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Talking Point: Is The N64 Pad Actually The Best Controller Ever?


N64 Game Pile© Nintendo Life

We recently had cause to sit down with our beloved Nintendo 64 and blast through the opening sections of a few 64-bit classics. It was all in the name of capturing comparison shots for an article that touched on the topic of original Super Mario 64 vs. the version included in Super Mario 3D All-Stars (which has been delistedhadn’t you heard?).

The conversation brought up the topic of the Nintendo 64 controller — perhaps the most Marmite of any mainstream controllers in gaming history. Even the staff toiling away in Nintendo Life Towers are divided when it comes to this console’s revolutionary multi-pronged pad.

So, we thought we’d present some arguments for and against, and then put the question to you: Is the Nintendo 64 pad the best or worst controller in history? Obviously, in a polarised world there can be no compromise, no in-between, no grey areas… except for the massive grey areas of the original N64 pad, that is.

First up, here’s Gavin to persuade you of this pad’s elegance, accuracy and versatility…

The Nintendo 64 controller is fabulous

I remember the first time I got my hands on that odd-looking controller in a Currys, and I also remember the first game I played at home: Lylat Wars (sorry, Star Fox 64). The precision of that analogue stick felt incredible to me at the time, and that impression sticks with me to this day. Perhaps it’s something about the stick apparatus and how it’s an actual ‘stick’ on this pad, versus a big old nub on a ‘ball’ mechanism, but if you’re playing something like F-Zero X or 1080° Snowboarding, I feel like I can make much subtler adjustments to my racing line than I can on any other pad. Is it further away from the pivot point, perhaps? Maybe. Maybe it’s just all in my mind.

And that ‘Z’ trigger! I mean, does no-one remember how cool that felt at the time? It still does, and I’m not talking about Ocarina‘s Z-targeting or its implementation in other games — it is, after all, a shoulder button in disguise. I’m talking about its perfect placement on that lovely contoured prong (steady!). Feels so good.

And what about the glorious thunk of a slamming a Rumble Pak into the back of it? The satisfying weight of the thing, the variety of Memory Paks and Transfer Paks, not to mention the colour options. Modern pads are so boring; the N64 pad is genuinely one of my favourite controllers ever. I cannot fathom the hate.

And now here’s Tom to tell you why Nintendo missed the mark with this monstrosity…

The Nintendo 64 controller is a bit pants

I understand the nostalgia for the N64 controller, I’m right there with you. My brother bought a Nintendo 64 with his first ever paycheck, I was 12 years old and it blew my mind. And yes, it kickstarted analogue gaming, and games with delightful 3D movement, and for that we owe it our eternal gratitude.

But, c’mon, let’s be serious here. It has a weird shape because Nintendo either hadn’t thought of a second stick, or were held back by technology. I don’t remember using the D-Pad once in my childhood, making it largely pointless, so half the controller is effectively ignored. The sticks aren’t the most reliable (hey, it’s the Joy-Con’s cranky old grandparent!), and the button layout is downright strange. At the time this was all ok, because we loved the N64, but at the time we thought dial-up internet sort-of did the job.

Progress has left this controller behind, let it go…


So, you’ve heard both sides of the argument, but where do you stand? Let us know in the poll below…

Feel free to elucidate on your favourite features, colour options and games to play using the N64 pad in the comments below.





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