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Does The Nintendo Switch Have a Thumb Problem?

I’ve been stoked for the Nintendo Switch since the launch trailer, but one thing — and I mean just one thing — has been bothering me since the announcement: the placement of the right control stick. It looks awfully close to the buttons above it. In fact, I’m not sure how a player is supposed to casually interact with them without accidentally pushing on the stick.

Let’s take a look at this concern by analyzing the current crop of console controllers. (Alliteration for the win!)

The right thumb stick is above the buttons on the Wii U GamePad.

The right thumb stick is above the buttons on the Wii U GamePad. The player can easily tap them. When the player interacts with the stick, the buttons being thinner easily stay out of the way.

The right stick on the Wii U Pro controller is laid out similarly to the GamePad. One difference is that the buttons are offset a little too the left, allowing your thumb to naturally rotate off the hand to access both easily.

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On a PS4 controller, the right stick is actually lower than the buttons, but notice that the buttons are to the right of the stick allowing your thumb to swivel. Keep this critical observation in mind.

 

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The XBox One controller is similar to the PS4 controller if you ignore the left side where the left stick is higher. However, this fact is unimportant for the argument at hand.

Alright, with that in mind, let’s take a good look at what appears to be a gigantic design flaw in the Nintendo Switch controller. Now, we’re focused on the most common control scheme where the Joy-Cons are connected to either the screen or controller unit. Here’s the best look we have available of that setup:

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Hmmm…what’s different here?

What’s been alarming me is that the buttons are positioned exactly opposite to the Wii U GamePad with the buttons now directly above the right stick. If you’re just looking at the controller, you might be wondering the same thing as I’ve been: how do you tap the B button without the right stick getting in the way? It doesn’t look comfortably possible.

So far, my best answer to this is that…well…I don’t know, but that I trust Nintendo knows what they’re doing. In their history, the only real slip up they’ve had with a controller is the analog stick of the N64. That thing was extremely uncomfortable and it wasn’t helped by games like Mario Party that demanded you make circles with it quickly. Extremely painful on the hand.

Still…how? How is this button layout going to work? There seems to be so little space between that B button and the right stick. Event the Y button could be tricky to reach. So, the question is, why did they swap the layouts of the buttons and right stick from what the Wii U GamePad did?

The answer to this question is quite a simple one. They flipped them so that when each Joy-Con controller is detached, they’d each have the same layout. That is to say that each of the two separate pieces would have a control stick on the left and 4 buttons to the right with both having the curved side of the controller facing the player. In fact, the only difference between them would be the horizontal alignment. (The controller on the left would have its stick closer to the edge while the other has it in the middle.)

To reinforce the point, here’s a comparison of my natural thumb placement on a DS Lite versus the screenshot from the Switch trailer.

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The natural hold of the controller which is to be expected when playing a game for any moderate length of time.

Look how extreme an angle the thumb of the player in the video has on their controller. This is evidence that the controller will change. The actor (or hand model) has been instructed to position their thumb in a way that it arches over the right stick. It’s simply not natural. Can you imagine bending your thumb like this for an hour or more playing Skyrim or Breath of the Wild? Of course not! Comparing this to my natural thumb positioning reveals that it would be obstructed by the right stick thereby interfering with frenetic gameplay.

It’s my strong belief that, ultimately, this control scheme won’t work and will be adjusted before release. I’m not sure how Nintendo will adjust it, but surely they can’t favor an unworkable controller scheme in its most common use (as a portable or console controller) versus the rarer permutation of having two players use the pieces separately. (I’m not sold.) My best guess and suggestion is to flip the right stick back to the top (ala the GamePad) and drop the idea of having symmetrical Joy-Cons.

Expect two things to happen before the official Jan. 12th unveiling. First, the right side of the controller will change layouts. I think I’ve demonstrated that this must happen. Second, and perhaps oddly, expect a logo branding change because, yes, the Switch logo currently represents the positions of the control sticks as part of it.

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Oops.

Do you think the Switch controller will see a change before release? Let us know in the comments!

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About John Blanco

John Blanco is an avid game collector and loves to write about his hobby as much as he participates in it. He runs the Denver Retro Gamers and Denver Switch Mob Facebook groups in Denver, Colorado, and coordinates swap-style meetups with dozens of other collectors every couple of months.

One thought on “Does The Nintendo Switch Have a Thumb Problem?

  1. It seems that I’m not the only one that is really concerned about this issue, I’m constantly wondering how is this going to work out. If they decide to release it with this problem then they could count me out as a potential buyer. Let’s for the best. Cheers :)

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