While Ars Technica is in the loop about a lot of gamepad launches, we mostly look at gamepads that offer significant features and upgrades. Those features can boil down to accessibility, luxury, value, quirkiness, or dramatically new gimmicks.
In today’s case, however, I can’t help but gush over a controller that feels remarkably humdrum in some aspects, yet absolutely goes for it on an aesthetic basis. If you pine for ’90s-era interfaces when loud colors and transparent plastic ruled the gamepad fray, this week’s launch of the Forza Horizon 5 Xbox Wireless Controller is for you.
This official variant of the Xbox Wireless Controller (the name of the gamepad’s latest, Series X-adjacent revision, complete with a “share” button) comes at an MSRP of $74.99. The $15 premium over the default gamepad’s MSRP is primarily thanks to a very loud and unique color design, which largely resembles the colorful video game of the same name. (Otherwise, this works just like other XWCs, and it includes compatibility with both the Xbox 2.4 GHz wireless standard and Bluetooth.) The entire front face consists of transparent, yellow plastic, though roughly half of this is covered with a handsomely laser-printed paint splatter. The fact that the design looks as sharply printed as the facsimile on the box is a testament to whatever printing process Microsoft is using for its gamepads.
The Forza gamepad edition is also one of the only official Xbox gamepads that features alternating colors on its buttons: blue on one side, magenta on the other. (This applies to the backside triggers, as well). The only other option I’ve seen on that front is a limited-edition Space Jam: A New Legacy gamepad, which is smothered in text and logos. Microsoft’s latest option is incredibly tasteful on that front, on the other hand, with a hard-to-see Forza logo on the front and a single “H” on the back. To which I say: yes! More colors, fewer logos, please.
Speaking of the backside: this gamepad covers its handles with a unique rubberized material, as opposed to the series of hard plastic dimples on Xbox’s 2020 gamepad revision. Microsoft describes this material as “inspired by a race car steering wheel.” I wouldn’t go that far in terms of the material’s quality or texture, but I am also unsure that I’d want to pay an additional premium for actual car-grade materials like leather on these grips. I like the gamepad’s soft sensation, but I cannot immediately predict whether this material will wear out or rub off onto hands after extended use.
Additionally, the gamepad comes with a Forza Horizon 5 DLC code, and this unlocks one custom-painted car (the 1932 Ford De Luxe Five-Window Coupe), one T-shirt for your in-game avatar, and one custom “dance” emote. I’m not really a fan of hardware-gated features in software, but these are also wimpy cosmetic additions. So if you miss these, you’re not missing much. (You can unlock a less colorful version of this car for pretty cheap in the normal game, and this DLC’s paint job includes a dorky-looking “HORIZON FESTIVAL” text crawl on its trunk, so I honestly don’t recommend it.)
This gamepad design may not be your cup of tea, but I applaud the Xbox team for something so bold and shameless in terms of its color design. Many “special edition” gamepads from the likes of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo err on the side of either militaristic gaudiness or understated logos—and those styles can certainly look cool (or, at least, appropriate for whatever gaming series inspired them). But I’m a fan of bolder color designs in general, especially with something as inherently whimsical as a controller for a gaming system. Until Microsoft unlocks similarly wild paint and color-variety options on its own Xbox Design Lab system, this head-turning Forza gamepad will have to suffice.
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