because it was only released in Japan. Like I stated above, normally I will take an original Nintendo 64 controller over a third party controller any day, but this is the rare exception. As far as I know, this controller was officially licensed by Nintendo. It has got a more traditional controller shape, the buttons all feel just like the original controller and the control stick is vastly improved here. The control stick is similar to a GameCube control stick only a little larger. This gives you greater control accuracy for 3D platformers, adventure games etc. It also features two Z buttons, one on either side so you can choose which index finger you want to use, instead of being constrained to using the Z button with you left index finger. The downfall is that being a Japan exclusive controller it is pretty rare and you basically have to import one from Japan if you want to get your hands on one. This makes them fairly expensive. I paid about $75 for mine but I think it was worth it. If you’re going to play a lot of Nintendo 64, import one of these for yourself from a Japanese seller on eBay and keep a bunch of OEM N64 controllers handy for multiplayer game nights. Importing from Japan will be far cheaper than buying from a North American reseller.
GCN: The Smash Ball Controller
I have always thought that the GameCube controller was one of the most comfortable controllers ever produced. I would say it was perfect if the D-Pad wasn’t so tiny and the C-Sticks didn't break so easily. Today, there are tonnes of third party GameCube controllers available that you can find in just about every game shop and online retailer, but stay away from these because they are terrible. A short while ago OEM GameCube controller prices were soaring through the roof but thanks to the release of Super Smash Brothers Wii U, there are new OEM controllers available. Now you can go out to Walmart and grab a new GameCube controller with the Smash Ball logo on it for about $30. Sure, they were pretty rare right after the release of Smash Bros Wii U but they have since been restocked and I see them in store all the time. Even if you have a stock pile of original GameCube controllers I suggest you pick one of these up for two reasons. The buttons will be super crisp and it has a super long cord. If you are like my friend Taylor, who contributes to this site, you might not even realize how crappy the buttons on your favourite GameCube controller have become because you’ve been playing Smash with it for ten plus years and then pick up a fresh one and realize what you have been missing.
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