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Category Archives: The Player – Video Games

The Greatest Video Game Controller Buttons Ever

The Greatest Video Game Controller Buttons Ever

Readers of this blog may have caught a post I wrote around a year ago about the worst video game controller buttons ever made. I fully intended to follow that up with a post about the greatest video game controller buttons ever, but my ever-frequent sidetracks came along and kept me from doing so. But since it was a great idea, I knew I would have to get around to writing on the subject eventually, and so here it is: The long-awaited follow-up. Every gamer knows that some gaming console controllers are better than others, but there a lot of individual controller buttons which are better than others. Some are excellent for their quality and ease of use, others for their innovations, and still others are good for the way they commonly function. But which ones are the best of the best of the best? Well, keep right on reading, because I’ve come up with an inarguable, bulletproof list of the best video game controller buttons of all time. I wrote it up on my napkin during break!

Yes, you can blame Kotaku for inspiring the original idea. But Kotaku doesn’t do descriptions or explanations, and I do, so there!

 

10 – A Button

Gamecube Controller

Better known as The Big Green Button, the one thing the Gamecube controller managed to get right was the ginormous A Button. Standing out among a formation of oddly spaced and oddly shaped controller buttons, Nintendo’s signaling of the phrase “PRESS ME!!!” was placed front and center, larger than any of the other buttons on the damned thing, bright green and basically impossible to miss. It might as well have been a giant neon sign. Just sitting there, the A Button knew it was the lord and master of everything it surveyed. Whatever game you happened to be playing on the Gamecube, you knew that whatever function The Big Green Button performed was going to end up being hella important, and so you started plotting your gaming style and strategy accordingly. In a way, that made the Gamecube controller’s A Button an evolutionary step up from one of the legendary video game controller buttons…

 

9 – Button

Atari 2600 Controller

Yes, this is a posterity pick, but you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think it deserves a spot on this list. See, you have to remember that video games are like any other entertainment medium – they evolve, and a lot of things that were once innovations either become better versions of themselves or get junked. Back in the days of gaming yore, no one thought that video games were ever going to need more than one button, so yes, this sucker ended up running its course. But what a course it was! Sitting there alongside a joystick, you always knew where it was and what it did because it was the only action button the 2600 used. It’s the only dash of any real color on the controller. It made Pitfall Harry jump, it made the thing in Space Invaders fire, it… Well, it performed countless different functions in just as many video games. And unlike the finicky joystick standing there next to it, it never particularly cared about the position it was in in relation to the gamer, because it always performed the same way whether it was upside-down or not!

 

8 – Start

Genesis Controller

This is a weird selection, mainly because the Genesis controller’s version of the Start button eventually turned into such a wild card. As most people who know anything about video games are aware, the Genesis controller did something unprecedented: It wiped out the common stock button known as Select and replaced it with a third action button. At first, this looked like overkill. Then it looked like foresight. It eventually started to look backwards after Nintendo placed four action buttons and two shoulder buttons on the Super NES controller. That last one started to cripple the Genesis when Sega decided that it wasn’t going to start including six-button controllers in its packaging. Not everyone bought the six-button, and those who decided not to but loved fighting games were treated to a myriad of weird control substitutions which often utilized the Start button. In one game, it could be the turbo button. In another, it could be block. And in others, it switched between punches and kicks. The caveat was that there was no way to pause a game, but a button as useful and quirky as the Genesis Start button wasn’t something we saw everyday.

 

7 – D-pad Right

Most 16-bit Video Game Controllers

Well, what other direction would you go in?

 

6 – Z Trigger

Nintendo 64 Controller

For all the bad-mouthing we do about it, the Nintendo 64 controller was a stroke of genius in a handful of different ways. The Z Trigger is one of the coolest little innovations I’ve ever seen on a controller. Used in tandem with the analog stick, it brought a bit of ease to first-person shooter players because it was now possible to aim and fire using the same hand. Yes, the usual griping came out of PC gamers, but the Z Trigger introduced a natural ease to shooters which hadn’t been felt since the point-and-press days of Space Invaders. If you weren’t much for first-person shooters, well, you got stuck using the Z Trigger anyway. As I wrote in my piece about the worst controller buttons ever, the Nintendo 64 controller was bogged down by the fact that no one ever programmed anything into the d-pad or L button. The entire left side of the controller was useless. So when a function needed to get placed into a shoulder button, it was the Z Trigger that got the outsourced function on the Nintendo 64 version. What we have here is a novelty trigger with more versatility than a trigger is usually allowed.

 

5 – Analog Stick

Nintendo 64 Controller

And hey, speaking of the Nintendo 64’s analog stick, does anybody remember how much everybody HATED the thing when it first came out? The only reason we had trouble adjusting to it was because we never HAD to adjust to something so radical before. Even the Sony Playstation, which was launched around the same time and led by a prevalence of 3D games, used the basic d-pad. But the analog stick turned out to be an instance where’s Nintendo’s attempt to force gaming to evolve was right on point. Yes, everyone is still so in love with the original d-pad that all the major console makers are forcing them onto their controllers to this very day. But as a form of basic movement, the d-pad is a two-dimensional way of moving for a two-dimensional time in video gaming. When games jumped to 3D, Nintendo saw that gamers would need a form of uninhibited movement in 360 degrees. It saw that we were going to need our games to read more minute movements which would have to be read in more efficient ways than light, gentle taps on the d-pad. Now here we are over 20 years after the fact, and no hardware maker is crazy enough to try to launch a new console without this standard form of movement.

 

4 – L2 and R2

Playstation 2 Controller

Yes, I know everyone remains in love with the pill known as the Super NES controller. And yes, it WAS important – it included more action buttons than any controller ever seen at that point and introduced the first two shoulder buttons. Unfortunately, the thing was small and uncomfortable, and I hated the thing so much that I passed on the Super NES for a Genesis. When Sony introduced the first Playstation, the pistol grip put my deformed arm at ease, so it rescued my ability to game. But it wasn’t until the Dual Shock 2 came out that Sony saw it fit to extend and taper the bottom two shoulder buttons, making them easier to grasp and get our fingers around in way that was more natural than anything we had seen before. Although L2 and R2 were originally done as novelties that only made it easier to fit more functions into a single controller, the Playstation 2 is where they started to take on a new life of their own. The use of shoulder buttons as basic action buttons started with the Dual Shock 2, and a console generation later, Sony started spring-loading the buttons to allow their greater involvement in video games.

 

3 – L Trigger and R Trigger

Dreamcast Controller

Concluding the trigger portion of this list is the breakthrough enhancement that enabled designers to see the potential of triggers on controllers. Yes, the Nintendo 64 was the original, but the Dreamcast spring-loaded the things and placed them properly underneath the controller, transforming the difficult shoulder buttons into practical devices we could use without having to remind ourselves that they were there. Microsoft liked them so much that they nicked them straight for the original Xbox controller, creating the iconic versions of the L and R Triggers gamers have all come to know and love.

 

2 – X and Y Buttons

Super NES Controller

After Sega added a third action button to the Genesis controller, Nintendo realized it would have to go big. So it created a controller for its new flagship console with four action buttons and two shoulder buttons. Not only did that force Sega to create more evolved controllers to add to the Genesis, but how many more controllers had a button C? Even the Dreamcast used the X and Y axis layout.

 

1 – B Button

NES Controller

Okay, you can make a powerful argument that the A button belongs in this spot, and I’ll understand. A made Mario jump and Link swing his sword, after all. B was slightly more innocuous in Nintendo’s primary mascot series because Mario mostly ran with it. But when you make that argument, you’re denying Mario his ability to throw fireballs, Link the ability to shoot his bow and arrow, Samus the ability to shoot anything, and Kirby the ability to suck up his enemies. My qualm with A here is that so much of its function revolved around jumping. It was B that continued what Atari started with the 2600 controller, but it pulled off the trick of doing that while being an additional button which let gamers play with accessories and power-ups. B was the sort of button that shined bright whenever its time came, but which knew that it had to take a backseat at other times. It was B that eventually caused video game controllers to expand the way they did, inviting the other action buttons to show up at the party and bring along unique personalities of their own. B was the button that was at ease playing either the leader or the sidekick. Its position on many of today’s hand-engulfing controllers still enables it to play both of those roles with ease. And all of it started when Nintendo promoted it to its first big boy console.

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Giving Out a 1up

Giving Out a 1up

I’ve spent a lifetime playing video games for a thousand different reasons. Boredom, fun, loneliness, escape, procrastination, and imagination-sparking are among them. But recently, I added a couple of new reasons to my list: Charity and encouragement. That made it the first time in my illustrious gaming career that I was playing video games for people other than myself. See, it turns out that there’s a charity out there called Extra Life which gets people to play video games in order to raise money for a children’s hospital. It wasn’t the first time this thing and I crossed paths – I have a friend, Jacob, who’s been gaming to raise money for a few years. Hell, I had even vocalized a desire to partake in such a marathon myself. But it wasn’t until a few days ago that I finally got the chance.

This wasn’t the result of one of my crazy ideas. I know my limits, and even me back in my loneliest and most depressed phases would never have been able to sit down and complete a straight 24-hour video game marathon. Even all the pizza, candy bars, and Mountain Dew on the planet couldn’t keep me up and going for that long. Believe it or not, there are times when the outside world does call. So no, there was no way I was going to attempt to pull this kind of borderline self-abusive stunt on my own.

I don’t want to say Sarah Smith’s campaign office roped me into it, because getting me to play video games doesn’t require any rope. I’m drawn to them like a moth to the flame. And one of the reason’s Sarah’s campaign platform resonated with me so much was because she’s in touch with a lot of the issues that chip off pieces of my being. Sarah is younger than me – I think I have about seven years on her. That means that one of her generation’s quirks is that she grew up never knowing a world where video gaming was strictly a hobby for thugs and delinquents who hung out in smokey, dimly-lit rooms. No one thought it weird that my candidate was a little bit of a gamer, so I’m probably the only one who blinked a little when her campaign sent out a text inviting volunteers to play in the Extra Life marathon. Obviously, I got over it. I said I would be there for a couple of hours to fundraise by doing what I was good at. And hey, no forcing myself on to the phones for this!

When the big day came, my schedule was crammed. I had to go out, finish a piece I was writing for Every Team Ever (shameless self-plug), go to the library, get to Sarah’s office to play for Extra Life, go back up to the University District to work my volunteer job at Scarecrow, then get to Capitol Hill for an introverts’ meetup for drinks. And the fact that I was going to be tackling all this without my car – I’m way too smart to attempt driving through Seattle – left me little room for error. I managed to get to the campaign office right for an early afternoon break, but I was already pretty wiped out by the time I stumbled through the door. Fortunately, there wasn’t any trouble getting me squeezed in for a session or two. Going roundabout to see that the new faces there got an idea of who I was, I made conversation with a pair of fellow upstate New York natives. One fellow, Cliff, happened to be from Buffalo, which meant I was subjected to a comment about how sketchy South Buffalo is. They gave me the rundown, told me what’s been happening, and welcomed me to the impending Street Fighter II tournament.

I’m a classic overanalyzer. Put anything in front of my face, and I guarantee I WILL find a way to overthink and overanalyze it, then second- and third-guess my analysis. (I think of this as the “this is why I like to be drunk when I write” node.) I tend to play my fighting games in a chess-like fashion because I like trying to learn characters and decipher their strengths and weaknesses. And like every other gamer on the planet, Street Fighter II stands among my all-time favorites. But I never did manage to become – ahem – GOOD at Street Fighter II. I developed a passable fighting ability with most of the characters, but never exactly mastered any of them. And more to the point, everyone in the room was a self-admitted button-masher. Button-mashing is a crude way to play a fighting game – especially one as eloquent as a Street Fighter game – but it WORKS. When my rounds of Street Fighter II were over, I had reached a brand new social class: Someone running an active political campaign for the United States Congress had totally thrashed me in a video game. Had I been allowed my regular master class of fighting game characters (Galford from Samurai Shodown, Cinder from Killer Instinct, and especially Jacky Bryant from Virtua Fighter), the results would have been different.

Throughout the 24-hour duration of the Extra Life marathon, the campaign was running a livestream. That meant there was going to be more substantial talk than the usual “Oh shit!” during this gaming binge. I don’t have problems with being filmed or photographed; what bugs me are the times when I have to do them without preparation. And a livestream meant that my weird non-sequiters were going to be caught. As we put Street Fighter II away and opened up a game of Mario Kart 8, I let my three companions perform most of the chatter. It seemed to come more naturally to them than it did me. But I did get to say my pieces, and I made sure they had a little bit of heft. We made little observations here and there – every character in Street Fighter II is a racial caricature, and good luck unseeing that – and talked about the issues. What drew us into politics? Who were our heroes? The talks covered such thoughts as our biggest concerns as progressives, what the current financial policies in the country were keeping us from doing, and why we thought getting real working people into Congress was important.

In between subjects, we invited everyone who watched us to write in with questions. Which they frequently did. Some wondered about how we dealt with the stress that goes with activism. Others wondered what we thought was important, and still others wondered about the climate that disabled people face every day. I remained the quietest presence there, mostly because I was busy trying to master all the Rainbow Road courses, but I did manage to get my words in edgewise. While gaming is stereotyped as a loner hobby, Extra Life showed just how social it can be. Mario Kart 8 was a four-player game, and as we talked, we grew comfortable with each other. The next thing I knew, I had been gaming for nearly four hours and had to make a mad dash to the University District.

It was just my luck that, upon getting up to Scarecrow, I was told I could skip my shift because the week was slow. Had I known that would happen, I probably would have played out the rest of the Extra Life marathon.

 

The Lost Collection

The Lost Collection

I was born prepackaged to become a gamer – my childhood was on the lonely side. Separated from the crowd by introversion, deformity, and a penchant for asking questions that the people of Buffalo believed had no business ever being asked, I found solace in games. It was a natural thing to do, really. My games didn’t reject me. They address me using slurs or names. They transported me to different times and places where I was allowed to deal with my foes in the most vicious ways I could imagine and was seen as a hero.

Since I spent so much time playing video games, it was only natural that I ended up building a strong collection of games that are now quite difficult to find. Hell, in some instances they were rare. The first real consoles that were parts of my life were the Atari 2600 and Mattel’s Intellivision. The 2600, of course, is one of the all-time classic consoles. It created and defined the first generation of consoles. Its presence in my own life was courtesy of Rob, who had a dusty old 2600 which was flickery and buggy. He had it latched onto an old black and white television set which was even more flickery and buggy, and that resulted in gaming as if the games themselves were drunk. Stargate was particularly notable because the constant war between the console and the TV would black out the game, restart it, and shut off the console at regular intervals. We could have made a good drinking game out of it. My friend Chris, who lived in the downstairs duplex, was the one with the Intellivision. Like Rob, he had it hooked up to a black and white TV, but he was the one with the deluxe accommodations because the TV wasn’t buggy, and it had sound.

My first home console, meanwhile, was NEC’s TurboGrafx-16. Now, I had the best TV set of the three of us, but the catch with my TV was that it was the only TV in the house. That meant the comparatively advanced graphics, color, and music required me to have permission from my parents. Still, the Turbo was mine. I loved it, and it opened my mind to a world of lesser-known consoles and games which allowed me access to a complex spectrum of gaming. As my parents were able to save money and bring the family from the lower working class and into the middle class, they were able to occasionally gift me with more mainstream consoles, which in turn became a real video game collection when I entered the working world myself and had spending money.

My video game collection became something to behold. I kept my beloved Turbo, and while my purchasing decisions definitely needed work – Sidearms over Blazing Lazers, Sinistron over The Legendary Axe, and Double Dungeons, well, just Double Dungeons at all stand among my errors – that didn’t keep me from creating a collection which included the first two Bonk games (which I continue to argue are among the greatest platformers ever made), Bloody Wolf (everyone compares it to Contra, but it’s actually the better version of Heavy Barrel), Neutopia (The Legend of Zelda’s most blatant imitator, but still a classic in its own right), Ninja Spirit, and Cadash. Even as I started gaming in the mainstream more, my collection included now-obscurities like Shining Force II, Shining in the Darkness, Kid Chameleon, Flashback, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Steel Empire, Eternal Champions, Landstalker, and Mutant League Hockey.

My console collection eventually included the Nintendo 64, Playstation 2, Dreamcast, Gamecube, and Saturn. My collection of games grew to include Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Virtua Tennis, Suikoden III, Fire Pro Wrestling II, Virtual On, Pikmin, Skies of Arcadia (the original version), Sega GT, Mars Matrix, Lunar: Silver Star Story, Dark Cloud 2, Final Fantasy IX, and a few other scarce games that I can’t even think of because I owned so many. Building it up took around 25 years, and even as I got older and grew out of time to play video games, it was a collection I proudly pointed at when talking about my qualifications as a gamer. When I left Chicago in 2011, I made a point of having a friend keep it stored up. Which he did, for three years at what I suspect was more personal inconvenience than he would ever let on.

It took another move to lose it.

Now, to make myself clear, I’m not really mad. Hell, I understand. When I decided to pack it in and move to the West Coast, I knew that I would only be able to haul a couple of bags with me, filled with minimal essentials. That meant that once again, my games had to be left behind and I would eventually have to drive a small truck across the country to grab them again. Well… That never happened. My Mother unexpectedly passed away in November of 2016. At that time, I had been in Seattle for a sliver over a year and had only recently found my foothold. I had a very nice room in a shared house, but was otherwise working one of the worst jobs I had ever worked for a wage that was barely legal. I had no qualms about dropping everything to make a mad dash across the country after learning what happened to Mom, and sticking around for a week to see my Father get acclimated. But once again, there was only so much stuff I could recover and, priorities being priorities, I had to leave my video games behind, with the exceptions of my handhelds.

The day of the funeral, my sister asked Dad to move out to California. While Dad said he would give it some thought, his voice also conveyed one of those tones: He knew there was now nothing keeping him confined to Buffalo, and so he would be joining my sister in California as soon as he could. It took him a year to get prepared, but Dad made the journey to California in December last year. And like me, he had to travel as lightly as possible. The house had been full of little sentimental knickknacks, which Dad had to abandon if he was ever going to be able to find a reasonable place to live in California. My games were simply too much empty cargo.

That doesn’t mean I have to like it, though. People who got a look at my massive collection who were in the know about video games know I’m probably not getting a do-over on a lot of them. A lot of the games in that collection cost as much as any current release, and a handful of them demand three digits for the hards. And it’s more than just the value – the hards were a source of my pride as a gamer, and infallible proof that I was as serious as I said I was. In the gaming community, a list of games like the ones I owned meant a lot because the few other gamers in my life could say they looked at and played one of the original copies. Many gamers these days know about the TurboGrafx-16, but not many have played any games at all on it, and they probably never got to sniff the original chip copies. The gamers who knew me could give details about everything they loved and hated about Bonk’s Adventure and Bonk’s Revenge.

And so that’s it. I guess it’s time to try to build a new collection.

Sega’s Posterity Crap: Sega Games Gamers Hate and are Sick of

Sega’s Posterity Crap: Sega Games Gamers Hate and are Sick of

Maybe it’s starting to look like I’m beating on a dead horse, but I’m just really fucking pissed off with Sega. I’ve been a staunch champion for them going on nearly three solid decades. When the Sega Genesis Flashback was announced, I was excited. Maybe it’s just the young 16-bit Era gamer inside me, but I wanted a good Genesis classic console which would give me a chance to own and play many of the hard-to-find games that I was never able to get my scuzzy little paws on during the Golden Era proper. You know, the very thing NINTENDO IS OFFERING ON ITS MINI-CONSOLES! And what did Sega come up with? The same damned routine Genesis collection available on every other Genesis compilation ever, along with about 30 shitty shovelware games that anyone with a social life could play on their phones during a bus ride! Way to fucking go, Sega. I’m outright cheering for the Sega Genesis Flashback to bomb.

No one is even trying with Genesis collections anymore. They’re all poorly-emulated rehashes. Once in every seven blue moons or so, we get a new port of a great Genesis title, but Sega keeps giving us the same old, same old. I’ll grant that the same old for Sega can still build a hell of a classics collection, but for a mini-Genesis to reach the demand of one of Nintendo’s little brother collections, Sega needs to start eliminating its filler. And holy shit, does Sega LOVE its filler! That’s part of the problem: It loves its filler more than it loves its good games! Next mini-Genesis, it could stand to eliminate the following titles.

Altered Beast

Yes, I get that Altered Beast was so insanely popular as an arcade game that Sega had to throw it into the original Genesis box as the pack-in. But as the people old enough to remember playing Altered Beast in the arcade got older, they started to realize something: Altered Beast just isn’t a good game. It’s a game revolving entirely around a singular gimmick – and one which isn’t inventive. The reason we all loved it was because we were all mesmerized by getting to play as the weredragon in the second level. But the game as a whole hasn’t just aged badly; it was never a good game to begin with. The character design was good, but the action was slow and clunky and marred by the fact that the game used forced scrolling to push players ahead. Also, you had limited chances to collect the power-up balls, which put you in a sticky situation because if you got to the boss without being the were-animal of the level, the boss was literally impossible to beat.

Alien Storm

Anyone who’s gotten around to playing this on one of Sega’s earlier nostalgia packs has noticed a more-than-passing resemblance to a Sega classic which people actually loved: Golden Axe. This game is basically the exact same premise, in fact, only the fantasy setting everyone loved about Golden Axe is thrown out in favor of a modern day alien invasion motif. Although Alien Storm does add the innovation of a bunch of short sections which can be roughly described as first-person shooting scenes, you have no control of anything during them save a moving target cross. The vast majority of the game, though, is the same kind of beat-’em-up action, but without the attack variety, without a jump button, and without a few other little gimmicks the beat-’em-up genre is known for. And speaking of Golden Axe…

Golden Axe

Golden Axe was one of Sega’s original killer apps. It’s remembered fondly as one of the early arcade conversions that helped push the Genesis. The appeal of the game was that it took hold of the traditional beat-’em-up and plopped it into a fantasy land teeming with creative attacks and weapons, excellent character design, and creative and colorful level design. It was the rebel alternative to the popular Double Dragon, and it had much smoother controls. Unfortunately, all of that was by the standards of the time. Age came and walloped Golden Axe, especially once the beat-’em-up formula was revolutionized and streamlined by the likes of Final Fight and Streets of Rage. Both of those series still play beautifully today. Now Golden Axe feels more like a popcorn game that was shoved out by a developer looking for a quick couple of million; it’s comparatively short and clunky and doesn’t even hold up well when compared to later 16-bit brawlers.

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle

Yes, I know Alex Kidd was the closest thing Sega had to its own version of Mario during the Master System years. But there’s a reason Sega let him go, and it’s more than just the appearance of Sonic the Hedgehog: Alex Kidd is just not a good character, his games are HARD, and a lot of that difficulty is due to fundamental gameplay issues. His only outing on the Genesis was plagued by aquaplane-like sliding, atrocious hit detection, a control interface which could never seem to decide when Alex was or wasn’t in the middle of a midair kick, and graphics which never bothered to differentiate between the foreground and background. Not everyone could relate to Alex’s sickly cutesiness, either.

Revenge of Shinobi

Another one of the early Genesis pushers, Revenge of Shinobi continues to eke out a life as the defining title of its series. But the trouble with this one is that it doesn’t even feel as modern as the other games in its own series. Shinobi has long been a series where the developers have torn down their work and rebuilt everything from scratch with every new sequel, and so Revenge of Shinobi comes off as slow and stilted compared to the two games that came afterward. Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi and Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master both offer better level design and more gameplay depth. They also both offer better gameplay mechanics, which don’t necessitate resource sacrifice against your better interests in order to see anything beyond the first two levels.

Columns

This was supposed to be Sega’s response to the timeless Tetris, but from the smaller playing field to the sudden speed and difficulty surge that hits once you’ve been playing long enough, it comes off as nothing more than a pale wannabe. More to the point is that Tetris is now the most-downloaded and most-played video game of all time, so Columns is out of selling points with the real thing so readily available.

Sonic Spinball

Sonic the Hedgehog going into a pinball-style fortress to act as the pinball. It’s not quite as good in practice as it is in theory, which is saying something because it doesn’t sound like a great idea in theory. Sonic Spinball took everything we loved about the Blue Blur and yanked it out of the game. So here we are, left with a Sonic game in which Sonic can’t get a good run going, set in a closed environment which leaves no room for any exploration, and that’s without even bringing up the worst pinball physics on Earth, floaty gameplay, and clunky controls. Sonic has endured one of the hardest falls from grace ever seen in video games. We like to keep saying his transition to 3D is the culprit, but it can be traced all the way back to this game, which just preceded Sonic the Hedgehog 3.

Sonic 3D Blast

This was the game that technically made Sonic into a 3D hero. It was made under a different developer than Sonic Team, and you have to give them credit where it’s due: Sonic 3D Blast is REALLY well-made. It also recognized the fact that a lot of Sonic’s appeal was in exploring the expansive levels in the core series. But it was also a combination of a fetch quest and an escort mission, which is sin enough as it is, and the isometric presentation made all of Sonic’s signature abilities nearly useless. Even the loops Sonic runs through were forced into the game.

Super Thunder Blade

This sucker goes WAY back – it was one of the Genesis’s launch titles, but that’s about the only thing that warrants its continued posterity. It was there to show off the console’s wonder technology and that’s it. There are only four levels in Super Thunder Blade, presented in a third-person behind-the-chopper view. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the Genesis never did mode-7 scaling as well as the Super NES, so this game’s fast pace is betrayed by its clunkiness. It’s too hard to move, too hard to get a straight shot at anything, too hard to avoid crashing into the scenery, and battered by its age to boot. It can’t even be written off as a relic of its era, because Space Harrier II was also out there.

Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine

Well, okay, Sonic’s spinoff puzzle game is more original than Dr. Mario. It’s also deeply frustrating and unfair if you’re trying to go through the story mode.

Virtua Fighter 2

Yes, I get that this was where the 3D fighter really caught on, and I aso get that it was Sega’s baby. The Super NES got a scaled-down version of Killer Instinct, and it was a lot of fun. This was meant to be a response to that. But where Killer Instinct and Virtua Fighter differed was in the fact that Killer Instinct’s primary strength was in its over-the-top dark humor, its accessible gameplay interface, and its easy Street Fighter II-like control scheme. Killer Instinct was still a 2D fighter no matter how much power it was packing, so the Super NES scaleback didn’t deprive the little version of its big personality. Virtua Fighter 2 Genesis took the godfather of 3D fighters and axed one of the defining features of the game, as well as the two new characters introduced in the game, Shun and Lion. So what the Genesis version of Virtua Fighter 2 was left with was an uninteresting block fighter with zero identifying markers are ways to stand out from the crowd – or ways to stand apart from the original Virtua Fighter. Why did Sega place this on its nostalgia packs instead of Eternal Champions?

Genesis Classic: A Game Collection People Would Actually Want

Genesis Classic: A Game Collection People Would Actually Want

Well, I’ve decided I’m not yet finished laying waste to Sega. If you didn’t hear, they recently gave a developer called AtGames permission to launch one of those mini classic consoles that were recently made all the rage by Nintendo. The result was the Sega Genesis Flashback, which will go down in gaming history as a ripoff, a gouging attempt, a typically bad Sega release strategy, and the work of a bullshit artist. I can’t say the Flashback sucks, because I haven’t yet played it. But I do know what the game list looks like, and that’s all I need to not only know I’m not interested, but to tell you everything Sega and AtGames fucked up about the thing.

Now, I want the mini Super NES Classic so badly that I consider the 80 percent markup price I’ve seen private collectors selling them for perfectly reasonable. I don’t want anything to do with the Flashback. Maybe things would be different if I didn’t already own a couple of different versions of the Flashback; the main problem with the Flashback is that almost every game on it was released multiple times in the past on Genesis compilation collections. And most of those collections have more impressive games than the Flashback. I own Genesis collections for the Playstation 2 and Xbox 360, and between the two of them, the Flashback is totally useless. The reason the NES minis caught on was because they included libraries of hard-to-find classics that get sold in used game stores for three figures. They also contain a wide variety of different games which includes work from second and third party developers. And since Nintendo is still in the hardware market, they haven’t released 700 different compilations of their old games. What has Sega done? Release compilation after compilation of the same games until you hate your Genesis favorites. They don’t bother with their third party classics or their rarities. Plus, they loaded up the Flashback with app games you play in the dentist’s waiting room. You want to know what games Sega SHOULD be putting onto a mini Genesis to make it as desirable as the Super NES Classic? Here is a sizable list of what Sega keeps missing – games that SHOULD be going onto a mini Genesis. (Here’s a quick note: For this list, I’m sticking with only the Genesis, not the Sega CD or the 32X, basically going by Sega’s unwritten rule and also to show how badly gamers are getting screwed.)

Toejam and Earl

Weird, wild, fun as hell, and coming with an option for a random world in which no two games would ever be the same, Toejam and Earl was like nothing else ever released. The story of two funky aliens looking to repair their spaceship, this game gave us two characters who could have been among the 16-bit Era’s strongest. Toejam and Earl as more or less an early sandbox game – it gave gamers complete control to go in any direction as far as the literal edge of the world. It had characters like Cupid, a talking carrot, giant hamster wheels, and wizards. It had weird power-ups and an incredible in-90’s vibe. The lad characters had franchise potential written all over them. What’s more, this game is hard to find now, and Sega hasn’t seen it fit to release on a classic collection.

Earthworm Jim

While an outstanding and memorable game on both the Genesis and Super NES, the Genesis version is the quintessential version because it contains a whole extra level. As for the game itself, much of what I just said about Toejam and Earl applies to Earthworm Jim: Weird, wild, fun as hell, strong lead character. We can also expand that list to include: White-knuckle, manic, intense, and hard as fucking rocks. Earthworm Jim’s challenge is infamous. By the second level, you’re in the depths of hell. The third level runs you through one of the most painful underwater levels of all time. Later in the game, you get to be the escort of a happy-go-lucky pooch that turns into a hulked-out beast if it falls into a pit, slug it out with a piece of snot in a bungie contest, and the game climaxes in a brutal spike-laden level called Buttville.

Contra: Hard Corps

Castlevania Bloodlines

By the time the Genesis came out, Contra and Castlevania were already popular commodities on the NES and Super NES. These two games were the Genesis entrants in both series, released to both audience and critical acclaim. It was the point where Genesis fans could tell their Super NES peers, “Yeah, how nice. We got one of those too!”

NHL ‘94

The Genesis was THE go-to console for sports games during its time, and NHL ‘94 holds a particularly high perch among the bunch. Gamers nowadays can afford to take their sports games for granted, but among gamers of my own generation, there are two sports games held almost sacred: One is Tecmo Bowl for the NES. The other is NHL ‘94 for the Genesis. The exalted status is held less for the accuracy than the sheer amount of unlimited fun we had exposing the game-breaking glitches and overpowered players. Tecmo Bowl had invincible Bo Jackson. NHL ‘94 had unstoppable Jeremy Roenick. NHL ‘94 also had goalies who could nearly kill players just by standing around, rowdy audience animations, the ability to score a goal by shooting while just skating by the goalie almost every time… Well, few sports games have reached this level of arcadey accessibility since. Hell, the entire sports genre doesn’t get there these days. The only post-16-bit game that approaches this level is ESPN NFL 2K5.

Gunstar Heroes

Here’s a hardcore action run and gun title that most people who played it would gladly dump Contra for.

Landstalker

Let’s be honest: The Legend of Zelda will always be THE LEGEND OF ZELDA. Always replicated, never duplicated. That didn’t keep anyone associated with Sega from trying, though, and reaping the fruits of their labors brought adventure RPG’s as deep and rewarding as any of Link’s games. The Genesis managed to produce a few gems in that area, most notably Landstalker and Beyond Oasis. Both of those games are amazing, but Landstalker is getting the nod here because Sega DID manage to find a brain for a minute and place Beyond Oasis on a compilation. While the triangular plane can take some growing used to, Landstalker was every bit as capable of bending minds as A Link to the Past.

Herzog Zwei

This is considered one of the forefathers of the real-time strategy genre. Are you into Starcraft? Fire Emblem? Advance Wars? Of course you are. And this is where the genre found its legs. (Well, this and Military Madness, if you owned a TurboGrafx-16.)

Disney’s Aladdin

Yes, it’s the funniest thing a game like Aladdin could be included on a list like this, especially if you know the reputation of movies turned into video games during the 16-bit Era. But Aladdin not only bucked the odds, but managed to turn into one of the Genesis’s iconic titles and one of the era’s great action platformers. With animation worthy of the movie itself (this game was animated by the same people who animated the movie), all your favorite tunes from the film, a level that took place inside Genie’s lamp, a sense of humor, and some of the tightest controls a gamer could ask for, and there’s a game which is not only fun, but far better-made than a game based on a movie has any right to be.

Eternal Champions

Sega’s attempt to go into fighting games isn’t going to make anyone forget about Street Fighter. Truth be told, I didn’t think Eternal Champions was great – the combo-free interface will probably put off a few purists. But a lot of people seem to love this game, and there are a lot of good reasons to love it. There’s a measure of internal strength which adds an element of strategy that makes up for the lack of combos, and you can’t press two buttons at the same time without running into a special move. The characters have some of the best designs in fighting games, ever; they all look like comic book heroes. But the thing that really pushed Eternal Champions above and beyond in the minds of most gamers is the training room and the option to create a level, complete with obstacles, all of your own.

Shadowrun

A dark horse title which people seemed to love or hate, Shadowrun offered a lot of open-world exploration along with a dark cyberpunk atmosphere.

Super Street Fighter II

We need to include the fighting game to end all fighting games in this collection. I know Special Champion Edition has its fans (myself included), but I’m going to go with the uber edition of this classic, which included four new characters.

Road Rash III

Today, driving games are all the rage because the technology makes it easy for designers maximize a console’s engine and provide plenty of tracks and cars for dedicated gamers to collect and drive. Back in the 16-bit years, though, driving games were a lot more hit or miss… Okay, well, let’s be honest: They were misses. Road Rash was one of the few series which managed to create a fun formula which got the most out of the Genesis, and it did so by adding a simple twist: It made a motorcycle race into a street brawl. A good way to let off steam, a good number of iconic driving titles these days owe a debt to Road Rash.

NBA Jam: Tournament Edition

This game was a title for those who wanted to enjoy sports games without the pesky trouble of the actual sports. NBA Jam took basketball and stripped it down to the bare essentials. Giving us a two-on-two game, it took all the fast action of a basketball game and gave it concepts like hot spots, power-ups, exaggerated dunks, secret celebrity players, and being On Fire. The controls used an arcade setup which included a turbo button and quick release shooting to maximize accessibility, and the Tournament Edition included better music than its predecessor and an option to include four players.

Thunder Force III

MUSHA

Air Buster

Although the Genesis is probably more celebrated for its contributions to sports gaming, it holds a dear spot in the hearts of shooter fans as well. The pantheon of available shooting games for the Genesis is second only to that of the shooter library on the TurboGrafx-16, so we need to include a set of shooting games made to show it off. Although the Super NES had better technological specs overall, Nintendo’s dirty little secret is that it had a slower processor than the Genesis, so shooting games on the Super NES would get marred with slowdown while the Genesis counterparts in the genre were smooth and uninhibited for a faster, more intense experience. There are three acclaimed titles which give a taste of what the Genesis can do with such a genre.

College Football USA ‘96

Yes, yes, everyone is keen on the Madden series, for reasons I will never begin to understand. And the Joe Montana Sports Talk series was a breakthrough in play by play. But if it’s football you want, you don’t necessarily have to settle for the NFL. You can go back to college and pretty much have your way with available teams and playbooks. This game was one of the first to really show the grand spectacle that is college football, with an offering of 108 teams, and if we’re trying to give away a sample of what the Genesis could do with sports titles, this one is more indispensable than anything a developer could do with an NFL license.

Rocket Knight Adventures

Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2

A pair of beloved and acclaimed platformers starring a possum named Sparkster who wore a knight’s armor and flew with a jetpack, these games have plenty of fans.

World Series Baseball

Before Sega went third party and started making the greatest NBA games on the planet, it had baseball locked up with this series. The dramatic view from the catcher’s eyes was a big deal at the time, and it still looks great today.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors

An outstanding variation of a shooting game, this one is another open-world setting where you get to wander wherever the world lets you go, shooting up everything in sight while keeping your neighbors safe from an unending zombie horde. Zombies Ate My Neighbors has the sensibilities of any B-movie, and it takes itself about as seriously.

Notably, I haven’t played all of these, but they’ve all reached cult status in the hearts of 16-bit gamers. But here we have it: A good collection of breakthrough games and scarce games that Sega has seen it fit to ignore in the hopes that it can cash in on Sonic the Hedgehog re-releases for fucking ever. If Sega wants in on the mini-console gravy train, it would do well to take a page from Nintendo’s book and ask itself what its fans might have the most difficulty finding, and what games are really worth preserving for posterity.

Sega’s Complaint

Sega’s Complaint

The newest rage in the world of video games seems to be miniaturized classic consoles with a grand selection of their greatest games downloaded into them. After the success of the NES Classic and the subsequent follow-up with the Super NES Classic, you had to know Sega would hop on the mini train at some point. Unfortunately, Sega’s way of getting in on this trend was to hand a blessing to AtGames, which gave the world the Sega Genesis Flashback. And at first glance, the Flashback looks like a delivery from the silicon heavens; it has a whopping 85 games packed into it! That’s four times as good as that lame Super NES Classic and the mere 21 games programmed into it, right?

(Sucking air through teeth…) Well… Yeah, you know how Sega managed to keep shooting itself in the foot and doesn’t produce consoles anymore because of its famously stupid release strategies? Some bad habits are just that hard to snap. That list of “85 Classic Games” is an insult to Sega, the Genesis, and anyone who knows anything about the classic games of the 16-bit Golden Era. The game list includes a list of 28 unofficial, unlicensed games like Air Hockey, Chess, Hangman, Snake, and Wall-Breaking. That means 28 games on the Sega Genesis Flashback are smartphone games you play in the waiting room at the dentist’s office. What’s more forgivable is the inclusion of a handful of difficult-to-find games from the Master System and Game Gear; the Master System selection includes three Alex Kidd games (Alex Kidd held Sega’s official mascot spot until Yuji Naka churned out Sonic the Hedgehog) and the first Phantasy Star game, while the Game Gear selection includes Sonic Chaos and Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble. But when you get to the crux of the Flashback – AKA the Genesis classics, AKA The Entire Damn Reason You’re Buying the Thing – the collection is sorely lacking. Yes, it has a few offbeat choices like Sword of Vermilion, The Ooze, and Chakan: The Forever Man. Yes, it has the Mortal Kombat games. But the whole collection of games that are classics on the Genesis doesn’t give you anything that hasn’t already been made available on any other large-scale collection of classic Genesis games. Hell, you can go out and buy Sonic’s Ultimate Sega Genesis Collection for the Playstation or Xbox for a selection of games that’s better than this. What’s really notable are some of the games that aren’t here: Where the hell is Ecco the Dolphin? What about the notable action RPGs: Landstalker, Light Crusader, and especially Beyond Oasis? In the early, pre-Sonic days of the Genesis, Sega built its 16-bit brand on the strength of its sports game lineup. So where are all of them? Where are the third party exclusives?

Yes, we all give Sega their proper disrespects for nuking their own hardware division. But we overlook all the little mistakes Sega kept making which caused interested gamers to support Nintendo over Sega. We can complain about Nintendo’s family-friendly reputation or the way they keep leaning on their established franchises, but come on! In Nintendo’s case, those are nothing complaints. Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid are at the forefront of Nintendo’s game collections because they’re incredible franchises which have earned premier spots in the hearts of gamers everywhere. It kills gamers that Sega was close to being the juggernaut that Nintendo is. Sega had everything Nintendo did, they stole Nintendo’s market share for a little while, and industry dominance was within their grasp. When you fall from grace as hard as Sega has, though, bad hardware releases are only part of a much bigger problem. Here are some of my own educated ideas about why Sega, with the entire video game world almost theirs, blew it all to hell.

The Genesis Controller

Okay, the Genesis controller looked like Sega was preparing for a leap in game design back when the console was released; it had three action buttons and a concave d-pad, which proved to be forward thinking when games started getting more complex. But Nintendo eventually followed that by including a controller with six action buttons with the Super NES. Now, I hate the Super NES controller with a flaming vengeance, but that’s only because the action button placements – which introduced shoulder buttons – made the thing so uncomfortable for me to hold with my deformed hand. (Sony rescued my ability to play games one console generation later when it introduced the pistol grip.) Nintendo may have been late to the game, but the influence of the Super NES controller can’t be denied. Shoulder buttons are everywhere because Nintendo had an early vision of gaming with six buttons, and the Super NES caught fire just when fighting games started coming into vogue. Most fighting games require more than three buttons – the reigning king of the genre, Street Fighter, needs six, and its close peer Mortal Kombat started out needing five. So mainstream gamers who liked fighting games latched on to Nintendo. While Sega quickly got to work producing a six-button version of its primary controller, they never got around to packing it in with the Genesis. That means if you liked fighting games, you either fought with the clunky three-button layout or plonked down an extra $30 for a single six-button controller. The Genesis versions of Street Fighter II and the original Mortal Kombat may have been superior, but that meant little when they were barely playable with the pack-in controller.

Potential Franchise Abandonment

Real old school Genesis fans might remember Toejam and Earl. The two funky dudes from Funkotron starred in one of the key Genesis exclusives from the early days of the console – it came out just a few months after the first Sonic game. The game was quirky, fun as hell, and came with some of the console generation’s best character design. It was also very unique, and we haven’t seen anything quite like it since. And the characters themselves had designs and attitudes all of their own – they were strong characters. Even making exemption for Sonic’s recent appearance, there was no reason for Sega to avoid pressing ToeJam and Earl as representative characters to their brand; the duo even got a sequel in 1993. And then that was it! Although the two of them were a true 90’s duo – they sported sunglasses and backwards baseball hats – Sega avoided making anything new until launching them on the Xbox in 2002, and there’s been a fourth game in the rumor mill ever since. Much of the same story happened with Vectorman. Vectorman got two action games which are considered among the era’s best. Sega even timed the games to match up with Nintendo’s revival and subsequent reboot of Donkey Kong as a good guy. Like Nintendo, Sega used Vectorman to introduce a new graphic technique. But Donkey Kong got a ton of exposure on his way to becoming an indispensible part of Nintendo’s canon while Sega kept both its awesome new character and beautifully fluid new graphic technique under wraps, and Vectorman was never heard from again unless you count a cancelled Playstation 2 reboot which destroyed everything gamers loved about the originals. RiStar was a star-shaped, long-limbed character developed by Sonic Team who got one of the best platformers of the era before disappearing until showing up in the nostalgia packs. If ANY character was screaming for a mascot role, it was him. Even some of Sega’s tried-and-true characters got shafted. Anyone want to tell me why Shinobi didn’t show up on the Dreamcast after a popular arcade game and three brilliant and beloved Genesis carts? Holy shit, Sega.

Where the Cool Third Parties at?

One of Nintendo’s most infamous and public fuckups with the Nintendo 64 could have been avoided had they only paid more attention to Sega: The failure to secure any good third party exclusives early on. I’m not saying the Genesis didn’t have any amazing third party exclusives, but the ones that could have come in and created a buzz for Sega – like Castlevania Bloodlines and Contra: Hard Corps – didn’t come in until later in the console’s lifespan. By then, it was getting to the point where everyone who had to go with one console or the other had made up their minds, and the ones partial to both owned both. And Sega wasn’t exactly partial to highlighting the third party games that would have helped their cause. Gunstar Heroes may be a beloved classic now, but almost everyone missed it because no one knew it was there. And you have to look at some of these exclusives: F-22 Interceptor? That was a flight sim where you flew a VERY preliminary version of the jet fighter that eventually became the F-22 Raptor. Toughman Contest was a first-person boxing game in the mold of Punch-Out. Some of these third party games were truly excellent, of course; they helped make the Sega Genesis into the SEGA GENESIS. But they didn’t stand by anything that would have created any franchise recognition.

I Want My RPG

Okay, so when Sega started creating RPGs, they had the deck stacked against them already – Nintendo had Enix and Squaresoft signed as second party developers, and they had delivered Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy on the NES. The Super NES gave fans two more Final Fantasy games and Chrono Trigger, widely considered the greatest RPG ever made. But Sega didn’t exactly start off the RPG standoff from a great deficit; after all, they created Phantasy Star, and for three games, Phantasy Star was able to fight blow for blow with Final Fantasy for 16-bit RPG supremacy. (With hindsight, this looks pretty silly because Phantasy Star – while it acquits itself rather nicely in the bigger picture – hasn’t aged nearly as well as Final Fantasy.) Sega also created the Shining series, a very good series of strategic RPGs which became beloved by its fans. Then Sega took things to the next level… By creating the Sega CD and shoving almost every piece of RPG-related software onto it! I guess Sega figured they were going to get some extra Sega CD sales by placing a genre with hardcore cult fans onto it, but hardcore doesn’t mean stupid. If anyone was stupid, it was Sega for thinking anyone was going to pay the $300 for the Sega CD – more than the Genesis itself – to play a single genre of games. So the Genesis didn’t attract any RPG players, even though Lunar: Eternal Blue, Popful Mail, Vay, and other games were on it because Sega went out of their way to price gamers out. Speaking of the Sega CD…

That Damn CD Player

It cost $300. Was it worth it? Well, RPG players didn’t exactly take to it, even though their favorite genre’s output from Sega was almost exclusively there. The selection of other games on the Sega CD were FMV games which were barely interactive and a list of games ported from having been on the Genesis already, in some cases for months or even years in advance. Yes, the Sega CD had Sonic CD, which is frequently considered Sonic the Hedgehog’s best game (and that’s NOT an opinion I concur with). It had better ports of games that were already classics on the Genesis, like Eternal Champions, Ecco the Dolphin, and Earthworm Jim. But Sonic CD wasn’t worth a $300 add-on and anyone who wanted those classics was already happy playing them on the Genesis. So no, it wasn’t fucking worth it. Not even close.

Taking the Sonic Out of Sonic Team

It’s pointless to prattle on about how Sonic the Hedgehog’s transition to three dimensions ruined him – every other game writer of my generation has covered that at length. I’m going to point out that Sonic’s fall started right out on the Genesis, and that it should have been obvious right from the start. Sonic’s final outing on the Genesis was Sonic 3D Blast, which was primarily done by Traveller’s Tales. Now, we have to note a couple of things about Sonic 3D Blast: First, the game is a technical marvel, and Traveller’s Tales made an obvious herculean effort to get it right. Second, they understood the true appeal of Sonic’s core games: Exploration. Speed was a big part of it, but the real fun was in launching Sonic in a random direction and seeing where he would end up. The trouble happened because exploring was an option in the core games, and if you hated a level, you could always run Sonic out of it as fast as possible. Sonic 3D Blast didn’t have that option. It not only required exploration – a bad enough sin as it was – but it also turned the best part of Sonic into a combination fetch quest/escort mission. Can you think of a worse combination of genres to put together? And to top it off, they threw it all into an isometric view which rendered a lot of Sonic’s signature abilities useless. There’s a safe argument to be made that every sin committed by the 3D titles was some sort of effort to right the wrongs started in Sonic 3D Blast. There’s another safe argument to be made that everything Sonic did wrong since started here.

The Selections on those Classics Collections

You would think that, somewhere along the line, Sega would have learned a few useful lessons. Well, you have to give them credit for a couple of things, anyway: They DID learn lessons. But they didn’t seem to learn the RIGHT lessons. Even now, having made the switch to third party development, they don’t seem to understand much of their own appeal. Look at the numerous collections of Genesis classics they’ve been offering since the Dreamcast days: Toejam and Earl and Sub-Terrania haven’t shown up on any of them! Yet Sega is intent on shoving Golden Axe and Altered Beast down our throats at every turn. Golden Axe is fairly forgivable because of the mix of beat-’em-up gameplay and a strict fantasy setting. But Altered Beast? Look, I know it was a hit and people liked it at the time, but if any popular video game was like pop music, Altered Beast is it. It’s a guilty pleasure that people hate themselves for once loving. It’s more of a gimmick than a game, and not a particularly unique one these days. No one cares about it. On their newest collections, instead of rectifying this situation, Sega threw Alien Storm at us. NOBODY GIVES A FUCK ABOUT ALIEN STORM! We barely give a shit about Golden Axe, and Alien Storm is just a slightly deeper version of Golden Axe with a sci-fi slant! Meanwhile, Beyond Oasis has shown up once, Dynamite Headdy has shown up once, Toejam and Earl and Landstalker and Light Crusader have all been absent, Shining in the Darkness has shown up once, RiStar has shown up twice, and where the fuck is MUSHA?! Iconic third party games are gone. Furthermore, every game they release was available for the Genesis. A few games from the Sega CD would be nice inclusions. Sonic CD, as mentioned, is still widely considered the best Sonic game ever made. The FMV games – especially Night Trap, which was mentioned in congressional hearings – should be included for posterity’s sake. And, again, they’re not placing any third party games on these things, so iconic titles like Aladdin and Castlevania Bloodlines still aren’t available to 16-bit fans who never owned them. Yeah, Sega seems hell-bent on applying its shitty console release strategies to its classic collections.

Where are the 32-Bit Classics?

I guess Sega’s 32-bit failures have given them the impression that no one cares about their offerings from that doomed era, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Chaotix, Clockwork Knight, the Virtua Fighter games, Daytona USA, Panzer Dragoon, Nights, Shinobi Legions, and a grab bag of other games are not only remembered, but loved. So where have they been hiding?

The Coolest Part of Sonic and Knuckles

Sega had a dream when it released the first Sonic the Hedgehog game: Being able to hook it up to a cartridge of a future game in the series. And by the time Sonic the Hedgehog 2 rolled around, it wasn’t a dream anymore; Sega was well aware of the fact that they could do it. And they designed a few areas of Sonic 2 with that whole concept in mind. Sonic 3 came in and went, and Sega did the same thing. Then came the fourth game in the series, Sonic and Knuckles, and the concept came to fruition. You could physically hook Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 up to Sonic and Knuckles to play through both of those games as Knuckles and open up new areas. The concept was taken to a new length in Sonic 3, where Knuckles had access to places which felt like an entirely different game, and which also offered the option of playing through Sonic and Knuckles as Tails. Then the nostalgia packs came out with every Sonic game on them, and this whole concept was entirely absent. That’s leaving chunks of all three of those games closed off to exploratory players. (And it also begs the question: Why did Sega use that technology only that one time?)

 

The Worst Video Game Controller Buttons Ever

The Worst Video Game Controller Buttons Ever

If you’ve ever spent a lot of time playing video games, you’ve certainly noted the fact that not every controller is created equal. I can go on to amend that by saying that not every button on a controller is created equal, either. You would think that as game controllers and games themselves got to be more complex, designers would figure out how to make use of auxiliary buttons better. And, well, they did, but that doesn’t mean every button on a controller is going to be used well. And even with games allowing gamers the freedom to change up the control schemes in ways that are best suited to their tastes, some designers just still have trouble assigning decent uses to perfectly good controller buttons.

You know what? You can just blame the popular gaming blog Kotaku for this one. It was one of their famous unspecified lists. I read it, liked the idea, and decided to create my own, but with explanations! So here’s my list of the worst controller buttons ever, with undefined and haphazard qualifications!

10 – D-pad, All Directions

Nintendo 64 Controller

I’m one of the very few people who gave a wholehearted, enthusiastic endorsement to the much-hated Nintendo 64 controller. That, however, was based more on the comfort I enjoyed while I held it, the analog joystick, and the cool Z button. But let’s be honest: The detractors have some solid arguments, and they start with its deadweight of a d-pad. The question about this thing is, WHY?! Why is it there? Why did Nintendo even bother? There wasn’t much of a point, because nearly all the d-pad’s functionality was outsourced to the analog stick – even menu screens used it. And despite gamers widely complaining about getting stuck using the analog stick – you have to remember that this was the very early days of 3D games, and gamers back then had never used analog sticks before – Nintendo forced it onto everyone. Few, if any, games came with an option to use the d-pad, and so it just sat there being useless.

9 – Select Button

NES Controller

The original NES controller is the defining video game controller of all time. Every controller today is based on its interface: D-pad on the left, action buttons on the right, selection buttons in the middle. That being said, one wonders why so few people can still manage to find a valid function for the Select button. Yes, designers have been getting better about it, but the original Select button was damn near useless. It sits there, taking up space, being forgotten. The Konami code didn’t require it. When Sega designed the Genesis controller, it didn’t even see fit to include some form of it, opting instead for a single menu button – a Start button – and three action buttons. When NEC cranked out the TurboGrafx-16 and almost carbon-copied the NES controller, it tried to be a bit more inventive – the way to reset most Turbo games is to press its Select and Run (the Turbo’s Start) buttons at the same time, but it still didn’t give poor Select a real function. In just about every form, Select sits, inconspicuous in its form, limited in its function, and you get the feeling that in 99 parallel dimensions, it doesn’t exist at all. As opposed to this dimension, where it just might as well not exist.

8 – D-pad, Left

Various Controllers in the 8- and 16-Bit Eras

We can argue about the real origins of the side-scrolling adventure game until the cows come home. But what will never, ever change is that fact that Super Mario Bros. is the inarguable point where games started to model themselves on it. What did the game do? Scroll. Where did Mario start? On the left. Where did he go? To the right. Thus, a permanent template was created, and video game characters forevermore started on the left and moved to the right. This mindset enveloped games so much that, if you’ve ever gotten ahold of one of the very rare games that does it the other way around – or, hell, if you’ve even played a game that so much as offered a single level that does it – it feels completely unnatural. So where does that leave the poor left button on the d-pad? Well, there’s no denying that it has a lot of importance. After all, a gamer needs to have room to dodge, set up defense and counterattack, and weave. But there is a whole genre of game where the characters can’t even turn left! There are a lot of other games where gamers aren’t allowed to backtrack, including the original Super Mario Bros. itself. So how’s left as a useful controller button? Of course, this has been dying out since games started going 3D, but gamers around my age remember when there was one direction to move in, and it was the right.

7 – Z Button

Gamecube Controller

The thing about influential inventors and innovators is that we tend to only look at their successes. We ignore their failures completely. And everyone who ever invented anything has failed a lot more than they’ve succeeded. Nintendo, for all their influence, has made a lot of controller shit. You would be amazed how many people think their greatest work is the Gamecube controller. While a comfortable controller, it contains a LOT of obvious blights. None are worse than that Z button. Almost certainly crammed onto the Gamecube controller purely as an afterthought, the Z button sits tucked near the R button as nothing more than an auxiliary menu button. It feels like a weird outcropping on the controller rather than a real button, and to press it feels like making it click.

6 – Left Analog Stick, All Directions

All Xbox Controllers

It’s a universally accepted fact that the original Xbox controller was just a really bad idea, but even with the compact model that quickly became Microsoft’s norm, people tend to ignore the unnatural thumb alignments. The now-standard Xbox controller is basically a knockoff of the Playstation’s Dual Shock, which would be just fine if not for the unusual placement of the left analog: It sits above the d-pad rather than below it, while the right analog is distal to the d-pad. This setup takes a little bit of practice before your thumbs manage to adjust to it, and even when they do, it never seems to develop into anything natural. Now, this isn’t so bad in a lot of games because the double analog setup usually doesn’t mean very much – the sticks are used to perform two different functions. But if you’re into fighters or first-person shooters, THEN it gets to be an annoyance. The problem is more muted in fighting games because you only need a single d-pad to play them, and the proper d-pad is often an option, but nothing feels right about quarter-circle or double-tap motions with the analog so far away from the grip. In first-person shooters, it gets pervasive because you need both sticks for basic controls, and nothing about the movement/viewpoint setup feels right.

5 – Buttons L and R

Saturn Controller

Sega had led a wave of innovation with the Genesis and the Dreamcast, but it seems like they were playing catch-up during every phase in between. After gaming evolution wrecked the original Genesis controller (as well as the ability to play fighting games on the Genesis), Sega knew it couldn’t go on with anything less than six buttons… Which it included on the Saturn controller as buttons A, B, C, X, Y, and Z. You might notice that this means the Saturn controller HAD six buttons WITHOUT adding L and R! So in its attempt to keep up with the Joneses – the Joneses in this case being Sony and Nintendo, both of whom adopted shoulder buttons – it added a couple of plastic shells to the Saturn controller which it placed on top and referred to as “buttons.” They were there as replacements for the Mode button on the Mega Drive, which is video-game-ese for, “they didn’t do jack shit.” Basically, Sega put a pair of keep-up buttons on a controller strictly for decoration.

4 – D-pad, All Directions

Gamecube Controller

It would be pretty easy for me to make this argument by just copying and pasting my entry for the Nintendo 64 controller up there. But, to reiterate, the damn thing is useless. And the Gamecube controller comes with the added bonus of being far too small for it to be comfortable to use. The thing is about the size of the Game Boy Advance d-pad; not something that one would expect a real, adult-sized hand to fight with on a big boy video game controller.

3 – Buttons L3 and R3

Playstation and Xbox Controllers

No one thinks of these buttons, and there’s a good reason why: They tend to be obscured by being hidden inside the analog sticks. You press them by pressing down on the sticks; I don’t mean hitting the directional stick in the down direction, I mean it in the sense of applying pressure to the stick. Imagine trying to crush it between your thumb and your hand. This is one of those “break glass in case of emergency buttons,” to be used in case there’s no other place to put a weird, offhand function. Useful functions placed inside the sticks feel like they’re being forced there, so designers compensate by trying to hide optional, offhand junk functions into them. The sirens in the Grand Theft Auto games were put into the L3 and R3 buttons. There’s a reason why these buttons do such weird things: They’re impractical and they don’t press easily. Even the engineers at Sony and Microsoft think they’re jokes; there are gamers who have owned those consoles for years without ever figuring out these buttons even exist.

2 – C-stick, All Directions

Gamecube Controller

This was another result of a Nintendo attempt to drag gaming evolution in a direction it clearly wasn’t going to go in. This had its origin in the Nintendo 64 controller, which had four singular buttons pointing in four directions referred to C Up, C Down, C Left, and C Right. Those were intended to be camera buttons, but they ultimately functioned as the action buttons they were destined to be. The C-Stick is sort of just… There. It just sits, innocuously, not doing anything one way or the other because it’s another instance of designers – including Nintendo itself – not knowing what to do with it half the time. Now, the idea wasn’t a bad one – it placed an increasingly common function into a controller device set aside strictly for it. But it would have been a huge help had anyone been able to figure that out. There were a lot of games in which the C-Stick just wasn’t functional. (Are you sensing a theme yet?) Many other games just outsourced them to the shoulder buttons, which was the common thing to do at the time. What the C-Stick DID do was give FPS buffs a way to finally play their shooters the way they were meant to be played, with one stick to move and the other to look, so I guess it did serve as a camera stick in that capacity, at the least.

1 – L Button

Nintendo 64 Controller

Wow, what a blunder this sucker was. Now, when Nintendo made the Nintendo 64 controller, it did so with the idea of offering control options to gamers. As we’ve already seen, though, those options never, ever came into fruition. The L Button from the Nintendo 64 controller was supposed to be used in conjunction with the action buttons, the R Button, and the Z Trigger (which, by the way, looks like it will make my list of greatest video game buttons). But forget a controller that intimidates people who have all ten fingers – the Nintendo 64 Controller required three hands, or at least it would if the entire left side wasn’t so flaccid. The L Button’s work on the Nintendo 64 Controller was outsourced to the Z Trigger. When the Nintendo 64 was introduced, the Z Trigger was already a lively button – the hand-form pistol grip made it easy to reach and keep your index finger on at all times, and that made it useful for a handful of its own functions. It changed the way we look at first-person shooters. But all of the usual L Button functions were also automatically handed over to the Z Trigger too. Few games offered options, and even in the very few games in which the d-pad was at least usable in SOME way – such as a menu screen – the L button just sat there, outcast to the point where it should have come equipped with its own little anarchy sign.