Gamings most ridiculously complex control schemes

OK, what are the buttons?

I remember when game consoles had two buttons and a d-pad. Then Street Fighter 2 came along and suddenly everyone wanted six buttons. Then six buttons plus shoulder buttons, then four shoulder buttons, then analogue sticks that are also buttons the world has gone button crazy! The world is a button! Aaaargh!

Anyone would think this would be enough buttons to control anything from a racing car to an unruly child, but no. We still have ludicrously bloated layers of unfathomable complexity that only seem to be getting more complicated with each new generation. So lets have a look at some of gamings most WTF control schemes. Yep, just hold L1, L2, twist the right stick and double-tap X to begin. There ya go


It's little wonder EA introduced a 'two button' option for newbies. Have you ever tried explaining the buttons to someone whos playing FIFA for the first time? Short pass, long pass, shoot and through-ball is fine. Anyone who understands the offside rule can understand that. Sorry? Oh, OK, when the ball is played forwards ah forget it. But then you get to the shoulder buttons. And the second stick. And then--somehow--influencing the direction of a ball with a foot, your head or your chest is suddenly as simple as learning modern Persian. I'm not saying it can't be done. Yek tuti dashtam.

Trick modifiers, defensive pressing, shot modifier for placement or power, first-touch control, traps, sprints, close-control dribbling, near-post cross, far-post cross, lobs, shielding, leave-it-for-someone-elses, one-twos, off-ball runs, in-play tactical switches, bring out the 'keepereven the most fanatical football fan is going to be hard pushed remembering what does what. Bring back Sensible Soccer, I say.

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days

The problem with the control scheme in Kingdom Hearts' DS exclusive outing is the camera. As our reviewer at the time so eloquently put it: "the controls couldnt be less intuitive if your DS was taped to the ceiling." You can just use the stylus while running with the d-pad, but its awful, which basically leaves you with option two.

Option two expects you to rotate the camera with L or R, but also to call up the menu with L+R. Oh, and double-tapping R also handles the lock-on reticule. It's a ridiculous situation when you're talking about a game designed from scratch for one of the most universal, intuitive, simple interfaces the gaming world has ever seen. DS deserves better, Kingdom Hearts deserves better and you? Well, ask yourself. Did you steal any cookies recently? Maybe it's your fault.

NBA 2K 14

You dribble with the left stick, pass with A and shoot with X. OK? Good, but, you'll also want to be able to bounce a pass, so to do that you have to press L2 as you press the pass button. Yeah, but if you want to fake, it's Square and X at the same time. That's useful, but not as useful as a driving lateral, which you can do by holding the right stick away from the hoop. And double-tap Circle to flop. 'Kay, your signature skills and personality badges are up on the d-pad, your points of emphasis are down, OTFC offense strategy and substitutions are right and left, respectively. Wait, did I say right and left? I meant left and down. That's it, and points of emphasis are right! Silly me! Well, you'll pick it up soon enough.

OK, so let's start the game. You want to send a teammate in on cut, right? Well, tap L1, tap a desired team-mate's icon, then move the right stick in the direction you want him to cut. Yeah, then when he's got it, you'll want to Up & Under, so Pump fake, then right stick again before the pump fake ends. Oh my GOD, what are you doing? You should have held R2 then moved the pro stick left towards the hoop! Do you want to be able to step through the layup, or what? Where are you going? At least push both shoulder buttons simultaneously if you're gonna take a Timeout!

F1 2001

Think F1 2013 is complex with its DRS, KERS and manual gears? Pfffft. Try playing F1 2001 on PS2 with the advanced controls switched on. The DualShock 2 has pressure-sensitive buttons pretty much everywhere, which means simply launching the car off the grid is a major challenge.

You have to squeeze the throttle hard enough to get some torque but gently enough to maintain traction. Oh, and you have to hold the clutch in with L1. Yes, there's a biting point that's somewhere between full-squeeze and lightly-depressed. And 'lightly depressed' is probably going to describe your mental state as you jump the lights for the fourth restart running. Still, at least you're safe from Maldonado's startline antics for another decade


The good thing about Mixed Martial Arts is that you can borrow moves from any discipline you like. Literally any move from the history of all moves, although a few 'techniques' are banned. Which techniques? Oh, the usual. Eye-gouging, yknow. Or knee drops onto a downed opponents head. Or 'sticking your finger into an orifice or a laceration'. Sorry, I should've warned you before I started saying those. I hope the vomit comes off your keyboard.

What was I talking about? Oh yes, UFC. Suffice to say simulating 'everything' on a controller with only four main face buttons is going to be tricky. With so many combinations of standard controls and different states of combatant holds all changing the control scheme completely every few seconds, youll need to learn everything at least four times over. And oh God, how do I tap out? Hnnnnng! Whats the button for yelling stop doing that it really hurts?

Way of the Exploding Fist

Back in the days when 'Hadouken' was just something British northerners said in phatic communion with their neighbour named Kenneth, Way of the Exploding Fist was providing one-on-one fighting action on the humble Spectrum. But, of course, all the movements and attacks had to be input via the Spectrum's keyboard (if it was still working after playing Daley Thompson's Decathlon), at least for one player if the other used a joystick.

I distinctly remember being disappointed that my sister could make the right-hand character appear to dance, simply by mashing her side of the keyboard. Doing the same on my end simply didnt provide the same lols. As for playing it properly, well, that required a greater understanding than my feeble 7-years-old brain could muster, especially when I didn't have a working joystick. 18 moves? That's a heck of a lot of rubber keys to tap.

NHL 14

It's no coincidence that NHL 13 added in 'NHL '94 controls', reverting to the classic control scheme of the 16-bit classic. 'One-timer' single-touch shots were in, yes, but the core pass/shoot/charge gameplay was arguably perfected by that stage, having already had three annual games beforehand.

In the years since, everything else has needlessly complicated the formula. And now you have 'total stick control' and 'muscular sequence mapping' (I might have made that second one up), allowing you to pull every single string to make the NHL puppets dance the way you want them to dance. They must do every bidding of their dark master just as long as said dark master remembers the button combination for the 'jump defender deke' and doesn't end up 'dropping to skate' instead, like a cack-handed idiot.

Alone in the Dark: Jack's Back

This game is awful. But when you've paid actual money for it and sat through the needlessly long (and horrifying-for-not-quite-the-intended-reasons) intro sequence, you're left standing by a corpse. But then its head start to move. Then it stands up. And OH GOD WHAT ARE THE CONTROLS? You press buttons in vain, calling up an options menu through which you can select 'fight'... if you press the correct button. But nothing's working. Button presses either call up the menu again or make the character twitch around like he's having a seizure. Probably brought on from the stress of being in such an awful game.

I actually had to get the instructions out. Turns out you have to select 'fight' from that options screen, then hold d-pad in different directions for various blows--simply pressing them once won't follow through. I'm talking about the Sega Saturn here, which has six face buttons and two shoulder buttons on its standard pad. You'd think one of them could be assigned to 'kick' and another to 'punch," right? As if it wasn't hard enough just to navigate the environments. Awful. Just awful.

Tomb Raider

Ah, good old Tomb Raider. You might think that the recent remake was a bit complicated what with its arrow selection, aiming, multiple weapons, white rope mechanics and so-on, but it's nothing compared to the control scheme of the 1996 original. Theres a jump button and a fire button. But you can only shoot if youve got your gun out, and you can still jump up to ledges by holding the action button and forward.

Then there's the fact that side-steps each have their own dedicated button, there's another button for a reverse roll, another that you can hold to walk and another you can hold to free-look. Oh, and if you hold walk, forward and jump you can do a swan dive. And if youre hanging from a ledge, you can shimmy along, but not with the sidestep buttons like you might think. And then if you hold the grip button, the walk button and then press up, you can do a weird gymnastic move to climb up except on Saturn, which presumably needed the RAM for more pressing things than needless flourishes of animation. At least the good news is you died instantly if you got most jumps even slightly wrong.


Flashback is similar to Tomb Raider in that you have to get your gun out if you intend to shoot anything. But you can also crouch and then roll, or jump straight up. Picking up objects shares the crouching animation but doesnt use the crouch command, so thats useful. Wait no, sorry, its the opposite of that.

Then there's the long jump up to a hanging ledge. You'd think youd have to walk up to the wall for the biggest run-up, then turn, hold run then jump at the edge, then grab while you're in the air. But no, you just have to walk to the wall, run towards the ledge and then just hold 'run'. It will jump automatically. What the actual f no, in fairness, Conrad B Hart has lost his memory. It isn't his fault. Hes just forgotten how every other game in the known universe handles these things.

Remap controls?

Does anyone have enough fingers, thumbs and perhaps even unusually dextrous toes in order to pull off every move in these games? As the ancient Peruvians used to say, DUDO! Which means I doubt (according to the instructions of a dice game called Perudo I was given one Christmas. A game which, funnily-enough, only requires the ability to hold things in your hands to play. Mind you, imagine trying to control a human hand with an Xbox pad.

Maybe Im doing the human brain a disservice. Maybe its time I stopped filling up this final slide with words its definitely time I ended this parentheses. Thats more than enough right there, in fairness, and at this rate people will wonder why it is so long and actually READ IT, which frankly scares me. If you are reading this, then thank you, but I dont know what to do now to give you an adequate payoff. Oh God now look at it! Sticks out like a sore thumb. I blame the ancient Peruvians. Im sure you do too).

And if you're looking for more, check out Video game characters no-one ever picks and What if video game characters wrote songs?

Justin Towell

Justin was a GamesRadar staffer for 10 years but is now a freelancer, musician and videographer. He's big on retro, Sega and racing games (especially retro Sega racing games) and currently also writes for Play Magazine,, PC Gamer and TopTenReviews, as well as running his own YouTube channel. Having learned to love all platforms equally after Sega left the hardware industry (sniff), his favourite games include Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams, Zelda BotW, Sea of Thieves, Sega Rally Championship and Treasure Island Dizzy.