Ruin Undone

Since the Xbox 360 release, complaints flooded in not long after Street Fighter II' Hyper Fighting was released. Not because of the game itself, but because of Microsoft's approach to the hardware's stock controller. You can tell that a lot of R&D went into it because of how ergonomically comfortable it is. The ergonomic design and careful placement of the analog and digital controls didn't leave you cramped like the PlayStation 3 stock controller, and the buttons were generally firm. The LB and RB placement, however, were two buttons that were capable of inducing unpleasant strain. There were some good things about it, and some bad, but overall, you could tell that Microsoft put a lot into the controller. It's likely they took to the streets and Internet to see not just how people felt about the original Xbox controller, but what serious players considered the best controllers in game history. Though it didn't have six buttons on the face, the Xbox 360 controller was essentially a synthesis of the most favored, successful controller designs. The most recognizable features were the brilliant, instantly-appealing colored face buttons (SNES, N64, DC), short/stubby analog sticks (PS, PS2), ergonomics (DC), and triggers (DC). The digital pad, however, was a different story.

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(Mis)Taken As Gospel
Microsoft may have listened too intently and taken the guided voice of the scene as gospel. By the looks of its webbed-cross disc design, it seems Microsoft was pressured to take inspiration from the worst possible of candidates; the Genesis and Saturn controllers. I've always felt they were some of the worst, most difficult controllers to use (PurpGuy's gonna kill me for this). I can hear the roars of "blasphemy" already, but I say this for very specific reasons. Back in the day, almost anyone into Sega, Capcom, or SNK fighters insisted that the Saturn pad was the only way to play, and that the (pre-Dual Shock) PlayStation controller was completely unintended for them. Coming from the SNES, I never really became completely accustomed to the the Saturn pad.


Even now (after the hardware's prime), I'm still not as good with the Saturn controller as the others. I'd say it's about the same for the Genesis pad, as well; I always had a hard time with the disc-shaped, webbed-cross on Sega controls. I had always heard so much about them having better control for fighting games, yet I had consistent problems blocking low, randomly jumping, and getting moves out. This was especially apparent in any of Capcom's CPS-II titles; Special Moves and Super Moves came out fine in the PlayStation DarkStalkers, but only jumps and erratic normal attacks came out when I tried to do them in the Saturn's Night Warriors sequel. The same can be said for X-MEN - Children of the Atom and Marvel Super Heroes. True, the Saturn had the six-button face, but its digital-pad wasn't worth the headaches.


History repeats itself, however, and that same problematic digital-pad design has given many a headache with the Xbox 360 controller. Like Sega when they went against their previous designs with a non-webbed, raised cross design for the DreamCast controller, Microsoft has quietly went and did the same with their Xbox 360 controller. Some don't consider it to be a wholehearted effort (because the better design has been released individually as "Special Edition" rather than stock), but at least an attempt was made. The controller seems like fan-service from Microsoft to those who stayed loyal while patiently waiting for the PAL-exclusive controller with the improved digital pad that never made it Stateside. Or, maybe they read the article we did on their defective "new" stock controllers.


At Long Last?
Either way, it's apparent in several areas that thought was put into not just the controller (even its packaging). So, how does this new, classy-looking silver Xbox 360 controller actually work? Well, the answer to they actually work. Unlike Microsoft's current stock XB360 pads, these "Limited Edition" silver ones aren't defective right out the box. Not only does everything on them actually work, but better. The functionality has been improved overall with the advertised, improved digital-pad, response, and redesigned analog-sticks. It also includes a bonus charge-cord, and it's all included in safer packaging that doesn't require the sacrifice of fresh blood to open. But the improved digital-pad is the main concern of most serious players...


...and it seems that Microsoft has finally succeeded in making it as functional as it should have been from the start. Some claim no difference in functionality and/or response, but I noticed greater sensitivity; I was able to pull-off moves, cancels, and combos in fighters, on que. It could take a while to see how time affects its performance, but it's pretty good for first impressions. I say this pad is the best you can get for titles without custom pads. Sure, there have been fighter pads, but what about the other fighters (or non-fighters, for that matter)? You'll need a pad for those, too, in order to preserve more rare pads for their respective titles. Street Fighter IV pads for Street Fighter IV, and "Limited Edition" silver Microsoft controllers for everything else.

Baffling The Mind
After playing with this controller for a day, however, there is one recurring question that consumes your thoughts. You really wonder why they couldn't have just included this new and improved Xbox 360 "Special Edition" controller with the newest, redesigned console. I recall something about improved functionality on Xbox 360 console redesign, so it's hard to see why they wouldn't include the improved controller with it (if that was the case). Wouldn't it have made more sense? Even the color schemes match! Hopefully in the future they'll either package working products, or package working products together...

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