This year has allowed me to spend more time with my Nintendo 64 than ever before. This extra time allowance also helped me to decide that acquiring more games and controllers for the console would be a beneficial move. After thoroughly enjoying most of the games I’ve acquired, I have to admit that I’m also quite fond of the controllers I now own. After giving each of my new controllers quite a bit of play time I feel I can now discuss the three different N64 controllers and how I feel about them.
First up I’ll discuss the unbranded fire orange N64 controller. With its OEM design this controller stirs up a lot of nostalgia from all the great memories I’ve had using the trident shaped controller. The controller feels great in my hands, the buttons have a good snappy response when pressed and the analog stick is something I wish I had for all my OEM N64 controllers. However, this controller is not perfect. A small gripe is that the sleeve on the controller plug is grey instead of a matching fire orange. I also don’t like the area where, on the OEM controllers, the logo would be. I feel they should have just left that area out of the casting entirely. The real problem with this controller though is that after a week of minimal use the plastic by the analog stick started cracking. I’m not sure whether more cracks will start in the future, or even whether this crack will continue to grow and ruin the controller entirely, but if the crack never happened I honestly wouldn’t have anything negative to say about this controller.
Next is Retro-bit’s Tribute 64. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? From its comfortable yet compact Hori mini style design to the satisfying feel of pressing the buttons and even the analog stick that feels almost exactly like a Gamecube, this controller just ticks all the boxes. At first I was afraid it might be a bit too small for my hands, but that never became an issue. This controller is almost perfect, almost. My only real complaints are that plugging the controller into, and removing from, the console is a bit of a hassle. It’s just too tight. Also, if you plan to use a rumble pak you’re in for a bit of a balancing act. That’s not to say it’s unbearable, but it does become noticeably top heavy when a rumble pak is inserted.
Finally we have the Retro Fighters Brawler64. If you’re looking for a more modern design with complete functionality for the N64, the Brawler64 is your controller. Very comfortable design, buttons are easy to access and the layout is very modern. The analog stick is really nice, but nothing more extraordinary than the two other controllers. The Brawler64 does have one feature the other two don’t, and that’s a turbo function. I’m not always a fan of turbo but each button can be programmed or cleared individually at your will. If I had any complaints about the Brawler64, personally, it would be that the design is a bit too modern for my liking. Don’t get me wrong I love modern controllers, but somewhere in my brain there is a bit of a disconnect where a controller has to fit the console I’m playing. One extremely small thing to note is that the analog cap made my thumb sticky for a little while after using the Brawler64 for the first time, other than that this controller really is amazing.
I personally feel all three controllers serve their purpose and have their own strengths and minor weaknesses, but I truly like them all. If I were forced to pick one and only one of these I would most likely pick the unbranded fire orange, even though it’s the lowest quality of the bunch. I know, I can hear your sighs of derision from here, but hear me out. While the Brawler64 and Tribute 64 are both absolutely amazing controllers, my brain just has that muscle memory of holding the trident design of the original controller when I play N64 games. This may be what has put me off using any of my other third-party N64 controllers more than the OEM controllers. Without a doubt I will definitely be using all three of these controllers at one time or another, but I just feel there is no substitute for the weird controller design Nintendo originally released with the console, love it or hate it.