PS5 DualSense controller design history: The evolution of Sony controllers from PS1 to PlayStation 5

From the PS1 controller to the DualShock 4 and now DualSense for PS5 – what a glow up!

by Daryl Baxter

“Your Father’s DualShock; an elegant weapon, for a more civilised age…”

Last night Sony threw a curveball by the revealing the PS5 controller, known as the ‘DualSense’.

It’s the final design to the PlayStation 5 controller, and it stacks up pretty well in direct comparison to the DualShock 4 and the Xbox Series X controller.

While we wait for this next-gen PS5 peripheral to arrive, how about a trip down memory lane?

Here’s a brief history of PlayStation controllers, from the standard PS1 controller to the fabled ‘Boomerang’ controller from the PS3 announcement, right up to the modern day…

PS1 Controller: A true classic

The memories are flooding back now…

The start of it all. It was a design that had been through many iterations before its release in 1994 with the PlayStation. It’s simple Square, Triangle, X and Circle buttons all having a definition and becoming iconic overnight.

The D-pad was also fantastic in its own right, being able to make specific moves in Tekken but also controlling a car in Ridge Racer to an almost-perfect steer.

The Analogue Controller, released in 1997, added joy-sticks to the mix. And then came the first version of the DualShock controller, which added ‘rumble’ vibrations to the experience.

Games soon had rumble implemented as the standard, while analogue joy-sticks made racing games, and shooters for that matter, very fun to play while keeping the accuracy of what the player wanted to do at a high level.

Read more: PS5 DualSense controller vs Xbox Series X controller

PS2 Controller: Back in black

Name a more iconic duo.

Fast forward to 2000, and we have the first batch of PS2 controllers. Not much of a change, except for the sensitivity of the buttons.

When playing Metal Gear Solid 2 for example, you could draw your gun up in first-person mode and you could gently let go of the ‘Square’ button, slowly letting Snake off the trigger, and instead just leaving him to aim at a target.

This was a genius feature, as it could ‘cancel’ an action, or even delay some while in battle. Wipeout HD and the PS2 FIFA games also used this, with short passes and sudden bursts of acceleration depending on the pressure of the buttons pressed.

Read more: PS5 DualSense controller vs DualShock 4 controller

PS3 Controller: Remember the Boomerang?!

Who knows what the Sony big-wigs were thinking.

The launch of the PS3 as a whole could be studied as a dissertation someday, but the controller had a strange unveiling. It was first shown with a wild design as known as the ‘boomerang’ controller.

Incredibly unwieldy, it seemed and looked as big as the console itself, but the Boomerang never made it to market. Instead, early-adopters of the PS3 got the SixAxis controller, which had a similar design to the previous two.

Due to a lawsuit, there was no rumble when the console launched in 2006, but it did have motion controls, which allowed you to flick it in many directions as you wanted, as long as the game supported it.

Probably the PS3 controller you actually remember using.

If you think that was a fad, you’d be right. It only worked well for a few games, such as Lair. But after a while, the lawsuit was settled, and the DualShock came back with full rumble, alongside it being wireless. At last!

The pressure-sensitive buttons were nowhere to be seen here, but having up to four controllers wirelessly connected to a console at once was a welcome improvement here, rather than investing in a ‘multitap’ accessory as before.

Finally, there was a ‘PS’ button, so you could reach the console’s operating system with ease for jumping between games, entertainment apps and messages. A decent upgrade, this one.

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PS4 Controller: One of the best

Simply iconic.

After the launch of the PS3, it almost felt as if the console and the controller had a bit of a reboot or reimagining.

An easier console to develop for, a great price, and a controller that mixed in the best of the last three generations.

The DualShock 4 had this ‘curved’ aspect which made it incredibly comfortable to be held when playing on Destiny 2 and Tekken 7, while every button seemed redesigned to fit any finger and thumb.

The analogue sticks had a ‘sunk’ feel, which made it have a much better grip than before. By now, games had these sticks as the default control method, so it made sense for these to have a massive improvement.

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Okay, maybe this is a more iconic duo.

The Start and Select buttons had a rename to ‘Share’ and ‘Option’, which is still a cause for contention among some fans.

The touchpad was the ‘new thing’ of this generation, so you could navigate certain menus with it, while the lightbar above this had colours where it could reflect a state of health for the character, or just to tell who is player 1 or 2.

This has been regarded as the best controller of the generation, with ways to use it on a PC or even a Switch with the right accessory. So how could it be improved upon for PlayStation 5?

Read more: Is the PS5 launch window unrealistic?

PS5 Controller: A brave new world?

Still getting used to this one…

Earlier this year, we were given the answer; the ‘DualSense’, a design that’s a cross between the gun in Portal, and the Ceramic White PSP, and looks beautiful.

This new ‘DualSense’ branding also seems to have retired the name ‘DualShock’, and that’s not the only change you can see.

This looks like the next natural step in the controller, with the lightbar relegated to the sides of the touchpad, while the ‘Share’ and ‘Option’ buttons are now icons; ‘Share’ is now ‘Create’, with more details on this promised (but not yet revealed) in a Sony blog.

Read more: DualSense PS5 controller explained in detail

Check out the rear on that.

The pictures also seem to hint at a USB-C connection this time, which is very welcome, now that almost every peripheral, motherboard and tablet are moving to this standard too.

This controller promises ‘haptic feedback’ and ‘adaptive triggers‘, which should let you ‘feel the dirt when driving’, but we’ll believe that claim when we can experience it for ourselves.

Sony confirmed in the latest PS5 reveal that the DualSense will have motion controls. They have not yet elaborated on how this feature will work, but we can guess that it will work similarly to the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Cons.

There you have it: a history of the PlayStation controllers, and a tease of what’s to come on PlayStation 5. Exciting times are ahead, folks.

Read more: PS5 vs Xbox Series X specs explained

Daryl Baxter