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We live in a time where gaming exists in two worlds. There is a world that is ever moving forward and constantly evolving to give us the newest and best experiences, and there is also a world driven by nostalgia; a smaller but incredibly fascinating world where people live, eat and breath the games of the past because the new things don’t interest them as much as the first time they booted up their retro console of choice. Over the past few years we have seen the rise of companies giving us our retro needs with a nice dash modern comforts and slick appearances.
Companies like Analogue and Retron have been lighting up the retro world with their selections of consoles that output old games on to modern displays without the need for adapters. The sheer abundance of third party controller companies for retro controllers, USB or original, is staggering. While you can buy a fairly inexpensive controller and it’ll be usable, it likely won’t feel like an OEM controller. Enter 8BitDo.
Admittedly, 8BitDo hasn’t been around for a really long time, but their ideas and controller solutions have pushed them to the front of many people’s minds if you’re in the market for a controller. Now, if you’ve been a fan of the website for a while, that name might seem familiar. I happened to write up their NESPro30 controller a few years ago to which I said, “Yeah, it’s okay…”. I wasn’t exactly blown away by it, my complaint being it’s too small for people with even normal sized hands (the trigger and shoulder buttons are all actually just shoulder buttons placed two on each side next to each other, making them harder to hit). My biggest gripe was that it felt more of a cool novelty to me. Some time has passed, and they’ve released a new controller that could not only surpass the NESPro30 but might also become my go-to controller for most gaming setups, the SN30 Pro Plus.
First things first, before going over anything let’s talk about what the SN30 Pro Plus can do. Tent pole stuff is it’s compatibility with various consoles, Steam(PC and Mac), Android, Switch, and Raspberry Pi (please see the website for full compatibility). It’s designed like a modern controller, thumb stick and d-pad layout resembling the Playstation controller design more than a Nintendo Pro Controller (Switch or Wii-U) or Microsoft controller design. One of the biggest things is that it compatible with customization software that 8Bitdo offers for free as a companion to the SN30 Pro Plus called “Ultimate Software” that will let you adjust just about anything on the controller to take into various systems. From button mapping to adjusting thumb stick and trigger sensitivity to even assigning macros for complicated inputs, this software can make it happen. The controller comes with a middle-of-the-road price tag of $50 dollars. It’s more expensive than most of the budget controllers in the category, but also cheaper than many first party offerings, some of which you’d still need an adapter to get working.
I decided to take the dive and a few days after ordering this controller, it shows up. It’s presented well, the packaging is nice. It feels and looks like something I’d actually buy at a brick and mortar store instead of off Amazon. I get it out of the box and there’s not much there with it. Just the controller, a USB-C cable, and a small instruction booklet about how to hook it up with what system. I immediately noticed how much bigger it is than the NESPro30 controller and thought, “Okay, this is something I can grip and get my hands around.” Not only did it feel comfortable but it felt like an experience akin to a PS3 or PS4 controller. I took out the NESPro 30 and snapped a picture for a size comparison, you can definitely see a better use of spacing and bigger buttons because of the increase in real estate with the SN30 Pro Plus. One really cool feature that you almost don’t see is to either use the rechargeable battery pack that it comes with or pop in a pair of AAs. Now this might seem silly but if they ever stop making this controller and its battery packs, at least you know you can still use this to play wirelessly. When thinking to how my PS4 controller only lasts 10 hours on a charge now, the whole AA battery idea looks pretty good.
After having a nice fashion shoot with the SN30 Pro Plus, it was time to get this thing plugged in to see if it was any good. I wanted to test this thing where it was probably going to spend most of it’s time and that was on the Raspberry Pi. For those of you that have a Raspberry Pi, I don’t have to tell you how syncing up a controller on this system can be annoying. What I can tell is if you follow the instructions and you have a vanilla version of RetroPie installed, this controller should work. I’ve run into people telling me they can’t get any Bluetooth controller to work and it’s typically because of some special “all-in-one” package they found with 10 billion roms and it plays Whitesnake on the system menu (I really hope that doesn’t exist). A lot of those images that are pre-loaded with stuff can be buggy and settings might have to be adjusted or repaired to operate 100% correctly.
Once it was set up and mapped, the SN30 Pro Plus worked great. Comparing it to my Wii U Pro controller which has fought every battle with me, it works really well. The face buttons feel great, the d-pad works surprisingly well, and shoulder pads feel good. The triggers are analogue so there’s a little travel to get them to all the way depress but being that this could be used for more modern games on the PC, I consider that a benefit more than a deficit. The only really spongey buttons on the whole system are the start and select buttons but that’s how they felt on an SNES controller and they have a nice “snap” to them on the bottom when those buttons make contact. The pairing button is small, at the top near where you would plug in the USB-C cable for charging, so hitting this thing by accident is highly unlikely. You can map the hotkey function to where you like, but I mapped mine to the “Home” (what would be the home button on the Switch at least) button and it worked very well for save states, exiting, and restarting the game. On the Wii U Pro controller, I had it mapped to the “Select” button and ran into issues where in the heat of the moment, my thumb would brush over “Select” while hitting the left or right shoulder button and I’d end up loading an earlier state and losing tons of progress. Since the “Home” button is almost flush with the surface of the controller and place where your thumb is never really resting against it, it’s a perfect hotkey button on the PI. I did try the hotkey function on the “Star” button as well, but because I’m a righty and my timing is just not as good with my left hand timing button presses, or the “Star” button doesn’t work as well, I ran into issues trying to get the functions to enable. I’m going to chalk it up to user error but it was a little odd that it worked so well with one but not the other I figured I would make a note.
Hooking it up to the PC was also a breeze. Within two minutes, it was connected to the PC and ready to go. Hitting a button combination of “Start + X” enabled the X-Input which works for PCs (Windows specifically). After that you hold the pair button for a few seconds and the SN30 Pro Plus should show up in your pairable devices. Once it’s sync’d it’ll give a little vibration. I did notice that while it controlled fine, some games that had vibration didn’t seem to vibrate. I opened up the “Ultimate Software” and although it seemed to operate just fine, I didn’t mess with it too much as the default settings for everything works for me. I played a few random Steam games and I didn’t really have any problems. I feel depending on what you’re playing this is where you’d get the most use out of those analogue triggers so I’m happy they are there. Those triggers are concave which was something I always hated on the PS3 controllers because your fingers would constantly slip off.
Initially, moving from the Raspberry Pi to Switch, I had some trouble because the controller would need to be completely resynced since I had them both using the “Switch” setting. After some googling, I found out that you can use the Raspberry Pi with the “Android” mode enabled on the controller which means, I can seamlessly bounce around from the Nintendo Switch, to the Raspberry Pi, over to the PC, back to the Switch and only have to change what setting the controller is one which is basically as simple as turning it on and off. This is where I feel this guy shines. Right now, I use a different controller for each of those systems. The Switch, I use the “Switch Pro Controller”, for the PC, I use a wireless X-box 360 Controller with a dongle to read the RF Signal and on the Raspberry Pi, I use my trust warhorse, the Wii-U Pro Controller. If only one thing good came out of that console, it’s that controller. I can say without a shadow of a doubt, the SN30 Pro Plus will take the place of the Pi and PC controllers for sure. The Switch, it definitely possible and depends what you’re using it for and can live with out.
While it controls fantastically, and all the core functions for the Nintendo Switch are there, there’s a couple nice bells and whistles you’re missing. Firstly, there’s no HD rumble which at first doesn’t seem like a big deal but it seems like there’s some communication error between the Switch and the controller because the controller doesn’t really vibrate hard while on the Switch. On the PC, it works fine, so I would have to imagine it’s a communication thing between the system and controller. That could be fixable, but for now it’s a flaw. Secondly, there’s no NFC reader in the controller which isn’t really a surprise because that’s proprietary like the HD Rumble but should be noted all the same. The last one is a very small thing but it would have been cool if it worked. You can’t bring the console out of sleep mode like you can with the Switch Pro Controller, so you’d have to get up and do it. Not the end of the world, but it’s a little bit of a bummer.
8BitDo, though it’s brief history, has done many things right: incredible retro controllers, great adapters, and even wireless mods for OEM Controllers. The company struggled to make a good modern controller because they we trying to keep the design to compact. The SN30 Pro Plus is a contender for anyone who wants a PC, Raspberry Pi, or even a decent alternative to a Switch controller that can do a little more than you’re run of the mill generic PC controller off Amazon. There’s other players in contention here but at this price point, the SN30 Pro can do anything the others can and you know you’re going to get a solid feel, a good d-pad (which is hard to find), great feeling face, shoulder buttons and triggers. I feel that this controller will absolutely serve me for years to come. This is honestly the first third party controller I’ve felt really good about in years.