As the NES gained popularity, many peripherals were launched to capitalize on the gamer’s never-ending quest to improve their gaming experience. Robots, Zappers, Power Gloves- all of these had their place, but there was no NES peripheral worth saving your allowance for more than the NES MAX controller. If memory serves, these originally retailed for $19.99, (correct me if I’m wrong) and they were worth every penny.
By 1988, the NES had been around for three years in the U.S.- long enough to have generated some feedback on the original controllers. Nintendo listened to their consumers and decided to manufacture two more controllers packed with features- the NES MAX controller and the NES Advantage joystick. The Advantage is a large, square beast, with oodles of buttons and a joystick instead of a control pad. This always seemed too bulky to me, though many others loved it. Although the features allowed for much customization (you could program how fast your “turbo” worked, and how slow your “slow” worked), it was too expensive for many to justify (original retailing for $39.99, again, if memory serves). The NES MAX, on the other hand, took the most resounding consumer needs and addressed every single one of them- in a much more economical fashion.
Dear Nintendo, These basic, rectangular controllers are killing the palms of my hands, and they’re too hard to grip for hours on end. No problem, Nintendo says, let’s give the NES MAX some wings (a design that was adapted by other companies, and gained much acclaim through the consoles of Sega Genesis, N64, Dreamcast, and now Xbox 360). We’ll also add some little ridges so the player can be comfortable and not lose their grip.
Also, Nintendo, the 4-way control pad is proving to be a problem, as it’s simply too awkward to control- my thumb joints don’t naturally move in the way your controller is requiring me to. Sorry ‘bout that, Nintendo responds, here’s a big red button you can swivel around comfortably with your thumb. We call it a “cycloid” because that sounds cool. It’s not analog, but if you give it a shot, you will likely be okay with that. If the cycloid is not enough precision for you, because sometimes it won’t be, we’ll give you an 8-way control ring around the outside.
And another thing, Nintendo… my Mom saw a 60 minutes report where they were concerned with kids developing carpal tunnel in their thumbs from mashing buttons all day, and although I’ve tried to convince her I’m exercising my hand-eye coordination, she is still worried and wants to limit my gaming time. On top of this, I am an honest gamer, and would feel like a cheater buying a device like a Game Genie to do all the work for me. Nintendo responds with two grey buttons labeled “turbo” right below your A and B buttons. These buttons are concave rather than convex so you can feel the difference without looking down (remember, we weren’t yet accustomed to having more than a couple buttons to control with our right thumb). The shape of these buttons makes pressing them easier on your thumb while making Raccoon Mario soar across the skies of Super Mario 3, or while helping Little Mac get up after being knocked down by Mr. Sandman, or while enabling your ship in Gradius to fire with reckless abandon across the distant reaches of the galaxy.
Unlike many peripherals that are limited to enhancing the game experience for a few select games, you use this controller for everything (except games requiring a Zapper, of course). And if you used it once, you simply had to have it. Of course, the standard, rectangular controller is iconic to the heyday of the NES, and to console gaming in general. But for me, and many others, the NES MAX became the gold standard of peripherals as soon as I picked it up.