Being a lifelong gamer who became a father a few years ago, I have been forced to look at things in the gaming industry from a slightly altered perspective. I can no longer look things from just my eyes any more; seeing as I now live with a budding 3-year-old gamer, I have to take things from her little angle of the world as well. With that in mind, something that I have noticed recently is that for those young gamers who are just getting into the hobby, today’s mainstream controllers can be a bit overwhelming and uncomfortable.
There isn’t anything that can be done about the amount of buttons used now days, but there is something that can be done about the overall size of the controller. Many companies have taken a look at the size issue of modern controllers and one of the latest to actually do something about it is Power A. The company has a new line of Mini Pro controllers meant to deliver all of same effectiveness of the standard controllers but in a package more suitable for those gamers with small hands. One such controller in the line is the Power A Mini Pro Elite Wireless Controller for Sony’s PlayStation 3. I have spent quite a bit of time with this little device over the past couple weeks and have to admit, it works well for its target audience, but unfortunately not too well for others.
The Mini Pro Elite looks more like a Xbox 360 controller than a PlayStation 3 controller upon first glance. The general shape and mold of the controller is modeled directly from the standard Xbox 360 controller design, only about 2/3 the actual size. In addition to the shape and design, the positions of the directional pad and the left analog stick have been swapped just like the 360 controller as well.
All of the functions that you would expect from a PlayStation 3 controller are present, and then some. Both Sixaxis and rumble feedback are supported by the controller and Power A has also included an optional backlight to help you see the layout in the dark. Only the 4 face buttons and both bumpers are illuminated when the feature is triggered, which occurs by hitting a small button located in the center of the controller’s back. There is only one brightness option and it is set to extremely high, which means usage can have an effect on the battery life of the controller. I do have to admit, the controller looks really cool when this feature is turned on in the dark; then again, aside from younger gamers, who really looks at the controller when using it?
Speaking of battery life, the controller is powered by an internal rechargeable batter that is charged through a USB cable like most other PlayStation 3 controllers. The battery life is on par with standard controllers during normal usage, including the usage of both Sixaxis and rumble features. It is only when you turn on the ultra-bright lighting inside the buttons that you will begin to notice a detriment to the battery’s lifespan.
One design decision that Power A has used for the controller that I really have a hard time understanding is the use of a wireless USB-dongle rather than the standard Bluetooth connection utilized by the system. Given that Bluetooth is as widely accepted as it is an not a proprietary connection Sony has kept to itself, it makes little to no sense why a company would choose an inferior connection option for their controller(s). As a result, the USB connection leads to frequent disconnections of the controller if and when it moves out of the relatively narrow range. You are usually pretty good if you sit in one location, roughly 6-8 feet from the console with a direct line of sight between you and the dongle, but outside of that there are occasional issues that hamper your gameplay sessions.
I have really mixed emotions about the overall button quality of the Mini Pro Elite. While the analog sticks and trigger buttons are incredibly firm and responsive, the input options aren’t nearly the same quality. The analog sticks in particular really stick out to me as being high quality. They feature a studded concave design on the top of them which makes them extremely comfortable as resting places for your thumb. Both are extremely tight in terms of their resistance and they snap back to center upon release with authority. The triggers feel just as nice and have a good resistance to them from the initial press until they are completely depressed into the back of the controller.
Although each of the 4 face buttons are acceptable although they lack the same quality feel as the triggers and analog sticks; they aren’t nearly as firm as the latter and have an apparent theshold level that must be crossed before a depression is registered. The bumpers and directional pad on the other hand are incredibly loose and aren’t nearly as responsive as any of the other inputs. They seem to be of a completely different build quality than the other components and stick out as the weak spots in the design. Both can be noticeably rocked freely without registering a button press and come across as incredibly weak in terms of overall design.
The casing of the controller is made of a translucent blue plastic over top of a hard metal casing which encloses the PCB board that powers the controller. The result is a visually striking, especially when held in bright lighting. The plastic is incredible smooth and “hard” (for lack of a better term) which unfortunately makes it uncomfortable to hold for extended gameplay sessions. I am comparing this to the softer design used in the materials of most Xbox 360 controllers; those controllers have a different overall feel to them that seems to promote extended gameplay sessions. This controller however, feels very rigid and can become quite uncomfortable. This isn’t caused solely by the material type though as I am sure that the smaller size of the Mini Elite plays a role in the this as well.
Then again, the size of the controller wasn’t intended for normal or larger size hands; this controller was designed for the purpose of accommodating those with small hands. In that aspect, it definitely does its job. Using my daughter as my test subject, she finds the reduced size to make the controller easier to handle and use in games that require her to press multiple buttons in sequence. Granted, she is only 3 and isn’t exactly playing the most complex games, but it is easier for her to move players around jump or shoot simultaneously compared to trying to do the same with the much larger DualShock 3 controller. Seeing as how the younger crowd is likely to be partaking in shorter gameplay sessions, the won’t likely experience the same inconvenience I feel in holding the controller for extended times.
The Mini Elite Pro is a decent controller that definitely serves a distinct target market. It is a great option for younger gamers who need an overall smaller controller and its ergonomic, rounded design really helps to mold their hands into the standard positions which many of them are just learning. If and when a more experienced gamer takes hold though, especially with normal to large sized hands, it becomes clear that this controller wasn’t designed for their usage. If you by chance have a need for the smaller design, you could do worse than the Mini Elite Pro.