I’m the only person I know who liked the original Xbox controllers. Known comically as the Duke, Microsoft’s original design was one I thought, and in some ways still believe to be the best controller in terms of size. It just happened to be the most comfortable controller for me. And, as I recall first discovering after being pulled over with my brother at the wheel and two uniforms taking their time with our hands on the dashboard, I don’t have big hands.
So why the hell would small controllers be good?
It’s an interesting phenomenon, one I’m finding to be a small but common theme here at CES. Mini controllers are making a comeback, after appearing gimmicky and childish a few years back. Power-A and Madcatz both have mini controllers – gamepads similar to current models from the respective companies or 1st parties – and I was surprisingly fond of every one. Power-A introduced the Mini Pro line, which includes a wired controller for both the 360 and PS3, as well as a wireless PS3 model. And, of course, an update from the Pro Pack Mini for the Wii, now named the Pro Pack Wii Plus, with built-in MotionPlus.
The mostly unknown company to gamers, Power A is doing quite well for itself (and we’re reviewing two of their products, but a pesky convention postponed it), has built some pretty decent hardware. I played around with the Mini line of controllers, specifically the PS3 models, and I was shocked.
I’ve always liked giant controllers, but here…I raced exceptionally well in Gran Turismo 5, and shot with the utmost precision in Call of Duty: Black Ops. The controllers I played with weren’t even finalized, but they felt great in the hand, and I played darned well with them. None of the controllers felt small…they felt more precise, and comfortable because I could wrap my hands around them. I’ll need to do more testing once they become available.
Mad Catz is likewise adding to their controller lineup (and doing absurdly well), with four Reactor models: two standard-sized controllers, and two mini, one of each with MotionPlus built-in. Each share a design that is unique to Wii controllers, one that’s vastly different from what we’ve seen in the past, but not so much that Wii owners could be left dumbfounded. The button shapes and placement has changed from Nintendo’s very geometric design to one that’s more ergonomic and realistic. The 1 & 2 buttons, for instance, go diagonally against the main build, which gives players more leverage when pressing them.
The age of Mini Me may be coming back, if the controllers are good enough. So far, these two companies are making it look easy. Mad Catz has already been in the mini controller business, which it stopped four years ago, and they’re surprised at the comeback. As long as it works, and adults and kids can use the controllers without respite, who the hell cares. Just give us the best damn controllers, and we will play.