Ask any PC gamer about Razer accessories and the response will almost always be praise for the company's high-quality performance products. While Razer has previously remained strictly a manufacturer of PC components, 2011 is looking like a different story. With the introduction of items like the Xbox 360/PC headset Chimaera and now the Onza controller, it's clear Razer has ambitions outside of the PC gaming world.
The Razer Onza is a wired Xbox 360 controller that goes above and beyond Microsoft's standard offering. Why not make it wireless? Unfortunately this is something that Microsoft has a firm grip on, preventing third-party manufacturers from licensing such technology. This gripe aside--and it is certainly not the fault of Razer--the Onza performs solidly.
Of course, there wasn't a whole lot wrong with Microsoft's original Xbox 360 controller save for the awful directional-pad disc that was eventually addressed in last year's Xbox 360 controller with transforming D-pad.
The Razer Onza comes in two varieties, the standard ($40) and Tournament Edition ($50), the latter of which is reviewed here. The Tournament Edition gives you adjustable tension analog sticks, light-up face buttons, a braided cord, and a rubberized finish as opposed to a textured one. We'll discuss those features more in just a bit--but, needless to say, we think it's worth the extra $10 to upgrade.
The Onza Tournament Edition has a slick black rubberized coating that feels great in the hand. It's marginally bigger than the standard wireless Xbox 360 controller, but it's nothing jarring. The button layout resembles what Xbox 360 owners are used to, save for the back and start buttons getting moved to the bottom of the controller.
The Onza's D-pad is certainly a departure from what we're used to; but while we like it better than Microsoft's, it still has its faults. The Onza's D-pad consists of four separate directional buttons that require more effort to press than a conventional D-pad demands.
For example, when we used the Onza during our trials of Marvel vs. Capcom 3, we found the D-pad didn't allow for the quick, swift multidirectional gestures that fighting games require. Instead, we were left with clunky performance that really soured the experience. That said, we found the D-pad to work well in games where the pad is used as a weapon-selection tool.
Moving beyond the D-pad, the Onza's dual analog sticks have a unique feature. Each stick is equipped with an adjustable tension dial that can increase or decrease its tightness. The two sticks can be adjusted individually. We've never seen anything like this before in a controller and really enjoyed the customization it offers. We found the tension knobs to really be useful when playing first-person shooters, as with a tighter analog stick we felt our aim was more accurate.
Of course, the tension dials can be used in tandem with any type of game. For what it's worth, we found ourselves leaving the left stick alone and tightening up the right stick for play with shooters.
The four Xbox 360 face buttons carry a sort of "mouse click" feel. Imagine what it's like to click a mouse button and then try and picture that same tactile feedback on a game controller. We're not completely sold on Razer's claims for its Hyperesponse controls, but there's no denying that they do feel good. Not nearly as much pressure is needed to hit one of the buttons, which could possibly improve the reaction time of some gamers. The buttons also light up, which is a welcome bonus.
Turning the controller around exposes the two triggers and the other feature we've really come to love about the Onza. In addition to the standard RB and LB bumpers on either side, the Onza has an extra shoulder button that can be bound to any other input (other than an analog direction). For example, the extra left bumper can be assigned the start button while the extra right bumper can be assigned "Click right analog stick." Again, Razer is able to deliver a feature that we've never seen before in a controller, and one that has incredible potential.
As alluded to above, we'd be lying if we said the fact that the Razer Onza is a wired controller isn't a disappointment, because frankly it is. However, Razer has informed us that this is because of Microsoft's ultrastrict limitations on third-party technology licensing. Long story short: Razer isn't allowed to make a wireless controller. Instead, Razer includes a high-quality braided 15-foot wire that allows for more than enough slack.
If you can't live without a wireless controller or you favor fighting games, the Onza may fall a bit short of meeting your needs. However, at $50, it's easily one of the best third-party controllers we've ever used. Sure, we would have preferred it to be wireless, but nothing on the market even comes close to the forward-thinking feature set and customizable buttons.