When the Nintendo 64 launched in 1995, the second factor that stood out most for people wasn’t the cartridges or even the name, but the controller.
Fans were expecting an evolution of what came before, from the NES and SNES, and even partly from the Game Boy and Virtual Boy, but this was totally different.
Even today when people first set their eyes on it, they need to think as to how to hold the controller; how to move Mario while also making sure a thumb is on the DPAD.
Here’s why we think it was a rare-misstep from Nintendo.
An Ultra Beginning
After the mess of the SNES-CD attachment, Nintendo wanted to make sure that they were once again ready for the new generation of consoles, such as the PlayStation and even the SEGA Saturn.
With the announcement of the ‘ULTRA 64’ in 1995, fans were slightly bemused to see cartridges on this system, alongside a controller that just didn’t seem to fit right in any human-hand.
Fast forward to 1996 and the Nintendo 64 launches with Mario 64, Pilotwings 64 and more, with the controller seemingly unchanged.
You get the ‘A’ and ‘B’ buttons with the DPAD as standard, but now there’s a directional ‘C’ layout, a ‘Z’ button, and even an analogue stick, with two shoulder buttons and a ‘Start’ button. There’s still rumours to this day of why the controller was laid out like this.
The Mario 64 Controller?
Super Mario 64 is a game that is still highly-acclaimed, with rumours of it coming to Switch soon as a remaster, and when you would use the N64 controller with it, both seemed in perfect harmony with one another.
There are rumours that the development of the controller was inspired by Mario 64 itself, due to the accuracy of controlling Mario. But this was denied by the developers, even though both were being prototyped at the same time.
It is interesting to see that the controller is in an ‘M’ shape, while the placement of the analogue stick is almost a passive-aggressive way of saying, ‘Use it this way to better control the games on this console’.
But to me, it feels like the design was a mistake. Granted, it’s comfortable to use once you understood how to hold it, but ergonomically you’re clenching your fist just to use an analogue stick with a finger on the ‘Z’ button at the back. Your right hand is being held in a way that the buttons are easily accessible, but the whole left side of the controller feels like a waste.
It only seemed that Nintendo themselves knew how to take advantage of the controller, as others just weren’t sure how, such as Midway with ‘Mortal Kombat Trilogy’. But there were ‘rare’-moments where others found a way, such as the impressive port of Resident Evil 2, or even Rare with GoldenEye and Banjo Kazooie.
It’s a controller that still divides people to this day, and regardless of the fantastic games that came out of the console, you can’t help but wonder if more games would have benefitted from something that was part-inspired by the SNES and PS1 controller.