The Princess Zelda PowerA Enhanced Wireless Controller, by PowerA. (PowerA Photo) Back in the day, you didn’t want to be the player stuck with the janky third-party controller. As recently as the days of the PS2 and original Xbox, third-party hardware manufacturers eked out a living making slightly off-brand, less expensive versions of trademark console game pads. A few were successful upgrades, such as a couple of, but most were unresponsive, poorly-designed, or just flat-out didn’t work. You can’t really get away with that anymore, however, and modern third-party controllers are a much safer proposition for the consumer. Even , which made a few nightmares in the 2000s (I still have an old Madcatz Xbox controller that feels like it was designed as a tool for aversion therapy), has mostly managed to rebrand and offer a few quality products. , based in Woodinville, Wash., is a small third-party hardware manufacturer, owned by , that makes a variety of controllers, batteries, and recharging docks for the video game console market. It first got on the national radar in 2012 with the controller, an adaptive controller for mobile gaming that’s since been spun off into its own company. PowerA sent over its newest product, a Princess Zelda-branded Enhanced Wireless Controller for the Switch (US$49.99), for us to test out. It’s the latest in PowerA’s line of branded controllers for the Switch, which offer a less expensive option to Nintendo’s Pro controller (about $20 less than a Pro or JoyCon’s standard retail price) and offer a couple of extra features, in addition to a variety of colorful designs. The PowerA Enhanced Controller in action. (GeekWire Photo / Thomas Wilde) The Princess Zelda controller, available today, doesn’t have the built-in rumble capability of the Pro, which makes it considerably lighter. It shares the Pro’s Bluetooth connection and motion controls, and takes a pair of AA batteries with a possible 20 hours of operational life. What it does offer, aside from the design of Zelda across its face, is a pair of programmable buttons on the handles, around where a typical player’s ring fingers would be. In play, it feels light, but isn’t fragile. There’s a certain weight to a Pro controller, mostly due to the rumble pack, which the PowerA controller doesn’t have. That makes it surprisingly light, which is comfortable for longer play sessions. The sticks and buttons are nice and responsive, and even the D-pad has a nice snap to it. After a few evenings of heated Smash Brothers Ultimate play, I felt like the controller was well-suited to what I was asking from it. The programmable buttons let you re-assign the standard buttons one at a time, which you can clear and re-assign easily. It’s useful both as a customization and an accessibility option, so you can set a command that would otherwise be awkward to a finger and that you ordinarily wouldn’t be using at all. (Looking at you, any game ever that binds “crouch” to pushing in the left stick.) It does take some getting used to, as I found it was easy to hit the extra buttons during frantic moments (read: flailing at my buttons during Classic Smash), but once your muscle memory adapts, I could see them as an asset. It does feel backwards in 2019 to have any video game peripheral without built-in rechargeable batteries. The Xbox One’s standard controller does the same thing, which feels just as goofy there. While some of PowerA’s literature tries to spin the battery port as a positive — after all, it means you don’t have to pitch the whole unit if the battery pack fails — it still means you have to go buy AAs at a store, like some kind of medieval peasant. (Or, more likely, look for one of several recharging options like the ones that PowerA just so happens to offer. How convenient.) You do have to figure that additional expense for batteries into the PowerA Enhanced Wireless Controller, but it doesn’t handle like a shovelware alternative product. Head to head, it’s about as responsive and ergonomic as the original Pro, with a lighter feel. The extra buttons don’t feel like a must-have to me, but I could see them coming in handy for certain games or players. If you’re looking to kit out your living room with a couple of extra actual controllers, so your Smash party doesn’t have to fight over who’s stuck with a JoyCon, PowerA’s lineup is an affordable wireless local option.
Google stole this spotlight at this year’s GDC with the launch . What the game streaming service lacked in specifics, it more than made up for in buzz. The software giant certainly isn’t the only one eying the space, however. from US Gamer puts Walmart in the running, as well. The retailer has spent the last several years making a push into the high tech sphere. It’s made some high profile acquisitions, including Jet.com, in a bid to compete with the likes of Amazon. The company has even been testing out inventory checking robots in around . And with the recent exit of CTO Jeremy King, it could well be looking for the next big thing. According to the reports, Walmart has been meeting with developers and publishers at GDC. It’s tough to say how advanced these talks are, and those involved with the leaks have understandably wished to remain anonymous. The company certainly has the back end infrastructure to attempt a service. It also has a loyal base of customers in the U.S. to whom it sells a lot of video games. But given how it for a video streaming service as of January, the talks could be little more than just talk.