All things considered, Nintendo has done a pretty good job with the Switch. They had a pretty solid launch, a fantastic game in Zelda available day one, and for the most part, Nintendo delivered on what they promised; a portable/console hybrid. When I bought my switch, I only had enough cash for Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the system itself, which meant much to my dismay, I would have to forego the Pro Controller. I decided I would pick one up when I purchased Puyo Puyo Tetris, but after hearingmy friend and host of the Stone Age Gamer Podcast Kris break down its largest flaw, I decided to pass, because a large part of playing Tetris well is a good D-pad.
Now, you might be asking yourself, “Why not just use the Joycon controllers?” That’s a fair question. The Joycon does have four separate buttons instead of a traditional D-pad, and that’s actually pretty great in a game like Tetris. That said, my big gripe with the Joycon is that it’s just a bit too small for me. While my hands aren’t exactly huge, the Joycon controls for the Switch had to be small enough to enable it to be more portable, and that size just isn’t quite enough for me. It seemed like my only option was to wait for them to fix the pro controllers, or at least that’s what I thought before Kris told me that 8bitdo has a line of bluetooth controllers that now work with the Nintendo Switch. 8bitdo is a name you might have heard before since this same line of controllers works for not only the normal fair of Raspberry Pi, android and IOS devices, but your NES and SNES as well. The most novel thing about them is that they are designed to look like retro Nintendo controllers. As of this writing, you can get NES, SNES, and N64-style controllers with more modern layouts that include dual analog sticks but with a cool retro design. The best part is, you can get the controllers for around 30 to 40 dollars which is about half of what Nintendo’s Pro Controller costs. There are a few caveats though. While you do get a controller that functions with the Switch, you’re not getting a lot of the things you probably take for granted in your Switch system now like HD Rumble, NFC compatibility, and s-axis functionality which, as of right now, are proprietary to Nintendo’s first-party offerings. If you can live without those things, you get a controller that at least in theory should be perfect for some of the simpler games on the system.
For that price, I figured I’d take the plunge. I went with the NES PRO30 model which has four face buttons, a D-pad, four shoulder buttons, dual analog sticks, and start and select buttons. There is also a power and sync button located at the bottom of the controller so you can easily get it up and running. The model I bought is painted to look like in line with the original NES color scheme. After waiting a couple of days for shipping, my controller arrived at the house and I proceeded to give it a test run.
Upon opening the box, I was greeted with a small carrying case for the controller, which was already more than I expected. Once I opened the case, I found my controller, a USB charge cable, and small instruction booklet which showed me how to sync my controller to different systems. I picked up my new controller and while it didn’t have much heft to it, it did feel very solid, like a well-made controller should. I took a short sigh of relief, happy that at last on the surface, the controller wasn’t complete garbage.
Something to note is that that firmware to run any of these controllers on the Switch does not ship preinstalled on them yet, so you’ll have to do some quick leg work. After a quick trip to 8Bitdo’s website, I downloaded a small file and was done updating within a few minutes. Syncing it up wasn’t much harder either. I just put my Switch in pairing mode, hit the power and Y button and I was all set. Now every time I turn on the controller it will pair with the Switch automatically. There are four different commands to sync up different systems that are listed on the paper that came with the controller so you might want to put that in a safe spot in case you ever want to sync something else up.
Now we get to the good part. Does this controller do what it’s supposed to and do it well? The quick answer is yes, but there’s more to it than that. While this is a great all-around controller that is extremely portable, there are a couple hang ups. First, the D-pad is still far from perfect. If you apply to much pressure right or left and shift the weight of your thumb slightly from perfect left or right, the pad will register an up or down input. While this isn’t that terrible, for games like Tetris or Street Fighter where constant and quick precise inputs are needed, this could be a problem. I found myself dropping blocks in Puyo Puyo Tetris in the wrong spot once or twicea match, and while I could avoid this by pecking the directions in Tetris, you can’t do this in something like street fighter where you have to roll you thumb over the directional pad in order to input combos correctly. Secondly, the placement of the secondary shoulder buttons is precarious at best. They’re functional, but it’s not exactly the best option out there. Of course, none of 8bitdo’s designs were meant to be played specifically with the Switch, so this is something that can be remedied in the future. The analog sticks are a little on the small side too. I feel like the weight of my thumb will push it in any direction, and I don’t feel too comfortable using them unless I’m using the tops of my thumb more than the full pad which can feel a bit unnatural.
These are just small complaints in comparison to how well the controller works overall. While the analog sticks feel small, they still operate very well. The D-pad has its issues, but when not being used for super precise movements it works adequately. A bonus of this controller is when you don’twant to use the D-pad, you always have the option of using the analog sticks which is not so for the models that are made to look like pre analog stick controllers. The ease of switching between systems is not something to write off either. The fact that this controller works with so many systems including the Switch is almost worth the 30 to 40 dollars by itself.
Hori is making their own Switch “Pro” controller which seems to fix the D-pad problem by making a removable circle pad that can be substituted for using a set of face buttons. This seems to be a full sized controller with full sized analog sticks that are placed close to how the Switch controller has them. The one huge drawback is that it’s a wired controller which, for a system like the Switch, is almost laughable. Why make a wired controller for something that is supposed to be portable? I understand that the system doesn’t always have to be played on the go, but you’re going to alienate a lot of customers with something that has no option of a detachable cable.
To sum this up, the NES PRO30 isn’t going to replace your Joycon or Switch Pro Controller, but it’s definitely something you can use with their retro and indie library as well as some of the simpler main releases. When you’re done using it with the Switch, you can take it with you to a friends and quickly get it sync’d up for the multitude of other systems it works for. While it may not be the best that it can be, it’s pretty damn good. I hope to see more accessories from 8bitdo in the future.
UPDATE: 8Bitdo has announced a new line of products to work with the Switch this holiday season. These products include an SNES Pro30 controller with a gyroscope for motion controls and rumble and The NES30 arcade stick. There is also a set of portable speakers they are releasing that will work with the Switch as well as interface with your other devices called TwinCube Stereo Speakers. No prices yet but if their past products are any indication these items should not be too expensive.