How has rumble stayed around? In fact, how did it even get approved from the start?! The idea sounds preposterous to the uninitiated: When stuff happens in the game, the controller will shake, and people will like that. It sounds completely crazy, yet somehow, it’s become the norm for all modern video game controllers. It almost reminds me of hearing about how 3D was once considered “a fad” but is now a common option to have in theaters and a feature in the 3DS.
Today, I want to take a look, or rather a feel, at how rumble is different between two of modern gaming’s controllers: the PlayStation 4's Dualshock 4 and the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con and Pro Controller.
Without any real technical information to back me up, (it exists, but I don’t understand/ care) the rumble in the Dualshock 4 controller feels like there are two motors from each “grip” part of the controller. These motors are intense, and whenever something’s going down in Horizon: Zero Dawn, (the only game I’ve played on PS4 thus far) it lets me know. However, the Dualshock 4 seems to have trouble with more subtle vibrations. If a giant robot dinosaur is stomping around a lake, great! I can feel the intensity of those giant, plodding footsteps in my hands. But if I fall just a short distance, the Dualshock feels like it’s getting ready for its usual explosion and then the PS4 tells it to shut up and it whimpers down just as quickly.
The Joy-Con, on the other hand, seem to have the exact opposite strengths and weaknesses. They are much better at conveying subtleties, such as the difference between picking up a coin and getting a speed boost in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. This is thanks to the new “HD Rumble” technology. But on the other hand, they either aren’t capable or aren’t properly showing that they’re capable of the violent vibrations that the Dualshock 4 has seemed to have mastered. Having a giant tower rise out of the ground in Breath of the Wild is a minor shake compared to the Dualshock 4's near-convulsion in response to a similar prompt from a game.
The Switch Pro Controller is a great controller in many regards, but it’s rumble feature leaves a lot to be desired. Unlike both the Joy-Con and Dualshock 4, the rumble can’t be directly felt. This is because it feels like it’s coming from the center of the controller as opposed to the grips, which makes the rumble seem more distant. This is especially frustrating because while the Pro Controller has the same HD Rumble that the Joy-Con have, the distance between the actual motor and my hands is great enough that it’s very hard to feel how any one rumble is different from any other.
I don’t think I could give a verdict on which controller’s rumble is the best. The Dualshock 4 is more visceral and intense whereas the Joy-Con are more nuanced and subtle. Which one works better will probably depend on the type of game being played and the actions trying to be conveyed within it. Rumble at its best is rumble that you don’t notice, where you feel like the shaking was caused by something in-game and not by a piece of plastic you’re holding. Both controllers can create that illusion.