Next to its weird, motion-sensing controller, the biggest draw of the Nintendo Wii is its Virtual Console. This onboard emulation system lets nostalgic geeks download and play their favorite games of years past, including titles from Nintendo's previous game consoles--the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the Super NES, and the Nintendo 64--and even some of the company's past competitors, the Sega Genesis and NEC Turbografix 16. Unfortunately, the Wii's simple remote control--fondly dubbed the Wiimote--is suitable only for playing two-button NES and Turbografix 16 games. If you want to play games from other systems, you have two choices: use an old GameCube controller, or opt for the Wii Classic Controller. The latter product is a conventional gamepad that plugs directly into the Wiimote and can play any Virtual Console game. Unfortunately, while it's a straightforward enough concept, the Classic Controller doesn't quite live up to expectations.
The Classic Controller keeps with the minimalist, iPod-esque design of the Wii. Its white, gently curving oval shape will remind some of the old Super Nintendo controller. The unit matches the color scheme of the Wiimote itself, with a completely white motif interrupted only by the clear A and B face buttons. On its face, you'll find a four-way directional pad, two analog control sticks, four face buttons, and four shoulder buttons. There are also three control buttons (Select, Home, Start) for navigating the Wii's menu system.
The biggest problem with the controller is that it can't play GameCube games. (GameCube titles aren't offered on the Virtual Console, but the Wii will play any game disc from Nintendo's last-generation console.) It's an odd omission, since the dual-analog controller certainly sports enough buttons to play games such as Wind Waker and Metroid Prime. When a GameCube game is loaded, the Wii simply doesn't detect the Classic Controller. If you want to play your favorite GC titles, you'll need to get a GameCube controller anyway. Since we've yet to find a Virtual Console game that hasn't worked with the GameCube controller, it forces us to ask why the Classic Controller is even necessary.
Objectively, the Classic Controller is a fine peripheral for playing retro titles. It's comfortable, it's semiwireless (despite its Wiimote tail), and it's the only controller guaranteed to work with all Virtual Console games. However, its inability to play GameCube games is a massive omission. Considering that any old GameCube controller (including the wireless WaveBird) will play all GameCube games on the Wii plus nearly all of the Virtual Console titles (compatibility with all Genesis and Turbografix isn't guaranteed), the Classic Controller is hard to justify, unless you really prefer the gamepad form factor or just don't plan on playing any GameCube titles. Of course, if it turns out that Gunstar Heroes doesn't work with a GameCube controller, all bets are off.