How I lost control, part 1

I honestly can barely stand the Dualshock line of controllers. Hate is too strong a word, but I’m definitely Dualshock-averse. When I want to play a multi-platform game, I’ll nearly always avoid the Playstation consoles: I’ll pick the Saturn port over the PS1, Gamecube or Xbox over PS2, and Wii or Wii U over PS3, purely based on controller preference. Replacing the Dualshock has become my obsession lately, and I’m writing this post to share my journey. If I can help even one person through their own Dualshock nightmare, then it’s been worth it.

It’s extremely telling that out of the hundreds of knock-off, unofficial Playstation compatible controllers out there, not a single one replicates that awful buttoned d-pad. Sony clearly never got the hint.

My mission these past weeks is a simple one – to find a decent alternative to the Dualshock controller for my PS1 and PS2 systems. Specifically, I want a better d-pad to play some old fashioned shoot ’em ups that only came out on the PS1, including Gradius Gaiden and Harmful Park. The games themselves are somewhere between good and excellent, but I’m struggling to enjoy them with the Dualshock.

What’s so bad about the Dualshock? Mostly, it’s the directional pad. The d-pad buttons are tough on thumb pads, and while every successive incarnation of the Dualshock is slightly easier to use than its predecessor, none of them are comfortable. In fact, Sony are the only big player in the games biz who think a buttoned d-pad is a good idea – even Nintendo, who are currently barking up the same tree with the Switch’s joy-cons, treat the buttoned d-pad as an unfortunate compromise.

Apparently, the original PS1 controller design featured a traditional d-pad modelled on the SNES controller. What went wrong, Sony?

At first, I thought it would be easy to replace the Dualshock. But history’s forward march coupled with my limited budget closed many doors. That was certainly true of my first idea: an adapter. I wanted an adapter to convert a controller for another system into a PS1/PS2 controller. I’ve read online about adapters for the Sega Saturn controller, which sounds awesome in theory. Alas, I’ve not found any concrete evidence of this particular adapter’s existence.

My next consideration was an original Xbox controller adapter. I don’t know about the Xbox’s bulky controller, known popularly as “the Duke”, but I have two S model controllers that came later in the Xbox’s life and they’re pretty great. Being a contemporary of the PS2, I assumed there would be some kind of adapter on the aftermarket… Imagine my surprise to find that only a SINGLE Xbox to PS2 adapter was ever manufactured: the XP Joy Box. I’m guessing it wasn’t very popular, as this is yet another product I’ve been unable to track down – although I have verified its existence, which is already better than the Saturn adapter. By comparison, there must be millions of PS2 to Xbox adapters, manufactured by thousands of companies… it’s quite shocking to see the demand for using the Dualshock on other systems, and apparently none the other way round.

Dualshock on your Xbox, Gamecube, Dreamcast, Wii… it’s amazing what Stockholm syndome does to people.

Next port of call were unofficial controllers made for the PS1/PS2 itself. These fall into two main camps: controllers and arcade sticks. Ultimately, I don’t know the first thing about arcade sticks – hell, do I even like them? – which put me off. There are some arcade sticks by Namco, Konami and Asciiware for the PS1 specifically that I’ve seen recommended, but it’s a big investment.

That left more traditional, Dualshock-like controllers. These have a bad rep and rightly so. I remember feeling penalised whenever I got saddled with an unofficial controller at a friend’s house. Still, there must be exceptions, right? With systems as successful as the PS1 and PS2, it’s impossible to imagine there not being worthwhile third party controllers. Hope sprang eternal; the search began anew.

Like before, I hit upon promising leads that turned out to be dead ends. Most notably, Sega actually manufactured pads based on the Sega Saturn design for the PS2 in Japan. These are virtually identical to the original Saturn controllers, only with an added select button! Looking on eBay however, these things go for an insane amount of money: £200+ for a good condition pad in the box, or £100+ for a loose, second hand controller. (As good as the Saturn controller is, exorbitant prices like these suggest that it’s also rather over-rated these days.)

The gaming media reminds us regularly of those rare few gaming items worth a small fortune: the Nintendo World Championships, the Panzer Dragoon Sagas, the NES Classic Minis. You should probably add Sega Saturn PS2 controllers to that mental list.

Outside of the Saturn PS2 controller, which I resisted, were some promising leads. Several, in fact. My next post will discuss not one, not two, but three new controllers I bought to replace the Dualshock pad. I’ll look at their various pros and cons, as three controllers battle it out for the position of Playstation overlord!

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14 comments

  1. longandshortofitall

    Yeah, I’m not a big fan of the dual shock either, and it was one of the big reasons I ended up spending my money on X-Box rather than Playstations. Glad to hear you’ve found some alternatives!

    Interesting point about the lack of X-box-to-Playstation adapters and abundance the other way around. I wonder if that’s because the PS1 came first? People buying X-Box but unable to wrap their heads around the new controller, falling back on what they knew. I’m sure someone has some figures that explain it.

    • veryverygaming

      Very relieved reading the comments here that I’m not the only one who dislikes the Dualshock! You’re right, it’s a good question about the adapters. I assumed it was due to the PS2’s immense popularity, but you raise a good point about the PS1. I also wonder if, because the PS2 came out so long before the Gamecube and Xbox, most manufacturers assumed that anyone buying a second console would have bought a PS2 first and be used to it.

  2. Red Metal

    Uh-oh, you’ve lost control again?

    Anyway, I remember when I got a PlayStation 3 for the first time and it took me awhile to adjust to the buttons. It would take me a few seconds to remember where each button was when I first tried it out. I’m used to it now, but I will agree that the control pad is pretty tricky to use. I’m just glad most games effectively make it four extra buttons because that would definitely be a better use for them. Controlling characters in a three-dimensional space is especially daunting with it, so I’m glad they introduced the model with control sticks as quickly as they did. I have to say that I like the DualShock’s control pad a little more than I do the Xbox 360’s, though.

    • veryverygaming

      Yet again, yes – you might be wondering if I ever have control! Best not to think too hard about that. I agree that using the Dualshock’s d-pad like extra buttons is a good idea. Given that setup though, it doesn’t make sense why the analog stick is placed in the secondary position underneath the d-pad. So many questionable decisions made in the name of tradition!

      I’ve not actually tried the 360 d-pad so sadly can’t comment on it, although I have heard not very nice things. Can’t be as bad as the Gamecube’s though, surely?

  3. cary

    Yep, Dualshocker hater here too. My current fav stick for the PS3 is a knockoff shaped like a Xbox 360 controller I stumbled across on the cheap. It’s not perfect (the d-pad leaves a bit to be desired and the shoulder buttons an be sticky) but it’s especially great for fighting games, and I hate most using a Dualshock for fighting games.

    • veryverygaming

      Yes, I knew I couldn’t be the only one! Definitely fighting games are a genre where a good d-pad is important. That explains why two of the three controllers I bought to replace my Dualshock are explicitly marketed as “fighting controllers”. I’m not big on fighting games at all, but I played a little Street Fighter on PS1 and on Saturn with each console’s official controller, and the difference was remarkable – one of them was not painful to do special moves on, and I had fun!

  4. moresleepneeded

    The only Dualshock controller I have used is the PlayStation 2 controller. I did not really have many problems with the PlayStation 2 controller, probably because I mostly had games which used the analog sticks, rather than the directional buttons. It was slightly strange to have individual buttons for each direction on the d-pad, but it was useful when the buttons were used for things other than controlling a character (such as selecting options) as it meant it was easier to select the right button. One of the problems I had with other d-pads was that it was easy to accidentally pressing the d-pad in the wrong direction (such as trying to press up, but accidentally pressing right). The PlayStation controller based on the Sega Saturn controller looked interesting, I remember the original controller was very comfortable to use, although I have heard the 3D controller for the Sega Saturn was very difficult to use.
    Have you played many games that require the d-pad? What are the adapters? Do they allow the player to use different controllers for consoles? Which controller do you think is the best?

    • veryverygaming

      You’re spot on about the Dualshock d-pad being useful in certain games where they act more like buttons. I remember a few Gamecube games back in the day did that (Star Wars Rogue Leader for example) and it was far too easy to press the wrong direction, the d-pad was so small. As for the Saturn, you know, I really like the Saturn 3D controller. It looks like it should be uncomfortable and bulky but in my opinion it’s just as good as the standard controller.

      To be honest, I don’t own too many PS1 games that rely on the d-pad. It’s mainly shooters, but also things like retro games on PS2 compilations such as Taito Legends and Sega Megadrive Collection. I really noticed recently because I was playing the Salamander Collection on Saturn and Gradius Gaiden on PS1, and I know the latter is better, but I was enjoying Salamander more. It took me a while to realise it was the controller that was the issue!

      Adapters just let you use controllers from one console on another. I honestly don’t know what my fave controller is. I like the Saturn ones, and the original Xbox, but neither of those are perfect. The Wii’s Classic Controller Pro is another good one. I guess those are all my favourites.

  5. Aether

    I could see a joypad working for some games, but it would be far from universal. Not everything translates well into clicky sticks.

    I really wasn’t a fan of the d-pad, either. I didn’t mind the Dualshock 2, as all the games I played then made use of the analog stick aside from the fighters, but I do remember getting plenty of blisters trying to input those motions. Then again, I don’t remember a controller d-pad fighters have particularly worked well with. The 360 or SNES pad at least avoided the blisters.

    • veryverygaming

      Blisters… man. That’s absurd. If the Dualshock was a pair of shoes you would return them. Overall, for the average analog stick controlled game or a slow paced game that uses the d-pad, I think the Dualshock controllers are passable. But the thing I can never get over is the placement of the d-pad in the primary position, while the analog stick is secondary. The worst feature is featured so prominently. Far better to hide it away, where it can be forgotten, like Nintendo did with the Z button on the Gamecube controller.

      Have to admit, I’m not a fan of fighting games in general. I enjoyed my time with Street Fighter Alpha 2 on the Saturn more than Street Fighter Anthology on the PS1, but I struggled to pull off various special moves in those games. Like you said though, I’ll take a less physically painful option any day, even if I still can’t get the moves right!

  6. Drakulus

    My problem with the PS brand of controllers are multiple things. I don’t like the size (I have big hands) control stick placement, or the way the buttons feel. Great post 🙂

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