The Xbox 360 controller's biggest flaw is the craptastic directional pad plunked in the middle of it. Five years later, Microsoft's come up with a better way: a transforming controller.
The Xbox 360 controller might be the best button-and-stick-filled manipulator of this generation. It's telling that Microsoft has deigned to fix its controller's most dinged feature - the d-pad - at the same time it's launching Kinect, which does away with controllers entirely. Personal movement trackers may be the future of gaming, but it's clear that that future is a little ways off. And in the present, we need a better controller.
The new controller is almost exactly like the old controller, except for the mighty morphing d-pad. Push down, twist the thing counter-clockwise, and a traditional four-way d-pad emerges, like a marginally hot and shiny stripper from a cake. Spinning clockwise recombobulates it back into the puck that gamers love to hate.
The four-way d-pad is markedly better for fighting games, like adding a pair of brass knuckles to your dragon punch - every move is easier to pull off more consistently, from Fei Long's flaming kick to Zangief's piledrivers in Street Fighter IV. Old school-style sidescrollers feel more like they should as well. But there is a price for this power: After about 30 minutes of arse-kickery: The d-pad is countersunk into a pit, and after 200 frantic fireballs, the edges of that pit will tear up your thumb. But old-school gamers like that kind of pain.
Four-way directional pad is awesome for fighting and old-school games. Even in puck mode, it seems to work a little better. Morphing mechanism feels solid. The four "home" dots have been sanded off of the analogue stick, leaving a totally smooth surface for your thumbs to rest on. I missed them at first, but after a couple hours of using the d-pad I appreciated the satin-y analogue stick. Left and right triggers are slightly longer than the stock model as well.
The fact that you can only get this controller as a $US65 play-and-charge bundle feels like extortion. Most Xbox 360 gamers - particularly the fanatics that would be psyched about this controller - probably already have a play-and-change kit or four. Why isn't this available standalone, or better still, bundled with new consoles? Thumb calluses required to protect you from d-pad drubbing.
If you play a ton of fighting games or just loathe the Xbox 360 d-pad, you will dig this controller. I just hope you don't already have a bunch of them.