Comparing the T3 GameCube Controllers

For those who don’t know what those “T3” controllers are, they’re the revised versions of the GameCube controller with the more durable stick mechanisms. A big deal. Check the “Guides” section of this website for more information.

This will be a pretty quick overview, straight to the point. I will be using four T3 variants in very good condition to compare:

  • Indigo “Made in Japan“, a very early T3, around 2003.
  • JP White, which came out with a longer cord in 2008.
  • Smash 4 Black, released in late 2014.
  • Smash Ultimate Black, the latest one in 2018.

The veteran Smash players in the early 2010’s will remember buying those JP Whites from Play-Asia, brand new for $20. I remember hearing complaints that they felt really stiff compared to the coloured T3 variants, and would take a while to “break down”, to feel good to play on.

I pushed down on each button pad with the butt of my screwdriver using a standard kitchen scale. Not the most accurate, and very small sample size, but it gives a good idea of the actuation force required. Every iteration of the T3 controller gets stiffer somehow – not only the face buttons, but the triggers and sticks too.

ControllerA Button Actuation Force (grams)
Indigo69g
JP White84g
Smash 4 Black104g
Smash Ultimate Black111g

If you’re curious about snapback, the stiffer the stickbox spring, the less affected it should be (So the later controllers are better in this regard). It’s basically quicker to settle and don’t go as far off the deadzone because it takes more energy to push the stick off center. This is a mechanical issue where releasing the stick from a full tilt position will “snap back” and input in the other direction. Issues with the potentiometers themselves can affect the snapback effect, so I suggest reading this resource by Kadano for the full rundown: https://sites.google.com/view/kadanosnapback/home

Another small issue emerged from the new molds they manufactured for the Smash 4 controllers shells. The edges near the triggers are mismatched by about half a millimetre (0.5mm) on both sides. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s highly noticeable when running your finger over the gap. Luckily, this was fixed for the release of the Smash Ultimate GC controller.

Smash 4 on the left, Smash Ultimate on the right.

Remember the Smash 4 GCCs triggers getting stuck when pressed at an angle? This above was the cause of the issue. The way the trigger mechanism is designed just barely works properly on the standard GCCs. Pressing the button down will guide a small tube through a bigger one through some piston action, until it presses down on a rubber pad. The tolerance is tight, but as the two tubes are pulled apart, there’s more loose between the two and the trigger button can tilt out of its axis. On the original GameCube controller, this is not quite enough to cause friction issues, but with the different tolerances on the Smash 4 variant, the upper tube can get itself wedged at an angle and get stuck.

And that’s about it – stiffer controls and different shell molds. There are still a few differences on the hardware side, but nothing that affects controller performance. (You can see them in the descriptions for the different T3 boards in the internals guide.) 17 years apart, but they are still very similar after all this time, and they’re all very good controllers.

Ps. The Smash Ultimate variant had stick drift issues straight out of the box when it first came out. The factory put too much grease in the stick mechanism, which would leak into the potentiometers and cause them to not read their position properly. A very weird trouble that was quickly addressed by the manufacturer, and a quick cleaning of the stick mechanism would fix this problem.

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