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Sorrel’s Side Quests: The best and the worst of current-generation console controllers

There are a lot of video game controllers. Naturally, that means there are good ones and terrible ones. Holding a controller, nearly anyone could immediately tell you whether or not it feels good. But why is that? What makes a controller good?

In my distinctly unprofessional opinion, three fundamental elements make a controller worth using: build quality, button layout and bells and whistles. The perfect modern controller combines all three elements.

Build quality is a tricky conversation. Every controller is sturdy until it breaks, so it’s hard to say which ones are actually well-built. However, one terribly built modern controller is the Nintendo Switch Joy-Con. The two-split controllers designed primarily for use in the console’s handheld mode look nice, but in five years, I’ve cycled through more than I can count. They just keep falling apart. Drop them a couple of times, play too rough with them, squint at them too hard… anything out of the ordinary will obliterate the Joy-Con. 

For build quality, Nintendo is fighting a losing battle, and its competitors are almost all significantly more competent. The best-built controller, in my opinion, is the Xbox Series X|S controller. I’ve been using one on my PC for months, and it’s become a staple of my backpack. It’s been dropped and mishandled, I admit, but it’s stood up to the abuse shockingly well.

Button layout is a matter of personal preference. For me, the PlayStation 5 DualSense is the winner here. Sony got it right in the ‘90s and every PlayStation controller since has been laid out more or less identically. My fingers rest perfectly on the aligned joysticks. While the X-button is a distraction to my long-time Nintendo-addled brain, having symbols instead of letters for the rest of the buttons feels natural. Again, though, this all comes down to the individual.

Bells and whistles, to a normal person, are the least important part of a controller. They’re the icing on the cake. I have the mind of an eight-year-old, and I lick the icing off my cake, so for me, this is the most important category. For a long time, I figured you couldn’t get sillier than a pair of Joy-Con. It’s a controller split down the middle with motion controls and “HD rumble,” which only really matters in one terrible party game (1-2 Switch). In 2017, it was the platonic ideal of bells and whistles, a striking response to Xbox’s long-time “make sure it works” philosophy. But now, Sony’s DualSense has a rumble system to rival Nintendo’s, a touchpad that’s entirely useless and triggers that can literally resist a player’s touch. Necessary? Of course not. But these are all fundamentally toys, and from that perspective, it’s tough to get better than the DualSense.

In my opinion, the DualSense is the perfect controller. It feels good in the hand, it’s full of silly features, and it looks damn good. But a video game controller is like a Starbucks order: I love mine, but some might find it repulsive. Everyone has their own taste, and finding the perfect controller is a matter of knowing what you want out of it.

Sorrel Kerr-Jung is a sophomore studying virtual reality game development at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Sorrel by tweeting her at @sorrelkj.

Sorrel Kerr-Jung

Opinion Writer

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