He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: The N64 Controller

I love the N64 controller. I also really hate it.

By Anthony Vigna. Posted 10/16/2014 09:00 9 Comments     ShareThis

Pop quiz: How should you hold an N64 controller?

If you’ve never played an N64 game on its original hardware, then you might be a little confused about this question. After all, how many ways can you hold a controller? But, the N64 controller is completely different. The controller is shaped like an M, having three different grip-able prongs that offer different ways to hold it. You can’t just pick up an N64 controller without giving any thought to it, as you have to make a conscious decision on how to hold it.

If you’re a Nintendo 64 veteran like most of us here at the Dojo, then you’ll instinctively grab the controller like this:

However, if someone new is introduced to the controller for the first time, you’ll often see the controller being held this way instead:

This isn’t technically wrong, as games like Pokemon Stadium and Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards make full use of the d-pad. However, most N64 games use the joystick over the d-pad, making this control scheme useless for the majority of the system’s library. A lot of new N64 players don’t really understand that holding the controller by the ends is generally wrong and I honestly don’t blame them. Not only have we been accustomed to hold controllers like this since the days of NES, the N64 controller is extremely comfortable to hold from the ends.

But hey, throw out all presumptions on how to hold a controller out the window! Grab near the joystick and uncomfortably mush your hands together instead! Who needs comfort?

Here’s the thing though: I never used to feel this way. When I was growing up, I blindly thought that the N64 was perfect in every way, including the controller. After hours spent playing games like Star Fox 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, I never really thought the controller’s grip was weird in any way. Unfortunately, I was forced to realize the flaws of the controller’s design after constantly explaining the correct way to hold it to new players when playing Super Smash Bros.

The N64 controller and I have a complicated relationship. I’ll admit the controller is funky and doesn’t compare to other Nintendo controllers, but I still like it! Call me irrational, but there’s just something about holding that controller that feels right. I can recognize that the grip is abnormal, but reflexively holding the controller in that manner takes me back to a simpler time in my life when gaming was the only thing that mattered to me. Even though N64 games on the Virtual Console offer better control options, I’ll always prefer the weird M shaped N64 controller. I wear rose-tinted glasses and I wear them proudly!

Even when I take my rose-tinted glasses off, I’m still able to find things from the controller’s design that I genuinely enjoy. My absolute favorite thing about the N64 controller is the placement of the Z button, which is placed directly behind the joystick. For shooting games like GoldenEye and Jet Force Gemini, the Z button functions like a trigger on a gun, which is actually incredibly intuitive to use. Modern shooters stick to using a controller’s shoulder buttons for firing weapons, which doesn’t feel as satisfying in comparison to me. Of course, the perfect placement of the Z button is only possible with an N64’s controller because of its awkward design anyway, so it’s a major tradeoff in terms of control.

As you can see, my feelings are extremely mixed on this controller. What do you think? Do you like it, hate it, or have conflicting emotions that are comparable to my own? Let us know in the comments below!

9 Responses to “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: The N64 Controller”

  • 819 points
    Toadlord says...

    I take more time to adjust to this controller than any other when switching systems. It’s just not all that comfortable to play with.

    So for this reason I would probably be in the “hate it” camp on this one, which is unique for me and Nintendo Systems.

  • 784 points
    Marc Deschamps says...

    The N64 controller was one of those things that made zero sense the first time you held it. Between Mario 64 (which scared the bejesus out of me) and the controller, it a wonder I liked the N64 as much as I did!

    It’ll always be the odd-duck of the Nintendo controllers.

  • 1567 points
    penduin says...

    I’m one of those weirdos who used the two-controller style for Goldeneye. Nowadays, everyone uses dual-analog for their shooters! ‘Course, I did it backwards and upside-down since Turok taught me FPS controls, so when games quit letting you swap sticks and axes (PS3 or so) it took some brain-rewiring.

    I’ve pretty much loved every Nintendo controller, but the N64’s is one of my favorites. But then I’m a Linux guy, I don’t care if the stuff I like is confusing or intimidating to those less savvy. ;^) If you really want to confuse somebody, hand them a Dreamcast pad, with its cable coming out the bottom!

  • 111 points
    roykoopa64 says...

    I’ve never had any ‘hate’ for the N64 controller, at all. Ever since it was released, I thought it was rather nifty how Nintendo designed the controller to be used in different ways depending on the game you were playing.

    Looking at it now, I like the design. Whether you’re playing with the control stick or the D-pad, you’re able to grip the controller comfortably and not have to compromise on the placement on one or the other like most controllers do nowadays.

    At least, that’s how I see it.

    Oh, and yeah Anthony, I agree about how good that Z-button feels.

  • 75 points
    Robert Palacios says...

    I’ve been doing it wrong!!!

  • 678 points
    amishpyrate says...

    I liked the N64 controller at the time but looking back I dislike not having access to all the buttons when holding it and the analog stick was prone to wearing out especially after Mario party hit the scene.

    • 180 points
      Anthony Vigna says...

      Oh definitely! I broke controllers and injured my hand a few times after Mario Party 1 introduced a plethora of “spin the joystick really fast” type games. Haha and no, I wasn’t aware of the gloves they were handing out :P

  • 702 points
    Matthew Tidman says...

    The other weekend, my brother-in-law pulled out his N64 and challenged me to some Super Smash Bros. Was the joystick always that bad? Or has he just messed his up with years of play? I forget how spoiled we are with modern control sticks until I play with one of those old ones.

    Also, best game to ever use the digital setup of the N64 pad: Mischief Makers by Enix. Man, I wish I still had my copy.

  • 9 points
    CoopCouple says...

    From personal experience, it can be rather difficult to find a Nintendo brand N64 controller with a tight joystick.

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