Almost every console released in the past 50 years has come with its own unique controller. So much research and testing goes into creating the perfect controller for us gamers. Imagine all of the iterations of controllers that were tested for hours and hours before being tossed in the trash, never to be seen by the public. What tiny details were changed at the last minute? What strange versions were developed early on?
Some controllers are the right fit, they just feel perfect in your hands while others may feel a bit strange. It’s funny how the smallest iterations from generation to generation make such a huge difference, but going back to holding a PS2 or XBox controller today feels totally ancient. There was a time where the Wii U gamepad felt like cutting edge technology, but after owning the Switch for a few years, it just feels old, clunky and heavy.
I love my PS4 DualShock 4 controller, but I know that it’s not going to feel the same once I move onto the PS5 DualSense. I was a fan of the Wii U Pro controller, until I got my hands on the Switch Pro Controller. The XBox 360 controller was one of my favorites. Last year, during the pandemic I finally purchased an XBox One controller for my PC gaming (I’m not a huge fan of the keyboard and mouse combo for shooters and most games) and now the 360 controller feels heavy and cheap.
Recently, I thought of how we jump from console to console changing controllers and sometimes button layouts without even thinking about it. I thought of choosing one game that I own for all platforms: Nintendo Switch (Pro Controller), Playstation 4 (Dualshock 4 Controller) and my PC (XBox One Controller) so I could figure out which controller was truly my favorite. I ended up finding multiple games that I own on all three platforms in my large collection (thanks to PS Plus and Epic Games store giving away free games). So, I was able to perform this test across a few different genres and not just one single game.
The games I chose for this test were:
Overwatch A first person shooter online multiplayer game.
Super Meat Boy A super tough indie platformer.
Rocket League An online soccer game with cars where the players on the field are cars.
I played Mystery Heroes on all platforms. The sensitivity settings were basically the same (Horizontal 30 on all Vertical 16 on Switch 15 on PS4 and PC). I don’t remember changing the vertical setting on Switch, but maybe I did accidentally.
Playing on my Switch with the Pro controller I found some gameplay problems that got in the way. The game was a bit laggy and unresponsive at times. I do find Overwatch on the Switch to be a bit slow, not as good looking version of the game. I still enjoy it on the Switch and the option of playing in handheld mode, but it’s definitely not my favorite place to play Overwatch.
Jumping into the PS4 version I noticed all of the graphical details that were missing on the Switch version. The PS4 controller just feels better and much smoother for this game. I felt better. I got more kills and kill streaks. I stayed alive longer with each of my heroes. I do enjoy having my joysticks level (vs offset, like on the XBox and Switch controllers) for First Person Shooters.
Playing Overwatch on PC with my Xbox One controller was a pretty new experience for me. The triggers do feel stronger than the PS4, they rebound quicker. The XBox One controller does feel quite sturdy (I have busted my PS4 R2 button on multiple controllers). The XBox joysticks also feel kind of stiff, which may be a good thing in some games.
Winner: Playstation 4 Dualshock 4
I would choose to play Overwatch on PS4 over the other two platforms any day. I still have a good experience on the others. Maybe I’m used to playing on the PS4, maybe I just enjoy my joysticks being level for Overwatch (possibly for FPS games in general). PC was definitely second place for me (as long as I get to use my XBox One controller).
SUPER MEAT BOY
I played through Chapter 1: The Forest (up until the boss fight) in Super Meat Boy on all three platforms.
I learned that I switch between using the D-Pad and Joystick to move Meat Boy in Super Meat Boy depending on where I’m playing. On the Switch I strictly use the D-Pad. Maybe it’s the placement, but the Switch Pro controller also has a nice D-Pad.
On Playstation 4 though, I only use the joystick to move Meat Boy. I had more control with the joystick on a PS4 controller over the separated D-pad they have. The D-Pad buttons on the PS4 are separated and very thin and don’t really have that old school D-Pad feel you get from the Switch Pro controller.
When I played Super Meat Boy on the PC using my XBox One controller, I found myself constantly switching between the joystick and the D-Pad. For some reason I enjoyed using both. Maybe my thumbs just got tired from pushing the D-Pad down too hard or leaning with the sticks too much.
WINNER: Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
My favorite way to play Super Meat Boy is definitely with the Switch Pro controller. Playing handheld isn’t as great, with the tiny buttons and tiny joystick. In the beginning, it’s fine to rotate between joysticks and D-Pad in Super Meat Boy, however once you reach the insanely hard levels this game was meant to be played with a good D-pad.
I played a few matches of Rocket League 2 vs 2 online on each platform.
Playing Rocket League on the Switch is a fun time, but here the one problem is the acceleration. There’s only one speed since the ZR trigger isn’t analog (it’s digital). Yes, you can tap the trigger or hold it down quick and let go to move slowly, but it’s not the same as having analog triggers.
The PS4 provides pressure sensitive acceleration with its analog triggers. It works like an actual gas pedal in a car. The PS4 controller allows for more shot precision. You can move slowly as you set up for the perfect shot. For some reason, the game also feels faster on the PS4 (than anywhere else). It probably isn’t faster, since this game uses cross play (you can play with others on other platforms), but it sure feels like it. Perhaps there’s some sort of wind effect that translates better on the PS4.
On the PC, using my XBox One controller, there’s also that analog acceleration. Since the triggers have stronger resistance and they also feel like travel further up and down, I feel like I can move creepily slow in this version of the game. I usually enjoy having my joysticks level vs offset in a game where joysticks are heavily used, but I actually enjoy the offset triggers in this game. Maybe I just enjoy being better at chatting with a D-Pad that’s under vs over my joystick.
Winner: XBox One Controller
In Rocket League I choose my PC version using the XBox One controller. It’s just the best for acceleration, whether you’re trying to go slow or fast. I’m not sure which joystick position I actually like better, but this was my first time playing Rocket League with an XBox controller and it felt new and great.
It’s still wild to think that we can easily switch between controllers with different joystick positions and button layouts without hesitation. Just as I stated in a recent article the XBox and Switch controllers have the same letters on their buttons (A B X Y) but flip flopped. That does get a bit confusing sometimes, when a game tells you push A and you were just playing a different game on the other platform and now you don’t know which button to push.
I did not review the mouse and keyboard for this because that’s a totally different beast altogether. It wouldn’t be about which one is better it would be do you like controllers or mouse and keyboard for games. Mouse and Keyboard definitely wins for games like DOTA 2, LOL and other popular PC strategy games.
I definitely came into this test thinking that I would just pick my PS4 controller for all categories of games, since that’s where I mostly play games these days. I’m glad to see that I actually appreciate all controllers, depending on what type of game I’m playing.
What’s your favorite current gen controller? What’s your favorite next-gen controller?
What’s your favorite controller ever made? What’s the worst one?
All questions you can answer in the comments below…