When the Nintendo Wii was announced to be backwards-compatible
not only with the GameCube but with the entire back-catalogue of
Nintendo systems, one of the first questions on everyone's mind was how
you would control these older games. The Wii's unusual
motion-sensing controller (the 'Wiimote') was short on buttons, and
although GameCube controller ports were shown as part of the design,
it was unclear how much they would be available outside of GameCube
games. Even then, would GameCube controllers be available throughout
the Wii's projected lifetime, and would this limit the availability of
Virtual Console games (as the downloadable games from earlier
generations were dubbed)? Clearly, a more traditional controller made
natively for the Wii was necessary.
This controller was originally announced to come in the form of a
'shell' into which the Wiimote would be inserted. The Wiimote would then be used to wirelessly
connect the controls on the shell to the console. Given the bulk of
the Wiimote, and that its pointing abilities would be largely
unnecessary while using the more traditional controller, it was
changed into a separate accessory that plugs into the expansion port
on the Wiimote that is usually used for the Nunchuk controller,
sacrificing rumble capabilities in the process.
This "Classic Controller" is mainly styled on the SNES controller, with some additions based on
the PlayStation Dual Shock controller. Unlike most of the console
controllers in the last decade, it lacks the contoured hand grips
introduced with the original PlayStation controller, instead using the
oblong shape of the SNES and Genesis controllers as its
template. Surprisingly, given that none of the current Virtual Console
systems has dual analog sticks, the Classic Controller has two analog
sticks placed along the bottom of the controller in the same pattern
as the Dual Shock. The full complement of four face buttons and two
analog shoulder buttons makes it the equivalent of the GameCube
controller, though much more traditionally styled, and the Start and
Select buttons are joined by a Wii Home button, duplicating the
less-accessible one on the Wiimote.
When considering whether the Classic Controller is a worthwhile
purchase, there are two important questions: is it necessary, even if
you have a GameCube controller; and, is it an improvement over the
comparably-priced GameCube controller? In my opinion, the answer to
both is a qualified yes.
Different past consoles have different requirements, so we really
must evaluate the control options separately for each. The NES controller has few enough buttons that it
can be replicated with the Wiimote held sideways, as does the
TurboGrafx 16 controller. The sideways Wiimote is a somewhat awkward
controller, but not so much so that it interferes with the simple
control of these early games. Nintendo 64 games are very comfortable
with the GameCube controller, as the analog stick is in the more
natural 'primary' position as compared to the Classic Controller. In
addition, the N64's two main action buttons map well to the
unconventionally-shaped face buttons on the GameCube controller, with
the four C buttons mapped cleanly to the C-stick. The Classic
Controller is also usable, but given the two options I found Mario 64 to be smoother with the GameCube controller.
The biggest difference is with Super Nintendo and Genesis
games. The three Genesis face buttons and four Super Nintendo face
buttons generally map poorly to the face buttons on the GameCube
controller, with their marked preference for the use of the (large) A
button over the three other face buttons. Given that many SNES games
used the B and Y buttons less than the A button, this leads to very
awkward control in games such as Castlevania IV and Donkey Kong
Country, both of which use B to jump and Y for actions (such as
throwing objects or using Simon's whip). As the Classic Controller
replicates the arrangement of the SNES face buttons, SNES games are
much more comfortable on the Classic Controller than on the GameCube
controller. Furthermore, the large D-pad on the Classic Controller
is better suited to the 16-bit games than the small D-pad or
thumbstick on the GameCube controller. That said, multiplayer games can be played with any combination of GameCube controllers and Wii Classic Controllers, and having both is a relatively economical way to set up multiplayer Virtual Console action.
Overall, then, the Classic Controller provides an excellent way to relive your old 16-bit memories (or make new ones, as the case may be). At the same time, it provides a comfortable controller for 8-bit and Nintendo 64 games, though a GameCube controller is better suited for N64 games. The Classic Controller sells for $19.99 ($24.99 CDN), and is presently available most places that carry Wii accessories (i.e. much more available than the Wii console).
This writeup is copyright 2007 by me and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial licence. Details can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/2.5/ .