The people who make unusual game products like a Wii Remote that can be customized with LEGO blocks—one of their more successful video game controllers—can sometimes make a controller better than Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft, I've learned.
Power A is the company who makes official LEGO Wii Remotes, which unless you're the creator of Final Fantasy and a major LEGO brick enthusiast—he once crafted an airship from the Build & Play Wii Remote—you might wonder why you'd want such a thing. I thought the same when looking at the company's newest products until I held them in my hands.
PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 controllers with fans and vents that blow air across your hands while you play? Turns out that's a satisfying feeling, especially for some of us who sometimes suffer from nervous palm sweats when playing Call of Duty: Black Ops against highly skilled teenagers.
Is Power A's Air Flo controller better than a standard DualShock or Xbox 360 controller? That depends on whether you have slick hands or not. But holding one, playing Gran Turismo 5 or Black Ops, these are controllers I found myself liking more than I had expected.
Those Air Flo controllers present an option for the PlayStation 3 player who prefers an Xbox 360 controller's layout, with the left analog stick sitting up and to the left of the standard d-pad.
But perhaps the best experience I had going hands-on with Power A's line of controllers was when I held its Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo called the Pro Pack Mini. It is not simply a smaller version of Nintendo's offering designed for smaller hands, it is a more comfortable Wii Remote that I wish I owned.
The Pro Pack Mini is designed with a softer, rubbery feel, giving it a better grip than the Nintendo original. It was the softer, more rounded edges of the Pro Pack Mini's Wiimote that sold me, a compact, sturdy feeling controller that instantly felt more comfortable when playing sideways. Players of Donkey Kong Country Returns, New Super Mario Bros. Wii or any other Nintendo side-scroller that supports Wii Remote-only controls should consider owning one.
An updated version of the Pro Pack Mini for the Wii will be released later this year, with Wii MotionPlus functions built in.
Other Power A products I tried and quickly came to appreciate include the company's already-released Pro Elite Wireless Controller, a rubberized spin on the PlayStation 3 controller. Like the Air Flo, it features an Xbox 360-style control layout and feels solid in one's hands. I also toyed with with Mini Pro Elite versions of this controller, game pads designed for daintier hands. Being of average hand size myself, the product is not for me.
Power A does great business in making pouches for things like Nintendo DS cases, charging devices and styli, but they also make video game hardware for companies, hardware that doesn't carry the Power A name—a big but quiet part of the company's business. They also make pretty good, sometimes unusual controllers.
Based on my hands-on time with Power A's products—and the increase in quality from third-party accessory makers Mad Catz and Nyko—it may be time to set aside prejudices that only first-party controllers are worth owning.