Nostalgia is a strange thing, isn’t it? In the words of Don Draper from “Mad Men," it’s “delicate but potent.” Video game accessory maker, Hyperkin, is relying on that potent force to find an audience for its Xbox One “Duke” controller, an updated version of Microsoft’s 2001 original. Can the “Duke” walk the delicate line between nostalgia and functionality?
Seventeen years ago, Microsoft extolled the rigorous focus testing process that went into the Xbox’s original controller, and yet, it quickly became one of the most polarizing gamepads in gaming history. Some, like myself, appreciated the controller’s stability and found that it fit perfectly in my Orangutan-sized hands. Others criticized the small oval face buttons, the downright bizarre d-pad, staggered and mis-matched thumbsticks, trigger feel and more. That’s all to say that if you hated the controller back in 2001, Hyperkin’s “Duke” will do nothing to change your mind. If you’re one of the weirdos that loved it, well, chances are you’ll like this product. It’s really that simple.
At first glance, the controller looks almost identical to the original, though there are a few key differences. Bumper buttons have been added to the sides of the controller, the microphone and memory card slots have been removed, and a 3.5mm headphone/microphone jack has been added to the bottom. Most notably, the once-static Xbox logo globe in the center of the controller has been fitted with a neat, back-lit LCD screen. Not only does this button depress to act as a guide button, but it plays the green and black Xbox intro each time it’s pushed (which seems a little excessive, but I got used to it). It’s an awesome effect that makes the controller feel like a premium product and elicits a twinge of sentimentality.
Just like the original, the “Duke” is a wired controller. For some, especially competitive gamers, wired controllers are the only way to play, but for the more casual, a wired pad is a deal-breaker. I would have loved to see the option to play both wired and wirelessly, like almost every other controller on the market, especially at the premium price of $70.
The build quality of the controller is, by and large, top-notch. The buttons depress with a satisfying, but not-too-stiff click, the analogue sticks are coated in a comfortable but grippy rubber, and the triggers feel dialed in to the perfect tension. Unfortunately, I did notice an unacceptable amount of dust between the plastic globe and the LCD screen, including one large, very noticeable spot that continues to drive me crazy. I’ve actually considered opening the controller and removing it manually, which is a ridiculous thought when you consider the controller’s retail price.
Dust aside, the Duke’s biggest problem is the placement of the bumper buttons, which rest on the sides of the gentle curve at the top of the pad. To press them requires a noticeable shift in hand placement, which makes maintaining precise control over the thumbsticks and face buttons difficult. In the heat of a Fortnite or Halo battle, the extra time it takes to press a bumper can mean the difference between life and death, a win and a loss. And while I eventually adapted to the odd placement, it still doesn’t feel comfortable.
I find it hard to imagine anyone ditching a standard Xbox One controller for the “Duke.” Sure, it’s a great controller, and I’d recommend it for the nostalgia alone, but there are simply better options on the market. That being said, booting up Halo: The Master Chief Collection and jumping into a Slayer match on Hang ‘em High felt so, so, so right.