In the competitive and casual scenes alike, the GameCube controller is still the preferred controller choice for many Pro Smash Bros players. GameCube controllers have become almost synonymous with Nintendo’s renowned crossover fighting game, and there are many reasons for its popularity.
The first step to understanding the prevalence of GameCube controllers in the competitive Smash Bros scene is to understand the history of the competitive scene itself. While the series itself began with the release of Super Smash Bros for the Nintendo 64 in 1999, Smash did not become a competitive game series until the release of Super Smash Bros Melee for the GameCube in 2001. The competitive Melee scene was so widespread that it is still very active today, and it was considered the dominant competitive game over the next two installations in the series, Smash Bros Brawl and Smash Bros Wii U & 3DS. Because of this, many of the most successful players in the world got their start by playing Melee and, as a result, learned to play using the GameCube controller.
That’s not to say that the appeal of the GameCube controller is entirely historical. The design of the controller itself has drawn massive appeal to newer Smash players as well, and many argue that the controller is one of the most ergonomically well-designed controllers ever made. Even though Super Smash Bros Ultimate has a competitive scene just as, if not more, successful than that of Melee, the GameCube controller has maintained its presence in the community.
One benefit of the GameCube controller in competitive play is the fact that it is not wireless. While delay is essentially nonexistent with modern wireless controllers, the fact that most competitions take place in large conference halls simultaneously with several dozen other matches leaves a chance for interference or signal-muddling. Generic, corded GameCube controllers don’t have this issue. The button layout is also perfect for Smash. As opposed to the traditional diamond-shaped button layout that most controllers use, the GameCube controller has a button layout that centers around a large A button, with X and Y encircling it and B offset closer to the center of the controller. This layout makes many game-specific inputs — such as short-hopping or aerial combos — much easier than it would be on other controllers.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of using a GameCube controller rather than the alternatives has to do with directional inputs. While Smash does not have as many nuanced directional inputs and combos as traditional fighting games like Tekken or Street Fighter, having complete control over the direction, magnitude and velocity of your movement is something that most new players struggle with, and it can mean the difference between victory and defeat in gameplay. In this way, GameCube controllers differ from the alternatives in two ways. First, the control sticks have more resistance, or “weight,” which gives players more control over how far they tilt the sticks. This is especially helpful for using tilt moves, which are performed by inputting a direction only slightly, rather than as far as possible. This is not only a major aspect of Smash‘s gameplay but also the mechanic that most new players struggle with more than anything else.
Second, GameCube control sticks have eight directional “grooves,” which allow players greater control over their directional inputs. This aspect has always been incredibly important for Smash Bros gameplay, but the ability to accurately distinguish these eight directional inputs has become especially game-changing with the release of Kazuya, who can perform more than twice as many tilt attacks depending on directional inputs than any other character.
There are some minor setbacks that come with the use of a GameCube controller. The increased distance between the Y and B buttons, for example, makes it more difficult to perform short-hop special attacks. However, the overall benefits of the GameCube controller outweigh the cons. It’s hard to imagine that Nintendo realized when they made the controller some 20 years ago that how well it would withstand the test of time, but it’s a clear frontrunner for everyone’s favorite Smash controller.
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