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The Steam Deck’s best button is its software

The Steam Deck has many buttons. There’s a D-Pad, all the typical face buttons, dual joysticks that also respond to capacitive touch and Like buttons that can be pressed down, that’s two trackpads with haptic feedback Also pressure-sensitive buttons, two shoulder bumpers, two analog shoulder triggers and four buttons on the back of the device behind the handles.

Somehow they all feel like they’re in just the right place while holding the device, and writing the latest installment in our long-running Button of the Month series, you might think I’d get poetic about just one of them. But to me, that’s the real magic of the Steam Deck any Button can be the genius button thanks to the excellent software of the device.

The Steam deck’s Steam button is your ticket to endless control customization.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Take my experience with you cupheads new DLC, The delicious last course, which includes a new gauntlet of amazingly difficult bosses. Like the base Cuphead Game, Delicious last course requires quick reflexes and quick button presses to stay alive, and Steam Deck’s highly customizable controls help add button-pushing to this equation.

During a fight, I usually keep my right thumb on the shoot button (on the steam deck, X) while pressing jump (A) with another part of my thumb. But when every split second counts, I hesitated even for a moment to lift my thumb to press the dash or special shot buttons. That tiny pause could mean the difference between surviving another barrage or dying and having to start a fight from the beginning. However, with just a few tweaks and 30 seconds navigating the Steam Deck menus, I changed the controls so I could jump, sprint, and Fire special shots without ever having to lift your thumb.

I could have remapped the special attack almost anywhere on the Steam deck, but I went with one of the four unusual buttons on the back of the console that pretty much fall right under my third and fourth fingers when gripping the device. As buttons, I don’t actually find them fun to use. They’re pretty flat. But I also think it’s good that the buttons require deliberate pressure to click through. This makes them great for actions you don’t want to accidentally do – like, cupheads Special shots that can turn the tide but take some time to reach their full power.

Two of the Steam Deck’s back buttons.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

I also turned the R2 trigger into a parry button and mapped the L2 trigger to the new dodge roll combo for Ms. Chalice, the new character introduced in the DLC. The reel usually requires pressing and the Y button at the same time, and I had a lot of trouble nailing it Delicious final courses Hectic boss fights. Putting the combo on L2 made the reel a lot easier to use.

Using shoulder triggers for move actions so you can keep your thumbs on the joysticks is a technique I learned after exploring better custom layouts for them return on PS5, and it made a big difference in Cuphead, to. And I made the L4 back button an instant screenshot button so I can take pictures Delicious final courses sneaky boss designs. (A later boss is frankly nightmare fuel.)

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

I wasn’t just messing around with buttons. in the Vampire Survivor, I mirrored the right stick to the left so I can switch between them. (I make the game think I have two left analog sticks.) The game generally requires you to constantly press the stick for 30+ minutes to survive against hordes of baddies, so it helps my left hand, the sticks to be able to switch to get tired.

And you don’t have to come up with these ideas yourself: if you want to sift through other people’s ideas for control schemes, you can browse them right from a game’s menu in SteamOS, meaning you don’t have to dig through Reddit like I did for return.

There’s a plethora of options for just one button.

The Steam Deck’s incredible customizability and easy access to alternate controls beg a more philosophical question: who should decide what a button does? In most video games, for the most part, that’s out of your hands (pun intended). But with the Steam Deck, you can do all sorts of wild things that result in how we traditionally think a particular key should be used.

in the half-life 2, for example, there’s a wild layout that lets you touch the top of the right stick to turn on gyro aiming and tilt the system to move your crosshairs with far greater accuracy than using a joystick alone. This is something you can tune into any game with a few taps on the deck. You could theoretically even get low-lift multiplayer couch games to work on a single deck by setting half the deck to replicate a mouse and keyboard and the other half to use gamepad controls.

It helps that it only takes a few key presses to get to the menu where you can change any key you want. You can use this menu to choose what a button does for each game in your Steam library and it will automatically remember what you have set for each game. And since every Steam deck comes with the same buttons, you don’t have to buy things like an extra controller or separate accessories to fiddle with less common input options like back buttons. The Steam Deck really lets you decide how you want to play a game, and that flexibility is quickly making it one of my favorite devices of all.

As more people get their hands on the Steam Deck, I can’t wait to see others think of new and creative ways to customize the controls for my favorite games. For now I will continue to use my own controls for specials in Cuphead – and I’ll try to take a screenshot after finally defeating the terrible dragon boss.