What Is Your Favourite Nintendo Controller?
Image: Nintendo Life

Nintendo has always been one for pushing the boat out with its hardware designs, and no more so is this the case than with its controllers. Yes, those of the NES and SNES were pretty conventional by today's standards (though they were remarkably innovative at the time) but in the ensuing years, the Big N's controllers have had us waving blocks above our heads, tapping chunky kidney-shaped keys, attaching and detaching buttoned bolt-ons, and even trying to work out how exactly these are meant to be played with only two hands.

Our point is, there's a lot to choose from when it comes to finding the best Nintendo controller out there. There are so many different options, in fact — and so many different opinions — that attempting to find "the best" feels somewhat like an impossible task.

With this in mind, we at Nintendo Life Towers have come together to vote on which controller is our favourite. Presenting a list of every standard controller in the company's history (including the 'Pro' variants for the more recent consoles with non-industry-standard default controllers, but excluding the weird, unique models that we have previously discussed here), we each voted for our top five, with our favourite getting five points, second favourite getting four, and so on.

The following is the result of our team survey, and should you disagree with our picks, there's a poll at the bottom of the page where you can have your say.

We'll build up to our number one pick, but let's start with the controllers that received no love (in vote form, at least) from Team NL...

10. NES (101), Virtual Boy, Wii Classic Controller

Right at the bottom of the pack, this trio received a whopping nil point from the Nintendo Life team and therefore find themselves joint last.

The NES 101 model was originally released in 1993 and was all about emulating the look of the newer SNES system. The two-tone grey and red colouring isn't all that pleasing to look at, and while the dog bone shape would work on the later, four-buttoned Nintendo controller, it just looks off when there are only the A and B options available. To be fair, we're not sure anyone on the team has ever actually used one of these.

It's no wonder that the Virtual Boy controller finds itself at the bottom of the pile, either. Will this console one day get a rose-tinted renaissance in the form of "The Virtual Boy Is Nintendo's Most Underrated Console"? We doubt it. That Wario Land game was great, though!

As for the Wii Classic controller, it's the one that most people have forgotten. Not to be confused with the Classic Controller Pro (more on that later), this oval design was built for Virtual Console gaming, but with analogue sticks that close together, our hands are cramping up at just the thought of playing with this one for a couple of hours.

9. Wii Classic Controller Pro

Wii Classic Controller Pro
Image: Nintendo

Leaping ahead with just one point (hey, it's an improvement, we guess) is the Wii Classic Controller Pro.

Released in 2009, this pronged upgrade was designed to be much closer in feel to a GameCube model than the SNES-like design that preceded it. It might not have matched up to the kind of innovation that we saw elsewhere for the Wii, but it was certainly a step in the right direction as far as comfort goes.

8. Wii U GamePad

Wii U GamePad
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

Truly innovative, truly chunky.

The Wii U GamePad received only three points from us. While the touchscreen controller brought a boatload of fun to certain games like Nintendo Land, the bulky design and ultimate lack of software that put it to good use meant that it was always likely to appear on the lower end of this list.

Yes, it paved the way for one of Nintendo's best-selling consoles of all time, but in terms of actual controller design, this wasn't going to top anyone's list, however comfortingly substantial it is.

7. NES

NES Controller
Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo Life

Ah, the one that started it all. The NES controller is simple and sleek and many of us have a huge number of happy memories of mashing those buttons until our thumbs hurt.

It's a credit to how strong the later designs are that this model finds itself at number seven on the list. While it might not be able to match up in terms of comfort to modern pads, there's still something special about this little revolutionary rectangle. Has there ever been a better D-pad?

6. Wii U Pro Controller

Wii U Pro Controller
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

For all of its flaws, the Wii U did have a great Pro Controller going for it.

In the majority of instances, this was our preferred way to play the console over the bulkier GamePad if the touchscreen wasn't in play. The controller's Xbox 360-esque design was a substantially more comfortable way to play and the Switch Pro Controller would take cues from this pad.

5. Switch Joy-Con

Switch Joy-Cons
Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo Life

The standard Switch Joy-Con are a little small, pretty flimsy, and prone to succumbing to some very pesky drift, but we flipping love them all the same.

Well, some of us do. Certain team members are burned after suffering years of abuse from drifting sticks, not to mention crippling hand cramps. Throw in intermittent connectivity issues if you sit more than six feet from your Switch, and a select few NL staff members are baffled at how they scored so highly! Everyone loves the HD-rumble icecubes, though.

On a conceptual level, these bad boys are genius. Without the Joy-Con, Switch's USP of, you know, switching, simply would not be possible. They might not be the most reliable bits of kit out there, but the ability to clip them in, slide them out, play with motion controls, and get a more conventional controller experience with the Grip holder might just be the most innovative that the Big N has ever been with a pad.

You throw in the potential for personalisation with the ever-growing range of colours and designs, and it is easy to overlook the little controllers' flaws.

4. N64

N64 Controller
Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo Life

Now we're really getting into the big leagues. The three-pronged N64 controller received 14 points from our votes, with one of us even naming it their all-time favourite (pause for gasps, tears, fainting, etc.)

This is probably the closest that Nintendo has ever got to a truly love-it-or-hate-it design. Does it seem to have been designed for players who are able to miraculously produce a third hand out of thin air? Yes, it does, and this doesn't help with making a silhouette that's pleasing on the eye.

That being said, this is probably one of the most (if not the most) iconic controller silhouettes out there, and while it may look impossible to play with a measly two hands, you can get your head around it pretty quickly once you work out that you don't actually need to use the analogue stick and the D-pad at the same time (who knew).

There's beauty to be found in this comically weird design, and it really is the only proper way to play N64 games. If you want to experience Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, and GoldenEye the way nature intended, you'll be needing one of these beauties.

3. Wii Remote

Wii Remote
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

The genius of the Wii Remote is its simplicity. The reason why comparatively few of us have ever played a PlayStation with an elderly relative is because before you could get into the basic rules of the game, you would have to start with a comprehensive rundown of where each and every button is hidden away.

With the Wii, you can stick that simple white brick into Nan's hand and before you know it she's hitting smash serves against Matt from Wii Sports as if possessed by the spirit of Rafa Nadal.

On top of this bare-bones design is the motion control system which still seems like such an outside-of-the-box idea that we regularly need to remind ourselves that yes, it did happen, and yes, everyone owned one. This design also honours its forebears; turn it sideways and you've got a makeshift NES pad for all your Virtual Console needs.

It is easy to look back on the Wii today and turn your nose up at its weak processing power and frequently shoehorned-in motion controls, but many of us agreed that this controller design is representative of Nintendo at its very best.


SNES Controller
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

Raking in an impressive 20 points from our votes, the classic SNES controller lands in second place.

It's refreshing to see that while fancy control schemes and innovative designs are one thing, you still have to respect the basics. The SNES is always going to sit pretty highly in our lists of 'Best Consoles Eva', and that might not be possible without the stellar controller with its innovative shoulder buttons.

The bright colours (but not too bright, and not bright at all in North America — although we Europeans are jealous of the concave buttons, granted) make this a beauty to look at, and the iconic shape is a hallmark of retro gaming.

1. GameCube / Switch Pro Controller

Yes, our favourite Nintendo controller ultimately came down to a tie — ooh, the drama — with both the GameCube design (which we grouped with the WaveBird model) and the Switch Pro Controller receiving 27 points.

Even today, it's difficult to critique the comfort of the GameCube pad's design. The dual analogue sticks, the different-sized buttons (prioritising 'A' and 'B' for some quality Melee gameplay), the two-pronged grips for those of us without three hands — it's a beauty. The kidney-shaped 'X' and 'Y' are an acquired taste, admittedly, but we evidently like them. You throw in the WaveBird's game-changing wireless play and you were always going to have a winner.

And the same can be said for the Switch Pro Controller. It's a design that has been years in the making and with the Switch, we feel like Nintendo finally cracked it. For all of the Joy-Cons perks, their size can make long play sessions a bit of a pain; fortunately, the Pro Controller fixes that. Top it all off with the ever-increasing number of fun tie-in designs, and it makes sense that this should sit among the best of 'em.

Well there you have it, our favourite Nintendo controllers as chosen by Nintendo Life. We've had our say, so why not do the same? You can fill out the following poll to let us know what your favourite controller of all time is and see how it matches up to everyone else.

What is your favourite Nintendo controller?

Which design got your vote? Take to the comments to sing the praises of your favourite.