Dreamcast controller: Frustratingly close to gaming perfection

Many would argue SEGA's Dreamcast didn't stand a chance when it first arrived in 1998, as the launch of Sony's highly-anticipated PS2 loomed over it like the Grim Reaper.

Despite only commanding a glance from some gamers, transfixed on Sony's next entry into the console ether, those won over by SEGA's console were rewarded by a host of technical wizardry - in particular the controller.

READ MORE: The best SEGA consoles throughout history

As we prepare to enter a new era of consoles, it continues to stand the test of time - well, almost. And that's not by sheer luck.

Ergonomic design

At first glance, it's clear there are certain elements inspired by the consoles that came before it - SEGA just took them to the next level.

The insert at the back (often used for SEGA's Jump Pack) is reminiscent of the N64's RumblePak dock - only instead of one slot, there were two.

The trigger button configuration harks back to the Sega Saturn, however, SEGA made them hyper-sensitive allowing for far more control and response. It certainly helped in racing games.

Coupled with a super-smooth joystick, it's arguably one of the most responsive controllers around.

The Visual Memory Unit (VMU)

The standard controller came with a slot for the Visual Memory Unit (VMU). This revealed the inner workings of your memory card and detected what game you were playing when you booted it up. Genius.

So, you're probably thinking right now, 'Wow, this controller sounds really great...why isn't everything like the Dreamcast controller?'

Well, sadly, greatness was whisked away by one - pretty major - design flaw.

SEGA decided to have the cord coming out of the bottom of the controller. No big deal, right? Wrong.

Considering people play with the console hooked up to a TV, it became a pain point pretty quickly - with annoying 'pull' should you sit slightly out of range.

READ MORE: SEGA Fog Gaming explained

In fairness, the design team tried to fix this, adding a clip at the back - but it still didn't work. I, for one, nearly yanked my Dreamcast off the shelf a number of times.

Despite its shortcomings, it's fair to say I'm still in love with the Dreamcast controller. Sure, it's a little bulky, but playing the likes of Crazy Taxi with it just feels right.

With so many stale peripherals designed with pure function in mind, it's refreshing to see a product where the designers' creativity was encouraged to flourish. They didn't get it completely right, but boy did they come close.

As we enter the next generation, we can only hope to see this level of expression again.

READ MORE: Remembering the WEIRD Dreamcast peripherals

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