Why I Never Really Liked The SNES Controller
I want to preface this article by stating something: I am in no way saying that SNES controllers were, or are, bad. They were sturdy, responsive, and perfectly functional. They did what they needed to, and their influence on the gaming industry is clear, with the button layout being emulated and expanded long after the 16-Bit generation ended.
So, if I’m not going to claim that the SNES controllers were bad, what am I saying exactly? Well, simply put, they never fit my needs. In terms of my own history with gaming, I got into the hobby via a mix of inheriting an Atari 2600 and playing arcade machines. Eventually, I upgraded the Atari to a SEGA Master System, and then a Mega Drive Mk II.
While I was – and still am – a big SEGA fan, it should also be noted that I didn’t care much for the console wars. The area I lived in was pretty poor, so all of us kids were grateful for whatever consoles we could get. As a result, the whole ‘If you prefer SEGA/Nintendo you’re an idiot and I don’t like you’ thing just didn’t happen.
Back then, socializing was an uncomfortable experience for me, but I was far more adept at it than I am now. And so, I took part in a regular ritual with the local kids: we went around each other’s houses to play different consoles and games. Most of us had Mega Drives, but there two SNES owners in the group and an Amiga owner too. Nope, Nintendo didn’t win the console war in our town. We did. The consumers. Because we all got some great games, and we all got to play them without prejudice.
My point here is that while I do have a preference for SEGA’s console, it’s not like I ever just disregarded the SNES pad without trying it. Hell, I never have just disregarded the SNES at all. No, this comes down to a couple of things. Two of them are minor, aesthetic things. One of them is a personal preference.
Let’s start with the minor stuff. Size-wise, the SNES controller and the Mega Drive six-button one are similar. The Nintendo offering measured 143*62*18mm with a cable length of 2300mm while SEGA’s was 140*60*15mm with multiple cable lengths. Honestly, this is probably partially due to my using it more, but the Mega Drive controllers always sat better in my hand. The shape and size worked for me, and even with a shorter cable length, I sat close to the TV anyway. On top of that, I thought the shape looked cooler. The curve of it was awesome, and it made the SNES controller look slightly blocky to me. Like I said, it’s all aesthetic there, and really no knock on the controller itself.
No, the big one is actually related to the buttons. To reiterate here, SNES controllers work fine, and the button layout is much loved, even now. It just didn’t work for me. To understand why, I need to run through some of my history with gaming genres.
You see, I was happy to give pretty much any type of game a try. My favourites though were always platformers and fighters. And by fighters, I mean both the one-on-one and scrolling types. Bar some basic boxing and wrestling games on the Atari 2600, my primary exposure to this came via the arcades. Games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time and, of course, Street Fighter II were all the rage. And I loved them.
The problem was, I wasn’t very good at a good chunk of them. The scrolling fighters I could do pretty well. One-on-one fighters though? Not so much. It was because of differing reflexes with my hands and fingers. Using all my fingers for the attack buttons left me messing up with what I was pressing, and some of my fingers just wouldn’t move at the same speed as others. At the same time, I wasn’t precise enough with the joysticks to pull off special moves. Which is why I was better at scrolling fighters; you didn’t tend to need to roll the stick down to towards to do a big move.
So, when these types of games appeared on the home consoles, I was happy. My left thumb moved smoother than my left hand as a whole, and my right thumb was quicker than my other fingers – and more accurate – when it came to finding the right button. So, not only did Streets of Rage and Golden Axe take a pounding from me, so did games like Mortal Kombat.
The big one though was Street Fighter II. Which is where things go wrong for me with the SNES controller. When it comes to the sound and graphical quality of the home ports of the game, none of us really noticed the differences as kids. We were just happy to be playing Street Fighter II at home, regardless of whether it was on Mega Drive or SNES. But I did have a preference.
The six-button Mega Drive controller has a button layout similar to arcades, which I was familiar with. But, with a D-Pad and smaller buttons, I found it easier to control. Even if constantly rolling the D-Pad wore down my skin a little. When it came to the SNES version though? Those shoulder buttons killed it for me.
I hated them. When a fighter needed more than four buttons, I would actively avoid the SNES versions unless I really wanted to play it. I just wasn’t able to hit the shoulder buttons at the time I wanted to, so would end up having to configure my controls to place my less used attacks up there. It was easier than using the three-button Mega Drive controller, but if I had a choice, then SEGA’s six-button version was my go-to.
That’s something that still rings true today too. I still love fighting games, but when I need to use shoulder buttons as attacks, I struggle a little. I’m better at it now than I was at a kid, sure, but it feels really clunky to me. Oddly, that only applies to fighters though. If you give me any other type of game that requires shoulder button use, and I’m fine. It’s just fighting games. I can only assume that, due to it being one of my main gaming genres growing up, struggling has become a learned behaviour.
SNES controllers were perfectly fine for any other type of game for me. I still preferred the SEGA alternative, but I could use them just fine. Unfortunately, because I loved fighting games so much, I just ended up disliking the SNES controllers in general. I still sue them, mind you. I mean, how else are you going to play the SNES Mini, right?
But what about yourselves? Were you a SEGA or Nintendo kid? Did your console wars experience mirror mine? Did you prefer one controller to the other? Or is there another popular controller that you just didn’t like? Let me know in the comments below.