Total RecallTotal Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.  

The upcoming Wii U is hoping to change the way we think of controllers forever. Whether it does that or not is anybody's guess, but if it does, it won't be the first time Nintendo has pulled off that coup.

While Nintendo's franchises and consoles often get all the praise for the company's success, let's not forget the importance and history of the only thing between the player and the game: the control pad.

In this gallery you'll find some of Nintendo's greatest successes when it comes to control pad innovation, some of them obvious and long-lasting, others perhaps not quite getting the recognition they deserve.

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.


The Game & Watch - Nintendo's first gaming success innovated with its use of a d-pad design pioneered by legendary Nintendo developer Gunpei Yokoi. Taking the idea of a directional pad and stripping it back to a compass-like form, it meant that playing Game & Watch titles was fast, responsive and, most important of all, comfortable.

The Famicom / NES - Its square shape was uncomfortable, and it only had a couple of primary buttons, but the Famicom / NES pad goes down in history as the first widespread success for the humble d-pad on a home console controller. The precision it affords means it's largely unchanged on Nintendo consoles (and handhelds) even today.


It was also, believe it or not, the first major system to lean left. Home consoles from the 1970's usually had the directional inputs in the centre or to the right of a pad's buttons, whereas the Famicom / NES has the input to the left, where it remains (on all control pads) to this day.

The NES Satellite - Released in 1989, towards the end of the original NES' lifespan, the Satellite allowed four players to connect their pads not to the console, but to a wireless receiver. Though seemingly a revolution, the infared technology used meant the Satellite had to be kept within line of sight of a receiver unit, making them unreliable.


The Super Nintendo - There doesn't appear much revolutionary about the humble SNES pad, seen by most as an improvement on the NES controller rather than an evolution, but it did quietly add shoulder buttons, another first for a major home console that has since been imitated by almost every competitor since.


The Nintendo 64 - It's strange shape and memory card expansion slot may not have been endearing legacies, but that little stick in the middle sure was. While it was "weak" and prone to breaking (just try and find a working one on a second-hand pad these days), the N64's analog stick was the first seen on a home console controller since the demise of the Vectrex in 1983 (most other "thumbsticks" simply being sticks on top of a d-pad), and has been copied on every major controller ever since.

The N64 was also home to the Rumble Pak, the first widespread use of force feedback technology in a home video game console controller.


The Nintendo GameCube - While the regular Cube controller played it safe, using the same "two sticks, triggers and some face buttons" layout as its competitors the PS2 and Xbox, its fat, younger brother was a little more special. The Wavebird, first released in 2002, was the first official platform/branded controller to use radio frequency as a means of communication, making them far more reliable than the old Satellite pads. Again, this is now a standard feature across all consoles (albeit now with more advanced technology).

The Nintendo DS - It seemed crazy at the time, but the idea to put a giant touch screen in the middle of a handheld gaming device paid huge dividends for Nintendo, the DS becoming one of the most successful video game devices of all time. Allowing far greater (and often faster) interaction than scrolling with a d-pad, it's a feature that's been retained in the new 3DS and is now showing up on rival Sony's PlayStation Vita.


The Nintendo Wii - Doesn't need much of an introduction. The first major use of motion controls as a standard input device for a home console. Has been improved upon with Wii MotionPlus, and it's difficult thinking of a future in which game controllers don't feature at least some form of motion control.