A guide of controllers for emulation.
- 1 Gamepads
- 2 Arcade Sticks
- 3 Mobile Gamepads
- 4 Motion Controller
- 5 Light Gun
- 6 Racing wheels
- 7 Using Controllers in Emulators / Games Not Supporting Them
The best way to emulate a console is by using the actual controller for that console. Here are some different adapters that'll let you use those controllers on your PC:
- Mayflash adapters work well and are relatively cheap.
- Bliss-Box is made to order and probably the best adapters you can buy, but they don't come cheap.
- Bliss-Box 4-Play is a mass-produced version of the Bliss-Box. It supports up to 4 controllers at the same time and it uses custom cables with an HDMI connector. With the new advent of the API, it now has native controller support. The API is open source. 
- RetroUSB, good adapters, not the best prices.
- RaphNet for making your own controller adapters, can also be purchased pre-made.
The DualShock 3 has a very good d-pad, which is something that's hard to find nowadays. Very useful for older consoles. It also has 10-bit precision analog sticks, pressure sensitive buttons, and it can be used wired or wirelessly with a Bluetooth adapter.
The DualShock 3 requires special software to work on a PC. In Windows, an external program needs to be installed to use DS3 controllers. Use the new SCP Driver Package. Do not use MalwareohJoy if you can. On Linux, QtSixA is available, but if you run into problems try xboxdrv. See the DualShock 3#Troubleshooting page if you run into problems.
The Xbox One controller is mostly similar to the 360 controllers except for a noticeably higher quality overall. Especially in regards to the d-pad which has gone from abysmal to pretty great, even using four mechanical switches for it.
Can simply be plugged in with any Micro B cable and it works as a standard XInput controller with no need for batteries.
The 360 controller does offer good ergonomics and many prefer its analog stick layout -though there are a lot who feel otherwise- over other controllers. However, the poor D-pad means it is lackluster when it comes to emulating older consoles.
For the wired 360 controllers, you simply plug it in, install the drivers, and play. For wireless, you will need a wireless adapter to use a wireless controller on a PC.
Logitech USB Gamepad
Logitech also makes good XInput gamepads that plug directly into the USB port on your computer. Their layout is similar to PlayStation DualShock. There is both a wired and wireless one.
The quality of these isn't too great, and the d-pad is only slightly better than the 360 controllers, but they are most likely the best you can get in their price ranges.
- Logitech Gamepad F310 Cheaper wired one (lacks force feedback)
- Logitech Gamepad F710 Uses wireless 2.4 GHz
GameCube (GCN) Controller
Arguably the best controller for Smash Bros and some people just like it generally. Various third-party adapters exist for using this on PC, for example Mayflash adapters. If you want that official feel, though, try the Official Wii U GameCube adapter. While it's made mainly for Wii U compatibility, the community has made unofficial USB drivers for it, and testing in Dolphin has shown that it's more accurate to the console than the Mayflash adapter.
For those who don't already have a GameCube controller at home, beware of the Chinese clones that have sprung up like weeds on eBay and Amazon: they are universally shit and feel nothing like the real deal. Your best option is either getting a used DOL-003 on eBay or checking local retailers for the Smash 4 reproduction controllers. Expect to spend around $25 plus shipping when buying online, and always check the pics for loose analog sticks or missing rubber tops.
Miscellaneous USB Gamepads
There are also cheaper gamepads made by various other companies. However, their build quality may not be as good as Logitech. Some of them are made to be duplicates of console controllers which may be useful when emulating consoles controllers with nonstandard layouts like the N64 controller.
Arcade sticks mimic arcade controls. They are typically used by fighting game fans but can be used for emulation as well.
http://www.xgaming.com X-Arcade sticks are designed primarily for MAME users but the controls can be easily mapped to any button. Generally considered tacky to use a prebuilt control panel with a homemade MAME cabinet but is acceptable to use as a standalone controller. Prices range from $99 to $250
Pretty much any Bluetooth controller will work with an Android or iPhone for emulation. Some recommended controllers:
- DualShock 3 ($40) Good quality controller
- Nyko Playpad Pro ($20) Cheap controller. Has similar layout as DualShock 3.
- POWER A MOGA Hero Power Controller ($26.99)
- POWER A MOGA Pro Power Controller ($34.99)
- Gametel ($30) Smaller controller, comes with a clip to attach phone. Has similar to layout to NES controller
- Ipega ($20-$30) A series of cheap but sturdy Bluetooth controllers, in various styles ranging from small iControlPad style controllers to basically Xbox 360 controllers with clips. No or unnoticeable latency. Can be paired in four modes--keyboard, controller, iCade, and mouse. Optional, difficult to find, poorly translated Chinese app allows them to emulate Moga input at the cost of adding latency.
- GameSir G3s ($30.99)
- GameSir T1s ($39.99)
- GameSir G4 ($39.99)
- GameSir G4s ($49.99)
- 8Bitdo N30 2.4G ($24.99)
- 8Bitdo SN30 GP ($29.99)
- 8Bitdo N30 Pro ($39.99)
- 8Bitdo SN30 Pro ($44.99)
For emulating Wii games, this is an option if you want to use the real controller. You can connect your Wiimote to your PC using this guide. If your computer does not have Bluetooth you will need to get a compatible USB Bluetooth adapter, this one has been known to work. In order for the Wiimote pointer to be detected, you'll need a wireless sensor bar or 2 candles. Another option is using the Mayflash DolphinBar, it's a Wii sensor bar with integrated bluetooth. Even Dolphin developers recommend it.
However, if you want to use your Wiimote as a general purpose controller and a pointing device, and not only for Dolphin but lots of other games, get those custom Windows drivers and you'll be able to map its various controls in other emulators and games.
Psmoveinput is a userspace Linux input driver that gives users ability to control mouse pointer movements by moving PSMove controller and map PSMove keys to common keyboard keys. It's based on the unofficial PSMove API.
Traditional light guns rely on the behavior of CRT monitors and TVs to function. There are light guns that do not rely on the monitor for positioning but behave more like Wiimotes using IR light. The accuracy is not as good but most people can adjust fairly quickly. Within most emulators, the sensor in the light gun behaves like a mouse and usually require no special drivers for setup.
Works with all monitors including CRT, LCD, and plasma. The package comes with both the USB gun (an infrared receiver) & a USB-to-infrared transmitter bar that sits on top of the screen. The calibration software for Windows XP/Vista/7 is available on the Ultimarc website, but it's also been confirmed to work on Windows 8 (no drivers are required; the unit works as a mouse). The gun kit is also designed to work on PlayStation 2 & 3 consoles as well as in Linux (again, as a mouse,) though there are no official calibration programs for Linux.
Using Controllers in Emulators / Games Not Supporting Them
Sometimes, the application you use simply doesn't recognize the newly plugged-in controller, be it a standard PC Gamepad or a Console Controller. Often, it's just the bare minimum keyboard and mouse controls are supported. For these situations there are third-party tools which convert each gamepad button press to a preset keyboard/mouse input, thus allowing you to use your controllers at all times.
Remember to open those with administrator privileges when used with programs opened as administrator, or else the button presses won't register.
- Free and open-source alternative to Xpadder. Current versions are forked from an earlier version by different people and under active development after the original developer quit due to online harassment. Arguably the best tool available out there for this task. Supports macros and a wide range of controllers (including the Xbox One controller).
- Project to support various console controllers in games, which started with the DualShock 4 and expanded to other controllers.
- One of the more powerful key scripting language tools available out there. You can for example map complex hotkeys (like Ctrl+Alt+Del) or sequences of hotkeys and/or keypresses (like the Konami Code) to a single key in your keyboard... or gamepad. It's like a scripting language on its own, which though simple may be too much effort for the average user.
- Has been freeware until version 5.3 when it went shareware. The original gamepad mapping utility, but a bit underwhelming compared to other alternatives.
- Shareware, but has a free version. Includes macros, a shift function (to map more keys than the number of buttons on the gamepad) and a turbo function for mashing keys quickly.