If you are like me then playing your favourite Gameboy Advance games on the big screen is an exciting idea. Fortunately we can do this with the Gameboy Player peripheral for the Nintendo GameCube. Similar to the Super Gameboy for the SNES that plays original Gameboy and some Gameboy Color games, the Gameboy Player plays all games released for the Gameboy family of Nintendo handhelds. The GBA happens to be my personal favourite handheld of all time because of its awesome library of games, SNES-like graphics and because it was released at the perfect time in my childhood to make a huge impression on me as I grew up. However, playing these games with the standard GameCube controller leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth because these games were designed to be played with a good D-Pad. Unfortunately this is not something the GameCube controller offers. The D-Pad on the GameCube controller is tiny and next to useless, while the analog stick doesn't feel right with 2D games like these. Enter the Hori Digital Controller!
This controller was officially licensed by Nintendo and produced by Hori, the makers of the amazing Mini Pad 64. This was designed specifically for use with the Gameboy Player and it is nearly perfect. As you can see below, it is almost the exact shape and size of a SNES controller with the button layout of a GameCube controller, more or less. The Z button has been moved to the front of the controller and it features a nice big D-Pad. All the buttons are digital, hence the name, including the R and L shoulder buttons. This thing just feels right in your hands and it is perfect for playing your Gameboy, Gameboy Color and Gameboy Advance games with. I have read some complaints online about the D-Pad being stiff, but mine feels great and wonderfully responsive.
If you are wondering why you haven't heard of this controller before and thinking that it looks too good to be true, you would be sort of right. Just like the Mini Pad 64 the Digital Controller was only released in Japan and it too commands very high prices on eBay. I paid a lot for mine and if you want one be prepared to fork over a hefty penny too. Luckily, there exists some alternative options. You can get a SNES to GameCube controller adapter but this route is also not without its problems. The adapters can be pricey and difficult to acquire and they tend to map the Z button functionality to the Select button of the SNES controller. This is the only spot for it on the SNES controller, and a standard GCN controller doesn't have a Select button. So, if the Gameboy game you are trying to play requires you to use the Select button, you'll be out of luck, or swapping controllers often. I believe you can also use a GBA as a controller for the Gameboy Player if you have the GBA to GCN link cable but I personally have never tried this option. For some reason this seems like it wouldn't be a very good experience, but I could be wrong.
Overall I think the Hori Digital Controller is a great device and I am very happy I bought one. Nothing ruins a gaming experience like bad control so I feel that seeking the best option is well justified. The Digital Controller was released in two colours, violet and black, and can usually be found on eBay from Japanese sellers. If you plan on using the Gameboy Player frequently and are looking for the best controller to play with, I think this is it.
“I have read some complaints online about the D-Pad being stiff, but mine feels great and wonderfully responsive.”
When I got my Hori Digital back in ’04 or so, I found it pretty much unusable – the d-pad was simply too stiff. I dug it out recently and was surprised to find that it now feels perfect. I’m guessing that the rubber on these has softened appreciably over time.