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The Duke

  |   Category(ies): Hardware, Videos
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The DUKE is back.

No. Not that one. He never went away.

HAIL TO THE KING BAYBEE.

And no, not that one either. Christ who writes this crap.

This is the Duke. Well, it’s the nickname given to the original Xbox controller at the very least. Why is it called the Duke? Well, look at the size of this thing. It’s huge, just like a… duke? Apparently the true story is that Microsoft’s project manager Brett Scneff’s son was called Duke, and it just seemed to fit… or not.

Close up of original Xbox Duke controller, showing buttons and cord

Bundled with the original Xbox in 2001, it had a mixed reception, with some claiming it was simply too large and unwieldy – I mean, it was almost 3 times the size of a Playstation Dualshock. Just like the Sega Saturn, Japan received their own smaller controller known as the “Xbox Controller S”, which proved more popular and became the default bundled controller in the US during 2002 and worldwide by 2003 – mainly due to uproar about the original. But the Duke always remained available as an accessory, whether you knew it actually as “The Duke”, or another, such as “Beast” or “Fatty”.

Personally, I loved it. This felt like a console for adults, and I was at a stage where I was just getting back into gaming properly after neglecting it for a couple of years. Maybe if I’d have been 10 years younger in 2001, then I would have felt differently about this vast pad, but as it was, it just felt sturdy, dependable and solid in my palms. But other people didn’t always agree, with it frequently appearing in worst controller lists… NEXT TO THE JAGUAR PAD… Another one of my favourite controllers. Maybe it’s just me? Maybe I just like HUGE pads. I don’t even have terribly large hands. But I’ll admit I do like to stretch my hands around a controller. The PlayStation pad always felt terribly cramped for my personal taste, although to all intents and purposes it’s a great controller.

However, it seems the design of this bulky controller was more designed to fit its internals, rather than designed to fit hands. With Microsoft being a huge company, and different teams working on different areas, the controller circuit board was actually produced larger than expected, and so the controller skin needed to accommodate this also needed to be larger than expected. Denise Chaudhari, who took up the main bulk of this task, faced an uphill struggle, but came up with the infamous Duke. But it’s size caused more anger than predicted, Seamus Blackley, the man who really instigated the original Xbox even had items like golf balls hurled at him on stage, and hence why Japan, had a more suitably sized device, launching several months later, with the huge internal board split in half. Still, If you take the horrific prototype designs circling around Microsoft in 1999, I think even the haters should be somewhat grateful.

Anyway, the point is, it’s now 2018 and Hyperkin have revived the Duke in USB form. Compatible with both the Xbox ONE and Windows machines. So how did this new edition come to be? Well, the aforementioned Seamus Blackley posted a photo on Twitter of his son holding an original Duke pad for scale, and the internet went wild. For many, I suspect this was – and remains – a very definite case of rose tinted spectacles, but for those die hard fans – like myself – it was a trigger moment (no pun) to instigate a re-release. All you then have to do is look through Blackley’s tweets to see excitement building, along with some nice looking bread, his early prototype designs, some further excitement, and even Mary Janes fish and chip chop from my home town of Cromer, Norfolk. I didn’t realise you were a fan Seamus.

But this isn’t the first time this was spoken off – the controller that is – Way back in 2011, there were rumours of a Duke return, to coincide with the Xbox 360’s HD remake of Halo: Combat Evolved. It’s only taken 7 years later, and we finally have it. So I suppose, I’d best get it out of the box.

Hyperkin Duke Controller against a white background.

It’s all rather nice, we’ve got the glossy box to tempt you in – which I should note, is necessary, given I paid £69.99 for this. Some details on the back there, and look, oooh, snapshots of the start-up animation.

Inside we have a acknowledgements card, and a quick start guide. All very simple really, plug in the USB and you’re good to go.

Ahhhh, and here it is. Hello old friend. I’d actually forgotten how bulky this thing is, but I just love it, and that’s not just nostalgia talking. I genuinely love the fit of this controller. You can see how weeny an Xbox One pad is in comparison. On first impression, everything feels pretty much the same as I remember it, but first impressions don’t mean jack here. We need to test this beast out.

This test begins with the Xbox One. Being a wired controller, I connected it via. the front USB port. Seems a bit strange using a wired controller with a new system, but I quite like it. It feels warming, and vintage. Plus I had no issues with wire length, in fact, at 9ft long, it’s exactly the same length as the original controller cord. Although it’s not that funky translucent design of the original. But it meant I could sit on the sofa without issue.

Plug it in…. BABY

On plugging in, you get an acknowledgement rumble, along with the original Xbox startup animation on the centre button – an animation Microsoft couldn’t find the video of… because, it’s all created algorithmic-ally – in code. Bloomin’ impressive. Now, this is a nice touch, but it feels a little wasted. My memories wander back to the Dreamcast controller – another beast – and the portable memory sticks which offered in game information and even the ability to act as miniature games consoles in themselves. Yet this OLED is a one trick pony, and it’s not a very useful trick. It’s like having a comedy doorbell. It’s great once or twice, but fundamentally, no one gives a crap. Now if we can hack it and put it to good use, then that’s a different story. But it matters not. I always found the massive Xbox logo on the original Duke a waste of space as well. At least it now also functions as a button, allowing full navigation of the Xbox environment – although we don’t get the hidden Infrared LEDs for Kinect pairing, but WHO USED THEM ANYWAY?

It’s pretty seamless moving from a current generation pad to this one, you have to hold it a bit different, and for the portion of people who hated the extra reach required for the white and black buttons, their functionality is replicated in an addition to the design. These little shoulder buttons, offering a more contemporary position. Obviously these are what we now call the right and left bumper buttons, and I actually prefer the positioning here. I’ve always found the RB and LB buttons a pain in the sack if I’m honest. I love trigger buttons, but those shoulder buttons have always felt awkward. Having them slanted to the side like this, feels more pleasing to my hands, and I can always default back to the good old fashioned buttons if it takes my fancy. Another addition is a headset jack underneath, mirroring current functionality. These are all discrete additions which don’t take away from the Duke’s original design, and on face value it has exactly the same button layout as the original, although with nods to their current usage conventions.

Of course we don’t have the hefty memory pack slots of the original, but otherwise the controller is almost identical to the original design. The plastic is smoother and a bit cheaper than the original, but it still feels nice. The triggers are more spongy and have more give than the original, but again, they feel pretty good. The analogue sticks feel smooth, and responsive, just like the original… which apparently they were off-set due to some Tony Hawk Pro Skater players on the design team who thought it would make the game more fun. The directional pad is clunky, wavy, but usable, like the original. The rumble and impulse trigger vibration feels strong and clean, and the buttons themselves have a similar responsiveness to the original Duke. This is all in all a well made piece of kit, with significant attention to detail. But then, it is £69.99 for a wired controller.

Original Xbox Duke pad next to a Hyperkin Duke

Thankfully then, it can also be used with your PC. It states Windows 10 on the box, and I’ll admit I haven’t tried it with anything else, but I’m sure there are ways to make it work with previous operating systems – don’t hold me to it. It refused to function with my USB 3 hub, but good old USB 2 had us sailing away.

Now, clearly this isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea – I mean, that’s evident simply from the responses I got on Twitter – which is why you shouldn’t buy it if it isn’t, but I thought to be on the safe side, I’d also give it a trial with some smaller hands. Here we have my son. He has tiny 7 year old hands (like a weakling), but yet, apparently finds it perfectly fine.

In fact, he now insists on using it instead of his standard Xbox One pads. So I guess I’ve lost that then.

Anyway, that’s the Hyperkin Duke. A little on the expensive side, but if you’re a fan of the original, it may just be worth it, and even if you’re not, this is really the controller which laid the foundation of what many of us consider to be the perfect controller today. Let’s not get into a Playstation argument.

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