Nyko didn't beat Sony to a rumble controller release in Japan but they sure came out with one before the US release. The Zero Wireless controller for the PlayStation 3 has been talked about for a long time now by Nyko and I've seen it a few conventions but it's finally released here in the States. It comes in three flavors and it does rumble in your hands so let's take a closer look and see if it's a good third party controller to pick up for your PlayStation 3.
Let's start off with what it comes with. The Zero Wireless controller for the PlayStation 3 comes equipped with a rechargeable battery, a USB dongle, a very long USB to mini USB cable, and a AA battery pack. One nice thing about the Zero Wireless controller is that you can use either the rechargeable battery pack or any AA battery available. Unlike the Sony controller, you don't have to plug it in if your battery dies as you can continue on with 2 AA batteries at hand. If your rechargeable battery does die out, you can still plug it in with the included USB cable so that you can charge and play at the same time. When I mean a long USB cable I mean a LOOONG USB cable. Compared to the Microsoft Xbox 360 Play and Charge Kit cable, the Zero Wireless USB cable is about six inches longer allowing me to sit pretty far back from the TV and still be connected. I'm glad Nyko decided to include a long USB cable instead of the way too short one that is packed in with the console. The option to use either the rechargeable battery or a regular set of AA is a great feature of the Zero Wireless controller.
As for the controller, it's a boomerang shape with large palm grips. The top of the grips are covered with a metallic plate that is suppose to keep the controller cooler than a plastic coating. It does keep the controller a little bit cooler when held a long time and cools off faster than the rest of the plastic shell. The four primary buttons extrude pretty far from the top offering a nice solid feel when pressed. Each button is back-lit so you can see the shapes clearly when the controller is active. They are spaced apart about the same as the Sony controller.
The left and right bumpers are pretty good sized so you'll be able to press them pretty easily. Conversely, the left and right triggers are a little smaller than what I would've liked though. They are curved to accommodate your index finger well and the tension on the spring is pretty good. The springs' strength allowed me to easily adjust how much I press down on the triggers. Compared to the Sony controller, I like the size of the bumpers on the Zero Wireless but I like the triggers on the Sony controller better.
Something that I found curious was the amount of play the D-pad has. By that I mean you can grab the top and bottom with your thumb and forefinger and rotate the entire D-Pad piece left and right a few degrees pretty easily. Compared to an Xbox 360 controller which has the same D-Pad design, the Zero Wireless controller's implementation doesn't seem to be as well done. I think the D-Pad is the weakest part of the Zero Wireless though as pressing down and moving around on it, I felt the feel and give of the D-Pad doesn't seem up to the standards of the rest of the controller. It just doesn't feel solid.
What Nyko got right though were the two analog sticks. They are concave on top and feature a rubberized top offering a solid non-slip feel to them. Rotating the sticks around, the springs that hold them in place are strong and feel very solid. They snap back into the neutral position quickly and rotate smoothly. Pressing down on the two sticks, you are treated with a nice strong click. Since most of the PlayStation 3 games use the sticks as the primary controls, I'm glad that Nyko did a good job on them.
The Zero Wireless isn't a Bluetooth controller hence you need the dongle plugged into a USB port for it to work. Getting the controller to pair with the dongle was pretty easy and there are four different colors that the LED glows to indicate which controller is which. The square Zero button on top doubles as both the PlayStation button and the link button. It glows to the color that matches the dongle's LED. One bad thing about third party controllers and Sony's insistence on keeping their Bluetooth code a secret is that they can't make controllers that turn on the PlayStation 3. You're forced to turn it on by going to the console or using a Sony controller to do the deed. It's a little annoying but it's not Nyko's fault as they are limited in what they can do in this aspect. To get around the lack of Bluetooth for wireless gameplay, the entire setup works on a 2.4GHz spectrum. It's a crowded one but I never had the controller lose connection with the dongle in my few days of playing.
With the design of the Zero Wireless, I found the controller to be pretty comfortable when held. The metal plates feel well in on the hands and all the buttons are easily reached. I played for a few days and didn't get tired of holding the controller for long periods of time. Also, the wireless seems solid as well as I didn't lose connection during my various game sessions. There wasn't any lag that I can perceive and responses seemed instantaneous.
So what about the rumble? Unfortunately the PlayStation 2 games I tried didn't exhibit any rumble. That's not Nyko's fault but I hope Sony comes out with an update so I can feel the rumble of my old games. Loading up the Burnout Paradise demo, I was treated with that familiar feeling of the controller shaking when hitting obstacles. Yes, rumble is indeed working for the Zero Wireless and it works well. As I crashed into cars, I felt the controller shake. Driving over rough terrain, the Zero Wireless controller rumbled along with it. Sony's MLB08 The Show also takes advantage of the rumble feature. When you guess the right pitch and location, the controller shakes during your at-bat to let you know it's an opportune time to swing. With a runner on third, the controller pulsates like a heartbeat adding a little tension to the at-bat. It's good to finally be able to get rumble back into the Sony console and it's great that Nyko was able to release a controller in the states a month before Sony's to take advantage of this feature. There aren't many rumble enabled games yet but in due time there will be plenty of PlayStation 3 titles to take advantage of this feature.
Doing a little searching, the price of the Zero Wireless controller for the PlayStation 3 can be found at Amazon for $45 which is $10 less than the official Dual Shock 3. Considering the shortcomings of not being Bluetooth and not being able to turn on the system with the controller as well needing a dongle, the Zero Wireless controller for the PlayStation 3 is a good option. If you want a secondary controller to go along with a Dual Shock 3, this is a very nice peripheral to consider. Overall, I found the Zero Wireless controller to be responsive and comfortable. The fact that you'll be able to feel rumble on the PlayStation 3 before the official controller arrives is a plus. There are a few issues I had with the controller but overall it's a good third party product for the PlayStation 3.