Chances are you've had some sort of experience with a PDP product in the past. Whether it be that you or someone you know enjoyed the Disney Infinity toys-to-life figurines or the Nintendo-approved custom DS styluses back in the day, PDP has – whether you've known it or not – probably been on your radar. Recently, however, PDP has been known for making incredible gaming controllers.
It's a bit of a joke throughout the industry that third-party controllers are a thing of nightmares, from the infamously horrible Mad Catz controllers to the baffling Turbo Touch 360. Third-party offerings tend to be poorly designed, made out of cheap materials, and just generally feel terrible in your hands. In recent years, PDP has released beautiful third-party offerings like the fully customizable Victrix Pro BFG Wireless Controller, as well as the gorgeously designed Afterglow Wave Controller.
At PAX West 2023, I was lucky enough to get a hands-on review of their new line of controllers and headsets, titled REALMz. Their show floor booth was drawing tons of attention, as people gathered around the kiosk to try to take a look at the extraordinary hardware. Each individual REALMz controller is themed, with a branded printed circuit board and a unique figurine staged in the grip of the controller, accompanied by a translucent plastic outer shell. According to PDP, it isn't a cheap sticker or lazy paint job; each circuit board is custom-printed to represent whatever character the controller is themed after. To top it all off, the face buttons, shoulder buttons, and sticks are all color-coded to match the theme that's on display.
Each piece is created in-house, helping to guarantee the quality of each controller. Their most prominent IP is the Blue Blur himself – Sonic the Hedgehog. Currently, PDP has three Sonic variations for sale; a controller featuring a figurine of Sonic in the Green Hill Zone, a controller featuring a Tails figurine with the Seaside Hill Zone as a backdrop, a controller featuring Knuckles with Sky Sanctuary Zone as the background, and a Sonic headset showcasing a sprinting Sonic in the right ear can along with Sonic branding and colors.
Other than Sonic, REALMz controllers also include an adorable Pikmin controller, with a little red Pikmin the figurine accompanying it a little red Pikmin, along with a green circuit board covered in more Pikmin iconography. Lastly, my personal favorite (and subsequently their newest addition) was a Transformers REALMz controller featuring the head of Optimus Prime in the handle, complete with a Transformers-inspired circuit board, all modeled after the original 80's cartoon.
I had the opportunity to play around with some of this hardware, and get a feel for how these controllers actually perform. Overall, they feel pretty good! The wired version of the controllers is extremely lightweight, which can initially give the impression of being cheap. Along with this, the totally smooth texture of the plastic covering the controllers takes a second to get used to, as the grips on most first-party controllers are textured in some way. The face buttons also take a bit of time to get used to, as they are textured rather than smooth like standard controllers.
It frankly takes very little time to get over these initial humps, and once you realize that the controllers are well built despite being lightweight, you quickly become accustomed to the different textures. The sticks feel fantastic, being snappy and responsive, even when playing games like Sonic Frontiers where the fast pace of the movement can sometimes clash with the tighter corridors of the game's environments. The d-pad is textured much like the face buttons and is equally as responsive as the sticks. The face buttons feel a little different than first-party controllers, being a little bit more difficult to press and a little bit clickier in their execution, but they are solidly designed and respond well to pressure. The shoulder buttons are shaped slightly differently than their first-party counterparts, but they feel good and take just the right amount of pressure to push down.
The figurines (REALMz controllers' coup de grace) are definitely where their uniqueness shines through. These little figurines are, like the rest of the controllers, made in-house and give each piece its own unique feel. They're of surprisingly detailed quality, not taking too much away from the overall aesthetic of the controller while contributing enough to make the controller you choose feel like the one for you. The Sonic headset rivals most headsets that are within its price range – decent audio and clear communications, but nothing that will revolutionize the way you experience your games. For the price, however, getting a collector's item along with a very useable headset is worth it if you're a fan of the little Blue Devil.
I can always respect when a company wants to create a useful collector's item; something you can proudly display while also serving a practical function. It's a delicate balancing act, as oftentimes collectors' items are nothing more than decoration, and functional items tend to be nothing more than useful. I think the REALMz controllers from PDP tread this line beautifully, creating an eye-drawing product for those who want to add a little bit of flare to their controller collection without breaking the bank that they can still bust out whenever they want to play some couch co-op with friends. If you're a fan of Sonic, Pikmin, or Transformers, check them out. There's no limited release, so no worries on whether or not these items will be available en masse.
Check out the REALMz collection here, and a huge thank you to the people at PDP for giving me the opportunity to check out this unique run of tech!
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