The next controller to explore and to me the most recognizable and perfect controller ever made; The Nintendo Entertainment System or NES controller.    This is the controller I grew up on as a kid in the mid 1980’s.   Before the NES there were a few dull years of the home console business.   The Atari 2600 fizzled out in the early 1980s and there needed to be a new and more advanced home console system created.  A little company called Nintendo had the answer.    The NES opened to a huge success with games like Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda and Mike Tyson’s Punch-out; but for me it was the controller that caught my eye and made me want to play as many NES games as possible.   In 2009 the NES was named the single greatest video game console in in history by IGN. 

What differed from the previous controllers was the control pad.  In the past controllers had a bulky “joystick” or handles to move around the character or ship on the screen.   Nintendo came up with the idea of a plus shaped flat pad for easy mobility.   This was a great way to maneuver the action on the screen using just your thumb.   Additionally there is a red “A” and “B” button on the right side to act as the action buttons depending on the game you play.  Of course, there are the “Select” and “Start” buttons in the middle to act as the options needed to begin the gameplay.

One of the first games I played and to this date is my all-time favorite video games of all time is The Legend of Zelda.   This first chapter on the still popular franchise was essential on the evolution of gaming.   The object seemed simple yet was one the most challenging games the NES has produced.  You would use the control pad to move around the character named Link.  The A button would be the way to use Link’s sword to attack the enemy.   There were three different levels of swords depending on your level of play and if you found the hidden sword.  The B Button has many functions depending on the item you want to use.   Items such as the magic flute, the bow and arrow and the red or blue potion.

The Legend of Zelda is a classic game that even today is fun to play with all ages.

Another memorable game with the NES controller is Track and Field.   This game put the controller to the test of durability.    If there is ever a game that could break the controller, it was Track and Field.   The controls were different depending on the event you were participating in.   For example, the running events would use A and B to run and the controller would be the jumping (hurdles, long jump, triple jump) or throwing (javelin, archery).  The longer you hold down the control increases the angle of your throw or jump.    Then there was skeet shooting which used all aspects of the pad.   Left side shooting used the controller and the right side was used by the A button.     It took a lot of hand eye coordination to master these events and continue to the next level.   But then the pen cap happened.    Before Twitter and Facebook was word of mouth, and someone spread the word that you can use a pen cap on the A and B buttons to increase speed and agility in the game.   This brought world records to a whole new level in the game.   And after hours of cranking the pen cap across the controller,   except for maybe some scratches and scuffs the pad always seems to work the next day.

Then, of course there is the most iconic video game code in history which uses the NES controller.   The game created by Konami was first launched in the arcade in 1987 and then created for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988.   We all know the name and the code.   Contra is one of the most popular old school games in the public eye and the code is recited by people of all ages.  UP-UP-DOWN-DOWN-LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT-RIGHT-B-A-SELECT-START!    This classic code will give the player 30 lives to begin the game.    Little known fact is the code was originally used for the NES game Gradius in 1986, but will always be linked to Contra.

The NES controller has had many third party variations over the years and some enhancements to it as every controller has, but the original NES pad is still the most popular and ground breaking in my opinion.    There is also the NES PowerPad, NES Advantage, NES Light gun (Duck Hunt) and Robbie the Robot.    These additions made gameplay more exciting to the gamer.   Most games in the NES library still are better using the original controller that came with the system.

In November of 2016 was the Miniature NES which has 30 preloaded games on it.  The NES controller will look similar to the original but will also be able to connect to a Wii Remote so you can use the classic controller to play on Virtual Console.



Todd Friedman Todd Friedman (397 Posts)

Todd Friedman is heavily involved in the retro gaming community and has co-promoted the Video Game Summit in Chicago, IL for the past 16 years. He also has published 2 books and written for various different gaming magazines including Old School Gamer.