The modern game controller is a surprisingly effective piece of precision engineering. But if you want even more custom options and a dash of premium materials, there are even better options out there.
These “pro” controllers, called by different names and coming from different suppliers, are the Cadillac to the standard controller’s Chevy. They come with extra buttons and triggers, control bindings that can be adjusted on the fly, and even parts that can be swapped or precision-tuned by the end user. For gamers who want a frankly ludicrous amount of customization, and hopefully the tiny edge that will grant them victory in online and local games, there are no better options.
Just be prepared to pay for the luxury. These controllers are niche, high-end accessories, costing twice as much as a regular first-party console controller or more (which isn’t exactly cheap on its own).
The Best PlayStation 4 Pro Controller: SCUF Vantage Controller ($170)
Sony doesn’t offer a super-premium version of its much-loved Dual Shock controller, but third-party supplier SCUF Distributing is ready to pick up the slack. The boutique manufacturer’s Vantage controller offers no less than six extra buttons over the standard DS4: two extra side-shoulder buttons near the first knuckle of either index finger, and four secondary “paddle” triggers on the back for your middle and ring fingers. The front allows the player to swap out different D-Pad options (including a full Nintendo-style cross or a “disc” for easy diagonal movement) and different grips on the analog sticks.
The customization options don’t end there. The primary triggers have two plastic covers for length choices, with adjustable tension springs for both. Even the vibration motors can be removed to reduce the controller’s weight. An integrated volume slider unfortunately only works in wired mode. For those players who want a truly unique controller, SCUF offers custom paint jobs for a surcharge.
And speaking of charges, they’re steep. The wired version of the SCUF Vantage starts at $170 without color choices. The wireless version, which can work in wired mode as well and comes with a freebie carrying case, costs a cool $200.
The Best Xbox One and PC Pro Controller: Microsoft Xbox Elite Controller ($150)
Microsoft may be well behind Sony in console sales this generation, but never let it be said that they’re trailing in terms of hardware options. The regular Xbox One S controller is an impressive gadget, easily the de facto standard for PC gaming as well. But the upgraded “Elite” controller is nothing less than an exercise in gaming excess. With interchangeable full-metal thumbsticks, a choice between a cross D-Pad and a disc for faster fighting game moves, and “hair trigger locks” for quick-draw shooting action, it has a remarkable amount of options for the gamer who wants his or her inputs just so.
That’s not all. Four additional paddles beneath the controller can be added or removed without the use of tools, and bound to any standard button or combo you like using the dedicated app, which runs on Xbox or Windows hardware. That’s true for every other button as well—a handy option for those games with awkward control schemes that don’t offer custom binding.
The upgraded version of the Xbox Elite controller is wireless, but unlike the standard edition, it doesn’t use Bluetooth: you’ll need to use either the Xbox Controller Adapter on Windows or simply plug in a USB cable. Note also that it uses AA batteries, like the regular Xbox controller (though it works with battery packs sold for the Xbox, too). And you can have it in any color you want, so long as you want black. Or white. Because it also comes in white.
The Best Switch Pro Controller: None (Use An Adapter)
Nintendo’s own Switch Pro controller is a pretty great little gadget—plenty of gamers even prefer its more curvy body to the Xbox One and PS4 controllers. But at the moment there’s no option for anything like the Elite or SCUF controllers above made for the system, and Nintendo is unlikely to offer such a device in the future. It simply doesn’t fit with the Switch’s broad appeal.
But you’re not without options if you’re looking for something a little more flexible. PowerA makes an “Enhanced” wireless controller that offers two custom buttons on the bottom that can be bound on the fly. It’s not as fancy as the alternatives for the Xbox and PlayStation, and the controller sadly lacks vibration motors (just like the GameCube-style alternative), but it’s otherwise fairly similar to Nintendo’s own Switch Pro pad.
There’s another option: don’t use a Nintendo controller at all. 8BitDo offers a wireless controller adapter that’s compatible with standard Bluetooth controllers from the company, as well as controllers intended for the Xbox and PlayStation. The Switch adapter doesn’t work with the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller—that’s restricted to Microsoft’s proprietary 2.4GHz wireless system. But the adapter will work fine with the SCUF Vantage Wireless, and any other PS4-compatible Bluetooth controller, even supporting the PS4’s rumble and motion control features. If you’re going to spend triple digits on a premium controller anyway, 8BitDo’s $20 agnostic adapter seems like a bargain.