The Best Video Game Controllers
There’s no shortage of great games to play no matter what platform you’re on, but let’s face it: if you’re not playing with an equally great controller, the experience can be lacking. You can be presented with great graphics and well-designed gameplay, but if the only way you interact with those offerings doesn’t feel good, the entire experience can be ruined. Fortunately, we’ve been graced with dozens of fantastic options for video game controllers across the generations. So we’ve taken the 10 best and compiled them into a handy list.
A quick note, though: we decided that gaming peripherals, such as keyboard and mouse, Donkey Kong Bongos, and even our wonderful plastic instruments didn’t exactly fit in this category, so we’re keeping it specifically to at-home video game console controllers. Apologies in advance to the Guitar Hero X-plorer.
Here are our picks for the top 10 video game controllers.
10. Nintendo Wiimote
Love it or hate it, the Wii Remote had a massive impact on the industry, and proved just how much fun it could be from day one. At a time when game controllers would change minimally from one generation to the next, the designers at Nintendo didn’t just upend the tea table, they literally borrowed the design of the classic TV remote sitting on it. Welcoming and simple to a fault, and fitted with an infrared sensor, accelerometer and gyroscope, the Wiimote opened up motion gaming like never before, and made gaming in general such an easy sell to so many newcomers. And the proof of concept for how fun and versatile it could became with the Wii itself – Wii Sports, which perfectly showcased how this simple, odd controller could become a tennis racket, a golf club, a pair of boxing gloves, and so much more.
9. SNES/Super Famicom Controller
While Nintendo’s NES controller deserves all the credit for ushering in the more modern gamepad revolution, the rounded, more ergonomic Super Famicom (SNES) controller took everything that worked before and improved it. Gunpei Yokoi’s groundbreaking Game & Watch/NES D-Pad design returned alongside the familiar Select and Start buttons, but it was their combination with a diamond-shaped face button layout and left and right shoulder buttons, and the versatility of play all those new buttons brought, that would define game controllers. Games like Super Mario World perfectly used the new button configuration to enable players to sprint and jump at the same time, while the L and R buttons doubled as paddle shifters and drift control in racers like Top Gear, F-Zero, and Mario Kart. As more developers designed games around Nintendo’s new pad, the L/R bumper setup would eventually set the standard for how gas and brake pedals would be mapped to console controllers for decades to come.
8. Nintendo GameCube WaveBird
Nintendo is known for its outside-the-box approach to controllers, and that’s already been shown on this list. And while not every attempt has been a success, Nintendo’s first attempt at a wireless controller became an instant classic. The WaveBird for the Nintendo GameCube introduced us to a low-latency wireless controller that didn’t try to be more than it offered – a wireless version of the already great GameCube controller, with a little more weight to it. Best of all, it didn’t require a line of sight connection, so long nights of playing Super Smash Brothers Melee weren’t interrupted every time your friend crossed in front of you to grab a soda. It may not have been the original GameCube controller, but it’s hard to separate our fondest memories of the console from how great the WaveBird was to use.
7. Xbox 360 Controller
Microsoft leveled up its controller game in a hurry in the early Xbox days. The bulky, cult-classic “Duke” quickly gave way to the much-better Controller S for the original Xbox, but the beloved form that has become the Xbox gold standard arrived in 2005 alongside the Xbox 360. The 360 gamepad became an instantly iconic controller, both comfortable to hold in its design and weight and a joy to play (aside from that d-pad), whether you were shooting down grunts in Halo or racing through the streets in Forza Motorsport. It’s a design so immediately enjoyable to use that it’s STILL being emulated today. See: Google’s Stadia controller, Amazon’s Luna controller, Nintendo Switch’s Pro Controller, and, of course, Xbox’s future controllers that would build on the foundation of what the 360 Gamepad delivered.
6. Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
Nintendo is no stranger to making risky plays with its hardware, with a history of standard controllers for every console dramatically differing from not just the competition but one generation to the next. To make up for that, Pro Controllers have, over the years, been the go-to for offering a similar experience to Xbox and PlayStation gamepads. They’ve gotten better and better, culminating in the Switch Pro Controller, which is by far the best version of Pro Controller Nintendo has ever made. It may not be much different than a standard Xbox One controller in terms of its layout, outside of its flipped X, Y and A, B buttons. But in terms of the way the controller feels in your hands, the Switch Pro Controller is among the best around. Add on to that solid durability and extraordinary battery life that blows other chargeable controllers out of the water – seriously, we rarely ever have to charge this thing, and it’s an utter relief – and it’s easy to see why the Switch Pro Controller is among the best around.
5. PS5 DualSense
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The newest PlayStation controller may be young, but it’s already shown the promise and potential of its haptic feedback and adaptive triggers in just a few months. And that’s on top of being one of the most comfortable Sony controllers to ever hold. While not a massive departure in form from the DualShock 4, the textured grip and less obtrusive lighting, coupled with the split-color look, gives the DualSense a sleek, cool futuristic aesthetic. But it’s the updated haptics that are undoubtedly the star of the show, with pack-in Astro’s Playroom already showcasing a toy box full of surfaces, textures, weather, and more that the controller can simulate. We’ve seen various other uses, too, like each of Call of Duty’s guns feeling a bit different to fire, to small sensations like the rumble of a subway car or a text in your pocket in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. We’ll obviously have to wait and see if its new tech becomes a passing fad, but it’s already impressed us plenty to deserve a spot on this list.
4. Xbox Adaptive Controller
From an accessibility standpoint, nothing compares to the Xbox Adaptive Controller. With the capability to customize the position of every input through varying peripherals, the XAC provides physically disabled gamers with a level of independence that is unrivaled with standard controllers. Each button or joystick, such as those found in the Logitech Adaptive Gaming Kit or items from Warfighter Engaged, can cater toward varying levels of strength, precision and stamina. Whether used on an Xbox or PC, this Xbox Adaptive Controller creates an inclusive gaming environment for physically disabled individuals, and is a huge leap forward in making sure that gaming is accessible to everybody.
3. DualShock 4
Fourth time’s the charm? The DualShock 4 is the culmination – and undoubtedly the best – iteration of PlayStation’s long-running controller family. After the wonky PS3 switch to the SixAxis and then quickly back to the DualShock 3, the fourth-generation controller nailed it right from the start. With a better heft and grip, the DualShock 4 got away from some of the more prominent edges of past DualShocks and, most importantly, made hand grips that were both longer and more comfortable to hold. Add to that some great triggers – after generations of barely passable ones, especially when compared to its direct competition – and the DualShock 4, if it ends up being the final one to bear that name, will be remembered for delivering the ultimate design of Sony’s long-running controller.
2. Astro C40 TR4
Sony never released a PlayStation equivalent to the Xbox Elite controller, so those looking for a more premium controller experience on PS4 had to turn to third-party companies like Scuf and Astro. The best of these is the Astro C40 TR, which, in addition to solid construction and nice-feeling buttons and sticks, offers pro controller features like remappable back buttons, trigger stops, and most notably, swappable components. Not only can you customize the length and dome shape of the thumbsticks (and replace them if they get worn out), you can fully swap out the thumbstick and D-pad, letting you choose either PlayStation’s traditional inline style) or Xbox’s offset thumbstick layout. The C40 TR’s only fault is it launched in 2019, near the end of the PS4’s lifespan, and Sony’s restriction on third-party controllers means it’s unfortunately incompatible with PS5 games. We can only hope that a PS5 version, complete with DualSense-like Haptic Feedback and Adaptive triggers is on the way, because the C40 TR already made such a notable impact, even in its short life so far..
1. Xbox Series Elite 2
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Behold, the greatest video game controller of them all. Microsoft’s second attempt at a high-end gamepad crushes its first thanks to a long-lasting internal rechargeable battery, textured triggers and grip handles, and a much-needed correction of that annoying bumper issue from the first Elite controller, which itself was already a pretty fantastic way to play. So not only does it improve upon the Elite Series 1, it also beats every other controller out there by a country mile with its expansive feature set, comfortable feel, and all-around sturdy design. Grippy concave thumbsticks, an impressive d-pad, adjustable triggers, tons of customization, and more all add up to the Elite Series 2 being the undisputed king of gaming controllers.
And that’s it! Those are the 10 best controllers from throughout gaming history, from some of the original, most impactful designs to today’s most modern, sleek controllers on offer. Did we leave any of your favorites off the list? Let us know!