Modern hardware is pretty brilliant, isn’t it? Stunning graphical fidelity, zippy-quick load times, and top shelf controller features like haptic feedback all show that we’ve never had it so good.
But in between all these great advancements, we’ve lost something along the way. Something rather charming and special. I mean, sure, the upcoming DualSense Edge wireless controller for PS5 is probably going to be a pretty marvelous piece of tech, what with its continued usage of the original's superb haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, and new features like customizable back paddles and swappable thumbsticks. But like a jackpot-winning scratchcard, I really wish I could see through it.
At the risk of sounding like a jaded boomer, consoles and controllers just don’t have that same moxie – that pizazz – that they used to. For the most part, today’s gaming hardware is all plain black or white color schemes. It's so severe that not even the Nintendo Switch's wealth of special edition Joy-Con controllers can make things feel right.
But in past decades, particularly the ‘90s and early ‘00s, hardware makers seemed more than happy to experiment with color and design. There was the translucent Game Boy Color, the N64 with a Pikachu on it, and the very first GameCube model was purple. Outside of gaming hardware, those bulbous candy-colored iMacs. It was a time of garish experimentation, and I loved it. We all loved it.
My real question is, then, why can’t we have both? I'm glad modern controllers are more ergonomic and don't forget functionality in favor of style, but can't the aesthetic still be playful? I’d love translucent controllers and systems, especially, to become the norm once again.
A peek inside
I still have some childlike wonder when looking at translucent pads, seeing the servos and chipboards that translate my button presses and trigger pulls into action on the screen. Obviously some of that magic has been rubbed away now that I’m older and (debatably) wiser.
I now know that my controller’s vibration isn’t caused by a tiny elf with a drum, who lives off microscopic Dorito crumbs that slip through the cracks. But I still find it fascinating to see how our favorite consoles and controllers look on the inside.
See-through editions of the likes of the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance were wondrous. You could see what the speaker looked like, how the buttons were wired up. Hell, what electronics even looked like in the first place. It really made you think ‘Wow, so that’s what’s powering my fancy little game box.’ And I’m willing to bet it got a lot of kids interested in pursuing technical or engineering careers, too.
It’s an era of design that I’m endlessly nostalgic for. And hardware translucency clearly resonated with those outside of the gaming world, too. Beyond see-through consoles and controllers, Apple was getting in on the action with its iconic iMac G3 – a computer that had more color options than a share pack of Skittles Sours. Even CRT TVs were getting in on the action.Though supposedly these were largely used in prisons. To stop inmates hiding contraband in their tellies, maybe? That’s a depressing thought. Anyway, moving on.
A forgotten time?
This special edition pad is glorious, recalling an era where controller aesthetics were unashamedly wild. It’s one of the wackiest, yet artistically cohesive designs I’ve seen for a pad in years.
The controller looks like a boiled sweet, its guts encased in a honey-gold translucent panel. You can see the motors that power the controller’s vibration, rapidly spinning whenever you bump against another car, or grind along a crash barrier.
It’s finished off with an aggressive splash of blue and pink hues for its face buttons, sticks and triggers, as well as in a fancy pattern smeared over the front like it’s attending Mardi Gras.
Yes, the Forza Horizon 5 pad is a special edition, and isn’t as easy to get ahold of today as it was when it launched last year, but it gives me hope that more manufacturers will be willing to give translucent designs a try once again. It may sound silly to some, but flamboyantly designed translucent gadgets make me feel like a child again. Even if for just a moment.
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Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.