Gamers love banging on about how good their favourite console is, but there's one thing and one thing alone that makes a good game system great, and that's a brilliant controller.
The controller, also known as the gamepad or joypad, is what gamers use to perform death-defying skateboard tricks, score Ronaldo-beating goals or shoot their way out of alien-infested spaceships.
A piece of plastic converts us from mere mortals into super-human beings, capable of doing anything. But what are the best controllers ever? Here's our utterly unscientific, totally subjective top five -- feel free to heartily disagree in comments below. -Andrew Lim
Update: Thanks for all your comments, peeps. We should have made it clear that the list was in order of date, from oldest to newest, so we're not saying the Xbox 360 controller is the number one ever, just the best at the moment. Yes, we think it's better than the Wii. No, Microsoft didn't pay us to say that -- you'll notice how we included two Nintendo controllers. :-) And it looks beige to us, but we're happy to concede that it's white. There is a picture, so you can compare it to your Dulux colour chart if you like.
First up, it's the classic Atari 2600 joystick, featuring a simple stick mechanism for moving around and a red button for firing. It's not technically a gamepad, but it's so crucial to gaming history there's no way we couldn't mention it.
The original joystick on the Atari 5200 was a bit of a disaster, but this streamlined version was much easier to hold and use. Atari's stick brought the joys of the arcade into the home and would inspire many gamepads in the future.
The old-school joystick jockeys used this super stick to kill off incoming Space Invaders and gobble up white dots in Pac-Man. Atari's joystick revolutionised the home gaming scene and fully deserves to be in the top five.
Super Nintendo Entertainment System
This exercise in ergonomics is a curvy, multi-coloured, multi-buttoned evolution of the angular NES controller. This was the first controller to have shoulder buttons -- a revolution that made an arcade staple like Street Fighter II a viable proposition in the home. If we were feeling particularly daring, we might say it heralded the death of the arcade.
The original NES pad had a child-proof charm, but this one was an absolute beauty. Not only was the SNES pad very comfortable to hold, it was also responsive and incredibly well built. From Japan to the US, kids hammered these pads until their hands bled and they still kept going.
This was the pad that made Sega Megadrive owners cry, with their big, clumsy, three-buttoned monstrosity -- okay, the Megadrive brought the curvy first, but this was a huge step forward.
This is one of the most important joypads ever produced. Not only did the N64's controller feature an analogue joystick, which made playing games such as GoldenEye realistic and subtle, but it also featured a pistol-like trigger button underneath.
Unlike any gamepad before, the N64's spaceship-esque, three-pronged pad let you navigate around 3D worlds -- it made the all-time classic Mario 64 a possibility. Of all the gamers we asked about their top pads, Nintendo's came up time and time again, with this one rated the most popular. And it paved the way for...
Nintendo may have started the analogue-stick-on-a-pad idea but Sony really took it to the bank. For many gamers, the DualShock gamepad is the best gamepad ever made. Originally released for PlayStation but standard with the PlayStation 2, this was a light, comfortable to hold, well-designed pad with all the trimmings.
Having two analogue sticks meant you could play games in a completely different way to anything available before. Move with one joystick and aim your gun with the other; steer with the left, feather the throttle with the right -- this was real control, and incredibly versatile.
DualShock's excellent integrated vibrating rumble feature -- pioneered in the N64's heavy add-on pack -- created a fuller experience that added a level of tactile feedback. Crashing a car or shooting a machine gun felt even more realistic and meant that you felt when things were heating up.
Some will say that the PlayStation 3 controller deserves to be here, for its wireless and tilt functionality, but many gamers are upset about the lack of rumble. Was it a massive mistake for Sony to lose the vibes? We think it was.
Microsoft Xbox 360
Did you expect the Wii? Sorry. It's a brilliant piece of innovation, that's not in question, but there simply aren't enough games to judge it against the best controllers ever. The Xbox 360 pad has proven itself over a longer time and on a wider selection of titles -- and it has its own claims to originality.
It's not terribly pretty -- it's beige, for a start -- but the Xbox 360's pad is a winner on several counts. For starters, it was the first wireless pad to come as standard. Its comfy, solid design offers dual analogue joysticks and two analogue trigger buttons underneath.
There's also a built-in jack for connecting a headset, so you can hear and talk to your n00b opponents. Can it be waved around like a magician's wand? Hell no, but this is about-- there's no time for moving your arms when your thumbs are tapping this fast.