Xbox 360 Wireless Controller w/Transforming D-Pad and Play and Charge Kit review: Xbox 360 Wireless Controller w/Transforming D-Pad and Play and Charge Kit
Microsoft learned about controller design the hard way after the original Xbox's gargantuan controller was scrapped in favor of the much more practical Xbox Controller S.
When the Xbox 360 was released in 2005, gamers and critics alike greeted the console's controller positively. Aside from its wonky directional pad, it's widely regarded as one of the best input devices for a game console in quite some time.
The problem with the D-pad primarily comes into play when games take advantage of that section of the remote for weapon selection or other uses. It certainly was not an uncommon practice at the 360's launch, and by now it's a staple.
The rise in popularity of Xbox Live Arcade has also emphasized the D-pad issue by introducing classic video games that have been ported to play on the 360. Because these vintage titles were developed without analog sticks even being invented, most users prefer to play them using a D-pad. We were able to demonstrate this problem perfectly when playing Mega Man 10.
The problem with the current Xbox 360 controller's D-pad is that there is too much give in the plastic piece that sits on top. Also, the circular cutout is not always lined up perfectly to fit inside the controller's casing, so the edges can hit the controller, too. Long story short, the defects in design lead to accidental directional commands and ultimately frustrated gamers.
Shockingly enough, it took Microsoft five years to directly address the situation with the Xbox 360 Wireless Controller with Transforming D-pad. However, after a week of testing, we can confirm that for $65, Xbox 360 owners can officially have their D-pad fix; we just wish it came at a cheaper price.
The new controller is certainly sleek, opting for a silver matte-plastic encasing and shiny chrome D-pad. However, adding the D-pad isn't the only change Microsoft has made to the controller. Both analog sticks have had work done as well. Instead of a concave design marked by four embossed points, the new sticks have a small lip on the outer edge. Microsoft claims it's a more "comfortable" design, but we didn't detect any difference during testing. It does seem the lip is much more durable, and probably won't wear down like the four points do on current controllers.
As for the new D-pad itself, it's quite an interesting design. The new D-pad can be used in two different ways, both of which can be accessed simply by twisting the circular section of the controller. The two "modes" are original (what we're all used to) and recessed. The latter drops the area surrounding the "plus" to open up more room for a definitive directional press. To be clear, the feeling of using the D-pad doesn't mirror the precise experience of, say, a DualShock 3 controller, but nevertheless it does perform as advertised.
In our testing of games where an accurate D-pad controller is imperative, we found that the new D-pad convincingly outperforms the current one. Calling in spy planes and care packages in Call of Duty: Black Ops went flawlessly, and using the pad to summon health potions in Fable III never accidentally triggered an unwanted spell.
When we tested the new D-pad with Xbox Live Arcade, we found titles like Mega Man 10 and Ultimate Mortal Kombat controlled very well. Performing special moves in Mortal Kombat proved easier--something the previous D-pad made a severe struggle.
While we can't say enough about how much we like the new Xbox 360 controller's overall design, we were a bit perplexed as to why the face buttons received a makeover as well. The Y, A, X, and B buttons all sport different shades of gray, departing from the standard yellow, green, blue, and red, respectively. Sure, we like the color scheme, but in practice these colors are occasionally used by developers in-game as an actual color-coordinated mechanism or just simply to aid in indicating their physical location. Most experienced Xbox 360 owners probably won't care either way, but for a newcomer to the system it may be confusing.
Also included with the new Xbox 360 controller is a black play-and-charge kit. We were a bit surprised to see this bundled in, especially considering it's the reason for the higher-than-normal $65 price tag. We didn't love the play-and-charge kit when it debuted along with the console in 2005, and since then the rise in better charging options has made it easy to forget. We really wish we could purchase the controller sans charge kit, but alas, they seem to be tethered indefinitely. We don't think it's fair for consumers to have to pay for an accessory they may not need just to acquire a hardware fix that should have been addressed from the get-go.
In summary, the Xbox 360 Wireless Controller with Transforming D-pad is a must-have for 360 gamers who demand a precise D-pad response. For those who have encountered frustrations using the existing controller, the new design seems to have eradicated the issue completely.