Nintendo’s history is littered with interesting and unique controller designs. While the jump from NES to SNES certainly introduced a slightly changed shape and more buttons, it was the leap to N64 that had a lot of people scratching their heads. Turns out Microsoft’s Phil Spencer was one of those people.

In an interview with the Xbox Era Podcast, Spencer looked back on when he moved into Microsoft’s gaming space. At that time, he wasn’t too familiar with console gaming, so he snatched up an N64 and Playstation. With the N64 in particular, Spencer was a tad confused by the controller’s design. To this day, Spencer still has trouble wrapping his head around it.

“You have to have three hands, it’s a controller that’s built for somebody with three hands, as great as the games are…yeah, it was kind of cool, because it was kind of like two controllers in one”

There’s no doubt many companies used the N64 controller in interesting ways, and made some slightly cumbersome control options. Nintendo clearly envisioned the controller being held one of two ways during play, but other developers threw everything at the wall to see what stuck!

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Comments (7)


2+ y ago

N64 controller was in essence supposed to be three controllers in one, with Nintendo trying to hedge their bets without a clear idea on how an analog stick would turn out to be used. Would it be best in the left or right hand? Would people even bother with it at all?

The Z/R grip is the one we all remember, as it ended up being used for most games as analog movement quickly became standard, but the less common L/R grip was meant to to be akin to a Saturn controller for games still focused on a 2D control scheme; few games used this, namely Kirby 64 and I believe Yoshi's Story off the top of my head.

Rarest of all and not often discussed is the L/Z grip, which was intended for games as a sort of pseudo-WASD control scheme, where having analog in your right hand for things like aiming would be more important than an array of face buttons, and movement could be handled well enough with a simple D-pad. To my knowledge, no game ever used this scheme exclusively and it was only ever included as an option in a few shooters.

It wouldn't be until the PlayStation Dual Analog controller (precursor to the DualShock) did anyone figure out to just put an analog stick in each hand alongside the usual D-pad/face buttons for the two-tiered controller layout we know today, rather than trying to make analog options work on just one "tier" as the N64 controller did.

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2+ y ago

In contrast to your well thought out comment vinlauria, I like how the START button makes Phil look like he has lipstick in the story photo


2+ y ago

The N64 controller is pretty weird when I look back at it but I really enjoyed using it during that era. I remember thinking I rented a defective copy of Mischief Makers because I couldn't get the game to register directional inputs, but then I realized the game wanted me to use the D-Pad. Probably the first time I ever held the controller like that.


2+ y ago

I grew an extra hand just to use this controller and get the upper "hand" on competition.

Yoshi's Story for sure didn't use the dpad to move. Part of the gameplay was "walking" to sniff out fruit, balancing games that wanted you to use analog controls to adjust speed, and being able to lick fruit 360 degrees around him, and dpad wouldn't have worked for what they wanted to accomplish. All the dpad did was show your border of fruit you've collected, if I recall correctly.

Surprisingly, though, a lot of wrestling games used the dpad to control your wrestler leaving the stick to do very little. The AKI developed wrestling games (aka the best wrestling games still hahaha) only uses the control stick to taunt and use your finisher. I always found it odd because they definitely seemed like games that would have benefitted from analog movement.


2+ y ago

And then there was me, who always held the outer prongs, regardless of of whether the game used the D-Pad or the analogue stick.