So I bought a Hyperkin Duke...
...which, for those unfamiliar, is a remake of the original and infamously large controller to the very first Xbox. It was made famous by it's massive size and love/hate relationship with gamers. Guessing the taste of it boils down to hand size, it fits mine nicely, Microsoft ended up releasing a smaller S model of the controller back in the day. Drastically reducing size and comfort for players that were complaining. To be blunt, the controller is not nice to play with if your hands are too small. You need to try it, before you buy it.
The main reason for the size, which you can almost tell from the pictures of mine, is that Microsoft relied on one single circuit board inside, Sony's controller company did not. The PS2 controller had two circuit boards inside with a ribbon cable between them, making the boards stackable, thus reducing size. The company making the PS2 controller was of course Japanese and refused to help out an American company like MS and so they had to come up with their own size reduction post launch of the console. So they launched with this large controller that got nicknamed "The Duke".
Fast forward to recent years and two of the original Xbox creators, most famously the chief of Xbox at the time; Seamus Blackley, decided to remake the Duke for Xbox One and PC. After a large and positive following on Twitter, current Xbox chief Phil Spencer greenlit the project and Blackley, sitting on the rights for the controller, went ahead with planning and production together with old colleagues that made the original version. They however had to settle for a third party company to make the somewhat risky project viable. Hyperkin was the chosen one and for that reason, sadly, a wireless solution was out of the question.
Although the Xbox logo was a static round, shiny frame on the original controller, it was originally intended for a Dreamcast VMU like screen back on the drawing board. This idea was scrapped for the final release. This time around for the controller remake they've added the original Xbox boot logo animation shown on a tiny OLED screen each time you press the button. Fun fact: this logo was generated by algorithms on the originally each time the console booted up, so getting hold of this tiny video sequence wasn't as easy as it sounds!
There are a few other differences from the original Duke too: the two memory card/microphone slots on the top are of course removed, a standard XCB1 mic input is at the bottom of the controller now. Right and left buttons are added as an alternative to the black and white face buttons for compatibility assurance with modern Xbox One titles. The triggers underneath feature a more quality feel with a more springy press and the face buttons have the more modern tactile feel. The sticks are also made of a more grippy plastic. Otherwise everything is alike.
So how is this reunion to the Duke been? I went in and tested out Halo: The Master Chief Collection first. Here I could play both the legendary Halo 1 & 2 from the OG Xbox, just like I did back in the day with the old Duke. Although Halo:MCC now runs everything at 4K@60fps complete with HDR, I got a nostalgic kick out of it. It was weird to be reintroduced to the long forgotten memories of playing these games back in the day with the very same feel of the controller. I also tested out Crimson Skies, Black and SSX3 which are all OG Xbox games that are backwards compatible on the XB1.
Apart from the obvious size and therefore a large grip for the hands, don't get this controller if you think current controllers are too big, then the first noticeable difference from modern controllers are the tops of the analogue sticks. As you can clearly see on the picture above, the left stick looks fairly normal shaped, but the right stick has a more pointy shape to it. At first I thought it would be strange, but since the right stick is typically used for looking around in a first person shooter it actually feels nice with the more pointy shape! Your hands are set further apart than a typical XB1/PS4 controller and the pad nicely rests in your lap too.
Otherwise the face buttons are oval shaped and the black/white buttons are placed above the typical A/B/X/Y ones. It's nice for fighting games like Street Fighter that typically have six buttons at use, but the smaller size of the black and white buttons make them a little oddly placed. I would really like to see a main modern day controller take back the six face button layout like Sega used to have on the Saturn. The D-pad here is bad, I could imagine playing 2D styled games to be underwhelming with it. So they could maybe have changed it for this remake, but then again it works fine to swap weapons and functions with.
For such a strange project to actually finalise is such a high quality product is impressive. Not only is the controller really solid built, but it replicates it's old original perfectly. For those that have missed this giant controller and want to jump straight into a nostalgic memory for either old classics on the Xbox One or the PC then this is a great purchase. While the lack of wireless support is indeed the biggest letdown, everything else is a positive reunion.
Unless you have experience of using a Duke back on the OG Xbox and are planning on playing some of the old classics available through backwards compatible from that console I wouldn't recommend this controller over the stock XB1 ones without testing one first. After all the shape and handling of a controller is often a very personal matter of taste from player to player.
The Duke may be consistently joked about from players that don't really have experience with it, merely for it's large size. But the joke is on the ignorant herd of sheep that follow the memes; for the players with the hands that need a larger controller or the ones that need a different grip really should give the Duke a try. It might end up as your favourite controller for a lot of games, especially first and third person shooters!
Recommended after testing you own grip!