When the Nintendo Switch launched, tech and game blogs all-but-unanimously praised the Pro Wireless Controller. It looks and feels like a traditional wireless game controller — two joysticks, a directional pad, a ton of buttons and triggers — and must be purchased separately for $70.
There was a limited stock at the time, so if you were lucky enough to find one, the critics said, buy it. I was not lucky enough. Until recently, I’ve relied on the Joy-Con, a pair of diminutive controllers that detach from Switch tablet.
The Joy-Con is a cross between tiny Wii nunchakus and what would happen if you chopped a traditional controller half. They look uncomfortable. And yet, after a couple months, I am surprised to say the Joy-Con are my preferred way to play games.
I have back pains — probably because I’ve spent a better part of three decades with my back hunched, my arms curled in T. rex position, and hands clenched around a bar of plastic. I hadn’t noticed how the position aggravates my spine until a few weeks passed with the Joy-Con. With one in each hand, I find I sit straighter, relaxing my arms to each side.
Using the Joy-Con can feel almost comically hedonistic. I’ll extend one arm, finger extended, to check my phone notifications or adjust my glasses. Sometimes I sprawl on the floor, my head resting on my knuckles. When I swap to a classic controller, it feels, at first, like having my wrists handcuffed to one another. Obviously, a video game controller isn’t punishment. I’m not trying to oversell you on the magic of the Joy-Con.
They’re a little too small and not quite as precise as other options. But they are freeing in a way I didn’t know controllers could be. And at this point, anything that allows to me play a game without back pain is its own tiny gift from the heavens.
What surprises me about the Joy-Con is how closely they resemble my least favorite controllers: the pairing of the Nintendo Wii’s Wiimote and nunchaku. The Wii’s controls were unwieldy, lacked a second joystick, and favored motion controls over tactile inputs. They made non-motion games needlessly awkward. Nintendo’s solution with the Joy-Con is simple: they included the buttons you will find on every other modern controller. Turns out that is enough.
My colleague Andrew Webster has mentioned a number of times that he wishes every game could be available on Switch because of its portability. I agree, but my perhaps more realistic wish is that every console produces its own take on Joy-Con: a pair of controllers that, once and for all, kill the T. rex posture. My back would be forever grateful.