Controllers are a crucial part of the gaming experience. It doesn’t matter how good the game’s graphics are, how gripping the game’s story is, or how unique the gameplay is if the controller doesn’t quickly, comfortably, and accurately relay your inputs to the software.
These days, controllers are a lot more standardized, with most console controllers having two analog sticks, four face buttons, and some triggers. However, it hasn’t always been this way, and gaming history is littered with weird and wacky controllers that broke the rules and infuriated any player unlucky enough to use them.
Here are 10 terrible controllers so bad that you wouldn’t even give them to your younger sibling.
10. SpaceTec SpaceOrb 360
The SpaceTec SpaceOrb 360 is the best example of a product that sounds great on paper but fails horribly in practice. Released in 1996, the SpaceOrb was designed to work on Macs and PCs, specifically for games like Descent II and Quake.
The large ball on the side of the controller was meant to allow you to move in 3D space. However, in practice, players found it fiddly and difficult to use. While the SpaceOrb was accurate, it was often a little too strict, leading to players messing up their inputs. On top of this, many Quake players found keyboard and mouse easier, and this method quickly became the default way to play the game, putting people off the SpaceOrb. Despite this, the SpaceOrb still has a cult following, with many still swearing by them to this day.
9. The Microsoft Kinect
Motion controls are the white whale of the videogame industry. Ever since the early days of consoles, companies have been trying to find a way to let you control your games via body movement. Sometimes these attempts go well, but they often go horribly wrong, making players wish for the familiar comfort of a standard pad.
The Kinect was released for the Xbox 360 in 2010, and it sat somewhere in the middle of the options. As when the Kinect worked, it was great. However, it very rarely worked as advertised. It struggled to see people with darker skin tones, and the space requirements made it impossible to use for many people. On top of this, many games failed to integrate it well, leading to many Kinect games being unresponsive bug-ridden messes that quickly wore out their welcome. While Microsoft has improved on the Kinect since then, it still offers a very variable experience depending on the game you pick.
8. Amiga CD32
Amiga was a big name in the European computer scene during the 1980s and 1990s. Their range of home microcomputers was popular with both gamers and business-minded people. However, as the age of the CD-based consoles began, Amiga found themselves floundering.
The CD32 was a disc-based system that aimed to compete with the Sega CD when it came out in 1993. However, modern audiences will immediately notice the CD32’s controller as it looks like the Sony DualShock controller turned upside down.
However, don’t expect it to be as good as the legendary DualShock. The buttons were infamously terrible, and the D-Pad was considered one of the worst on the market at the time, being quite painful to use for long periods. The whole thing had strange ergonomics meaning that it was very uncomfortable to use, especially on games that required fast and precise inputs.
7. Atari Jaguar
When it came out in 1993, the Atari Jaguar was heavily pushed as the first 64-bit system. However, the default controller was the stuff of nightmares as it looked like someone had taken a generic gamepad and shoved a telephone keypad into the middle of it.
This keypad utterly ruined the controller’s ergonomics, making it awkward to hold and exceedingly awkward to play with. On top of this, the keypad buttons were very uncomfortable to use and difficult to press quickly, making some reviewers suspect that they had actually come from a phone. The vertical button layout also made this controller annoying for those with smaller hands, forcing them to really stretch to press the furthest buttons.
6. Tony Hawk: Ride Board
The idea of controlling a skateboarding game with a physical skateboard sounds fabulous on paper. And when this idea is combined with the legendary Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater franchise, you expect great things.
Alas, Tony Hawk: Ride is not great at all. In fact, the game was one of 2009’s biggest disappointments. The board controller was remarkably unresponsive to most movements, forcing you to exaggerate every action if you hoped to get it to respond to you. If you could get it to understand your inputs, you would quickly find that pulling off tricks was stupidly unintuitive, and players often ended up helplessly watching as their character repeatedly smashed headfirst into a wall. Because of this, Tony Hawk: Ride took the franchise’s fast and fluid gameplay and turned it into a slow, awkward, and tedious mess that didn’t live up to the Tony Hawk legacy.
5. CharacteriStick Bart Simpson
If you asked people to describe Bart Simpson from The Simpsons in a single word, most people wouldn’t say ergonomic. The company behind this joystick, Cheetah, made many controllers and joysticks for both the home microcomputer market and the Sega Mastersystem, Sega Megadrive, and the Nintendo Entertainment System.
In the early 90s, the company launched its CharacteriStick range of joysticks. While the insides were similar to their regular joysticks, this range featured outer cases designed to look like various pop-culture characters including, Bart, Batman, and the Alien from Alien. While the hardware inside was middle of the road, these outer shells made the sticks horrible to use as they were very uncomfortable to grip, and their odd shapes and uneven weight distribution made it hard to tell if your input was correct.
4. Turbo Touch 360
The Turbo Touch 360 had versions for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and the Sega Genesis. It was weirdly ahead of its time, as rather than having a traditional D-Pad, it had an indentation that contained eight capacitive touch-sensors, allowing you to play the game by rubbing your finger in the direction you wanted to input.
However, there were significant issues with this setup. The biggest was that despite the big touch area and the 360 in the name, the controller only had a digital output, meaning that it still only supported the eight cardinal directions. Users complained that it was very unresponsive, and the lack of tactile feedback made games that required quick, precise inputs near impossible. The controller was also made with lackluster parts, causing them to quickly break with sustained use, making this already terrible pad even worse.
3. Sega Activator
Another attempt to bring motion control to games, the Sega Activator, was released in 1993. The Activator was a large plastic octagon that you set up on your floor and then stepped inside of, almost like a sumo ring.
The Activator then emitted beams of infra-red light. Whenever one of these beams was broken, it registered as a button press, with each segment of the octagon representing a button. This meant that it didn’t matter how fast you broke the beam or what body part you used, as the system was totally binary, making the whole thing feel less immersive than your standard pad. It also made many games nearly impossible to play as you couldn’t swing your limbs around fast enough to hit the necessary inputs. This was made worse by the picky infra-red detectors. Users reported that they were often set off by uneven ceilings or regular household dust making precise inputs even more difficult.
The Gametrak was another attempt at bringing motion-controlled gaming to the home console market, this time for the PS2 and Xbox. However, rather than infra-red or motion tracking, the Gametrak used a much simpler method.
The Gametrak unit features two lengths of retracting cable with wrist straps on one end. You put the Gametrak down on the floor and then put the wrist straps around your wrists. The Gametrak then analyzes the cable’s tension and position and uses this to work out the location of your hands in 3D space. However, reviewers found this system very hit or miss as it often failed to correctly map the hands. On top of this, the Gametrak was slightly awkward to use, and it was painfully easy to get tangled up in the cable, meaning that it could actually be quite dangerous for clumsy players.
Controlling your games with your mind sounds like science-fiction. However, several companies have attempted to market mind interfaces for games. One attempt was the MindDrive, a peripheral for DOS PCs that came out in 1996. Using a series of sensors, it promised to read your thoughts by analyzing bioelectric signals from your fingertips. The creators promised that you could move your character left and right by simply thinking the words in your head.
The system came with a bowling game and a skiing game, and reviewers at the time were unsure if the device actually did anything, suggesting that the games simply played themselves at random. In fact, some outlets reported getting super high scores by putting the sensors on many non-thinking things including grapes, tomatoes, and even wet paper. This, mixed with the device’s high price tag and its incompatibility with many computers, means that the MindDrive was a complete and total flop that failed to unseat the humble gamepad.