Joypads, joysticks, gamepads, wagglepabbles, fingerjohnnies... whatever you call them, the controllers are perhaps the most important element of any games machine. They're our interface. They're the forks to our mouths. Without them we'd all be sucking our food off the floor.
"Don't you already do that, Mr Biffo?"
"Schllurrrrrp! Mmmf-ff... what did you say? Schlep-schlurrp."
And this is why I've decided to do something unthinkable: I'm going to choose which controller won each generation, and it'll be definitive, and you won't be able to argue with me.
Suffice to say, this rundown won't feature third-party devices, or second-generation redesigns. There'll be no Power Gloves or Sega Activators, or Mega Drive 2 pad. And I've left some out, for a super-special secret reason, so no Vertex (I would've just said the pad was rubbish anyway). This is going to the source; which of the biggest sellers got it right straight out of the gate, and which of them choked to death on a hare?
However, it's not like we knew any better. Particularly if you'd never been into an arcade. It remains baffling why this early generation of game controllers didn't try harder to emulate arcade joysticks.
Certainly, the Intellivision and ColecoVision didn't even bother trying. The former had a horrible golden thumb disc - for decades, I thought it was some sort of way-ahead-of-its-time touch-sensitive pad, until I finally got my disappointed fingers on one last year.
The ColecoVision had the good sense to at least raise its stick/disc thing above the surface of the controller. It was so loose, however, as to be borderline unusable. Of course, both devices had numerical keypads, in apparent attempt to convince parents that the systems could double up as some sort of educational device. Ha ha. Parents were so stupid back then. What do you mean they still are?
"Mum, can you buy me Grand Theft Auto 5?"
"It says it's an 18. You're only twelve."
"That's not the age rating - that's how many hours I won't bother you for."
For no reason other than its competitors got it so wrong - and its design is so simple and iconic - there can be only one winner of this generation.
WINNER: Atari VCS.
In its favour, early models of the Master System came with a little joystick nub, which screwed into the centre of its d-pad. It was actually slightly better than that makes it sound, and was my default control method for most of my time with the Master System.
The famous Nintendo D-Pad could play havoc on the thumbs after extended plays, but at least it was responsive. The Master System wasn't far off, but somehow lacked the precision tooling of the NES pad. Neither were particularly comfortable to hold, of course, being sharp-cornered, two-dimensional, oblongs.
This is a close one to call, but ultimately it's going to come down to aesthetics. The Master System controller is ugly. The NES pad is iconic.
The Mega Drive/Genesis kidneypad was leagues ahead of anything that had come before it. For the most part, it sat comfortably in the hand, though it did have a tendency to get slippy if you sweated, or had a medical condition that caused you to excrete ghee from your palms.
It possibly speaks volumes that Sega eventually released a remodelled Mega Drive pad with all sorts of extra buttons and switches, and a more comfortable silhouette.
Of course, that was merely a response to the Super NES pad - which got it right first time around. The two shoulder buttons were a revelation. What's more, it's too often overlooked that the layout of the A/B/X/Y buttons effectively formed a second d-pad. Like too many Nintendo hardware innovations, this was woefully under-utilised - but a couple of games (Q*Bert 3 for one) made use of it, requiring the player to hold the pad longways.
Admittedly, there was something slick about the design of the Mega Drive pad, and the rainbow hues of the Famicom/European SNES joypad were far prettier than the dull purple that Nintendo adopted in the US. Still. You know where this is going.
WINNER: Super NES.
The N64's trident may have been pioneering, but it was an unwieldy beast, which only Nintendo ever seemed to properly get to grips with. Commendably designed to be future-proof - and created with 3D gaming in mind - it was nevertheless a mess of buttons, triggers and grips. That, however, isn't what killed it for me - the analogue stick was foul and springy, like Slinky with a turd in it. Goldeneye may be a classic, but play it today and you'll wonder how we ever coped.
The PlayStation pad was just flat-out uncomfortable to hold. It never seemed to quite sit in the hands and be forgotten the way a good joypad should. It's anyone's guess why Sony stuck with it so stubbornly before its PS4 redesign.
"It was iconic."
"Oh really? Well, do you know what else was iconic? The Swastika. BOOM."
Of course, I've had to lob the Jaguar pad in here, just so that we can all point and laugh at it. Ha ha ha! Come on, everyone! Point and laugh at that grotesque dunce! Throw some stones at it! Ha ha!
And that just leaves Sega's Saturn controller. It consolidated the lessons learned from both Mega Drive joypads, the buttons and d-pad all had just the right amount of resistance, there was a subtle surface grip on the housing. Best of all, it became invisible once you were playing.
Admittedly, Sega did release a redesigned Saturn joypad - the ugly 3D Controller - but they got it sufficiently right first time round to say that they win this round.
WINNER: Sega Saturn.
TO BE CONTINUED...