GIF: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)
My tiny hands remember the original, enormous Xbox controller with fondness. Not because it was ergonomic or a joy to use, but in the same way I remember other absurd and outdated technology — with absolute amusement. The original Xbox controller was a beast, and the tweaked and high tech $130 Duke from Hyperkin, that works with both PCs and the Xbox One, borrows that same portly profile to create one of the biggest and most ridiculous controllers out there.
In theory and practice I want nothing to do with a gamepad this large. I am a woman with very small hands, who in the past has purposely bought smaller controllers just to accommodate my slight digits. Tackling a controller that's a near identical replica of what's widely regarded as one of the worst ever designed is a very bad idea for me.
But things have changed since the the Xbox launched with the OG beast back in 2001. Devices like the Nintendo 3DS, Switch, and the smartphone have popularised a much larger controller than was really socially acceptable in 2001. My iPhone X is nearly the same width as the Duke, and my Switch is much larger. So when I first picked up Hyperkin's Duke controller, I didn't actually notice what a monster it is.
Instead my eyes were drawn to the glowing home button at the center of the controller. In the original Duke that was a giant X for Xbox. In Hyperkin's version (which is the brainchild of original Duke designer, Seamus Blackley) that X has been replaced with an LED screen that shows the original Xbox splash screen.
It's neat and designed almost entirely for nerds like me who like nostalgia and screens where there should be no screens. You will, without a doubt, mutter the word "cool" the first time you plug it in.
But the screen is also my biggest source of frustration. Because that's all it is. A particularly extra way to get the Xbox logo onto the gamepad. It's essentially a video version of a gif, replaying the splash screen on command and otherwise doing absolutely nothing.
I'm not entirely sure how useful it would be in a game, or even how hard it would be to implement, but I can't help but wonder what would happen if access to the display was open. So a programmer can't make use of it even if they wanted to. The screen also doesn't change depending on the source you plug it into. How cool would it have been to get a Microsoft splash screen when I plug it into a PC?
But moving past the display and it's size, what we've got here is a shockingly good controller. The original Duke controller only had two trigger buttons on the back, so Hyperkin added two bumper buttons just above them to allow it to work with modern games. Everything else, from the joysticks, one convex and the other concave, to the silly placement of the extra black and white buttons, is the same as the original design. All the buttons and triggers have a nice click to them too. There's nothing mushy about the controls on this behemoth.
Picking it up and playing something as simple as Stardew Valley or complex as Far Cry 5 feels downright natural. Which was unexpected for me! I've grown quite accustomed to the Xbox One and PS4 controllers, so rolling back to such a big beast should have made my hands tired after thirty minutes, but even hours later the controller was effective and nimble feeling in the hands. While I'm not crazy about the directional pad I still wouldn't kick this gamepad out of the living room.
The only thing that might give a buyer pause is that this big wired gamepad costs $130. That's upwards of $50 more than an Xbox One or PS4 wireless controller. That's a a steep markup for some feel-good nostalgia. But nostalgia is rarely logical is it? This isn't the controller you buy when you want to improve your game or reduce hand strain. The Hyperkin Duke exists entirely to tickle that little dumb part of your brain with access to you credit card and a desire to have cool and stupid shit.
- Like the original, this is a very big controller.
- It is surprisingly ergonomic if you spend a lot of time with big smartphones or even a Switch or Nintendo 3DS.
- The home button is also a display that flashes the original Xbox splash screen.
- It's $130, which is way more than a good wireless controller.
- It big.