IMG_5219What makes a good controller?  We’ve seen so many iterations over the course of the life of gaming that it is hard to say.   Square controllers with an A and a B button were all the rage for a time with the NES.  Sega brought something new to the table with the Genesis – a third button.  Nintendo struck back with the Super NES by bringing a super fourth button and some rounded edges.  Atari lost their damned minds with the Jaguar with a whopping 15 buttons.  Dreamcast came and went with their 4 buttons, triggers, and two VMU slot controller that was wide enough to block out the sun. Nintendo designed a controller for mutants with three hands in the N64, giving us two big buttons and four small ones for reasons that eluded everyone.  Continuing on a baffling trend, the GameCube controller had a button layout that resembled a bird’s eye view of a golf course.  Finally Sony hooked us up with a reference controller that serves as a base for PlayStation controllers today.  Microsoft came to the table with “The Duke” and then downsized to a solid reference design of their own, minus an odd pair of black and white buttons.  Triggers were added to both, as well as bumpers (though Hipster-Nintendo was doing that back on the SNES).  The Wii and Wii U has taken Nintendo in their strangest direction yet – a pair of sticks you ‘waggle’ at the screen, now coupled with a besticked tablet.  While motion controls, integration with our touchscreen devices, and rumors about odd whole-room illumination are bandied about, the hardcore among us shout emphatically with one unified voice something we hope Microsoft hears – please don’t change the Xbox 360 controller. Well, the folks at Evil Controllers want to tweak the formula a little bit, and having gotten my hands on the “Vision” product I think a little bit of change is in order.

You might recall the Kickstarter we backed not too long ago – Evil Controllers wanted to test the water to see if people would be interested in ridding themselves of the nuisance that is the battery brick on the rear of the 360 controller.  Proprietary chargers and constant battery swapping is just frustrating, and 3rd party controllers are almost always awful.  Their plan was simple – fix what was lacking on the top of the controller and remove the heavy battery brick from the bottom without fundamentally changing what works about the Xbox 360 controller.   No stranger to modding, the team had already fixed the universally-hated D-Pad on the Xbox 360 by replacing it with individual buttons, requiring a bit of a mod to the 1st party reference design.  Rather than using knockoff controller shells they used legitimate controllers and worked their magic.  Building out their own fabrication facilities as well as full paint shop, the team was ready to not only rebuild the underside of the controller but also make use of the reclaimed real estate.

IMG_5220When Evil Controllers began to offer the rebuilt controller with all that extra real estate, there was only one thing I could do – put my logo on it.  Using our logotype, I had my shiny new white controller branded with my rapidly-approaching-a-decade-old-baby, Gaming Trend.  Because Evil Controllers has their own facility and does not outsource their work, they have their own carbon printing process.   What does this mean for you?  It means that your logo, gamertag, or whatever else you’d like printed can stay under the palm of your hand (as it is in my controller) without coming off like lame stickers or some other non-integrated process.  Let’s talk about what’s new underneath the beautiful top shell.

Obviously redesigning the underside of the controller requires a completely new shell piece be created.  Picking up the controller you’ll immediately feel something completely new – your other four fingers.  Without a huge pair of batteries and a container in the way, the ergonomic layout of the bottom of the controller is completely different.  I found that my hands were more relaxed and this thought was bore out as I rocked through hours of games.  Fighting games, RPGs, shooters – nothing put a cramp in my style or my hands.  Thankfully, I also had nothing standing in the way of playing for extended hours thanks to the expanded (and delightfully smaller) battery.

IMG_5222Since the upper part of the controller houses the proprietary charging mechanism for the Xbox 360 controller, this new battery would have to be able to be charged via that cable.  It also would have to be slim and lightweight, making the lithium ion Amazon Kindle battery a natural choice.  Integrating a direct mini-b USB charging port seated directly in the rear of the controller lower half, right next to a killswitch that allows you to turn the controller off – a necessity since you can no longer pull the batteries to make that happen.  A pair of vents and a stylish raised Evil Controllers logo flank the other side.   In practice I found that I was able to get….well, I’ve not recharged it yet.  It’s been at least 40 hours (a HUGE improvement over the 15 or so I’d get out of a pair of regular or rechargeable batteries) and the folks at Evil tell me I could wring out another 20 – something backed up by the less-than-detailed view offered by the Xbox UI.  Also of note, the controller charged from empty to full inside of two hours – far faster than any standard replaceable battery.

I’m pretty obviously in love with this controller, and not just because it bears the name of my site.  There are only two items that don’t quite stand up to the level I was hoping for – the USB port and the marriage between the upper and lower halves of the case.   As each controller is hand-assembled, I’m not sure if this is oversight or minor crafting errors, but there is a slight ridge that sticks out along the lower half of the palm grip areas.  It’s nothing that can scratch or otherwise annoy, but it’s not the seamless marriage one would like.   The other item is the selection of the mini-b charging port over the more common micro USB variant.  Micro is likely the one you use to charge your phone and it is the one used on all Kindle models.  To combat that issue, Evil Controllers provides you with a decent-length charging cable in every box.

IMG_5223With all of the incredible options Evil Controllers Vision program offers, it’s hard not to love their work.  Not unlike a great new TV or a surround sound system, a solid controller that is comfortable to use for an incredible length of time improves every game you own.  The minor hiccups in design are so nitpicky that they are easily dismissed.  Treat yourself to a game changer and pick one up for yourself – you won’t be disappointed.