For many gamers, Xbox has been synonymous with excellent controllers. The Xbox 360 controller became the definition for off-set stick comfort, and the Xbox One improved upon it with better sticks, buttons and triggers. But before all of that was the Duke, the gargantuan controller that launched with the original Xbox. It was immediately mocked for its size, especially when compared with the competition, and was quickly replaced by the Xbox Controller S.
But 17 years later, the Duke is back, this time courtesy of Hyperkin and for the Xbox One and PC. This officially licensed controller is a near-perfect re-creation of the original Duke, with a few minor modern upgrades. But at $69.99, which is $10 to $20 more expensive than the average standard Xbox One controller, the Duke is only for the most hard-core OG Xbox fans.
Design and Feel
Hyperkin wasn’t out to reinvent the Duke, just to re-create it. For those who bought the original Xbox on Nov. 15, 2001, this is a near true-to-form reincarnation. The controller is a hair smaller than the original, but still has the same italicized face buttons and squishy circular D-pad.
Picking up the Duke, there’s a definite heft to it. Is heavier than an Xbox One controller, which is surprising given that it lacks batteries. It weighs in at 11.7 ounces, which is about 2 ounces heavier than an Xbox One controller.
There’s a distinct curviness to the Duke. It feels chunky and plastick-y, like a high-end toy. The shoulder buttons are smooth to the touch, and glide easily. It’s ideal for racing games, where small and subtle degrees of pressure are necessary.
The bumpers, on the other hand, don’t feel as great. Because the Xbox controller didn’t have bumpers, the Duke for Xbox One has had to retroactively fit them in. Hyperkin put two buttons on the top corners of the shell, and hitting them requires moving your index finger over a hump of plastic. And the buttons feel cheap and tacked on.
It’s not like on the Xbox One pad, where a small tilt of the finger can engage the bumper. The bumper placement is probably the most glaring flaw with the controller, but it makes sense as Hyperkin was making a modern replica. To put the bumpers in a more ergonomically conducive area would require a redesign.
The face buttons, in particular, took some time getting used to. With the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, the A, B, X, and Y buttons are laid out in a compass formation. But the face buttons on the Duke are italicized, and angled toward the curvature of the handle. It’s kind of like parking your car alongside a curb, but turning the wheel toward the road.
Ergonomically, it makes sense, as your thumb will follow the angle of the italicized buttons, but it still feels odd. The compass formation is actually better for pulling off fast button combinations without the risk of hitting the other buttons. Without practice, it’s possible to accidentally hit the other face buttons.
The Hyperkin Duke also includes the white and black buttons, a hallmark of the original Xbox, but one that feels out of place for modern consoles. The black and white buttons stand in as remapped bumpers, for those not as inclined to reach with their index fingers.
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Rumble itself is on a par with modern controllers, although it sounds slightly louder than that of a standard Xbox One gamepad. And, unsurprisingly, the slots for the memory cards have been removed, as it’s not necessary on the Xbox One.
The standout feature for the Duke is the LCD screen in the middle, which, when turned on, plays the original Xbox boot-up animation. The screen itself is also a button, so when pressed, it can replay the animation. This was actually a design feature that the original Xbox team members wanted to include with the controller, but were unable to. Luckily, Hyperkin made it happen. It’s a gimmick, but a cool gimmick, nonetheless.
Unsurprisingly, the Duke is a wired controller, as Microsoft typically reserves wireless for its own controllers. Fortunately, it comes with a 9-foot micro USB cable, which should accommodate most living-room setups.
The italicized buttons, large handles and awkward bumpers aside, the Duke is a solid Xbox One controller. Buttons have a great bounce and the sticks are smooth. Playing a game like Rocket League on the Duke doesn’t feel too far removed from playing on a standard Xbox One controller. Fighting games are a bit of a mixed bag. There’s a reason why Microsoft switched to a cross-style D-pad for the Xbox One. The circular D-pad is OK, but fighting-game fans should probably stick to the standard Xbox One pad.
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But most fans probably won’t be playing Rocket League or Street Fighter with their Duke. They’ll probably pop in their copy of Master Chief Collection to play the original Halo (or the handful of original Xbox games playable on Xbox One). It’s clear that the Xbox controller was originally made for shooters in mind. While over the years I’ve become accustomed to the Xbox One pad, I can confidently say that Halo plays just as you remember it on the Duke.
At no point did I perceive any noticeable lag or latency. The sticks and buttons bounced back with an appropriate force, and not once did I feel the controller was cheaply made.
Should you buy the Duke? Maybe. It’s a bit of a price hike when compared with the price of a standard Xbox One controller. And that hike will not net you a better gamepad. But that’s not the point with the Duke. It was created for gamers who grew up on the original Xbox, and who want to experience modern games through the giant controller that came bundled in 2001.
It’s kind of like choosing between a classic Porsche and a modern one. Of course, the Porsche made in 2018 will be better in just about every way, but there are buyers who still prefer the older models. It has a different feel that evokes certain memories. It ultimately comes down to personal experience and taste.
Still, while it’s an excellent re-creation, it’s a re-creation of a less-than-stellar controller in gaming history. Objectively speaking, I should always pick the Xbox One controller over the Duke. But, I still find myself grabbing the Duke and playing with it instead, if only for nostalgia’s sake.