The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller is my go-to for lengthy bouts of Zelda or Splatoon. It’s solid and comfortable, and among the best traditional controllers I’ve ever used. It’s also $70, so I’m definitely not buying more than one. Same goes for the Joy-Con controllers, which will run you $80 for a pair. On a device like the Switch, where some of the best experiences are local multiplayer games like Mario Kart and Arms, I need another, cheaper solution for when people come over to play. For me, the answer looks a lot like an NES gamepad.
WHAT IS IT?
The NES30 Pro and FC30 Pro are aftermarket controllers from 8bitdo, a company that specializes in these kinds of retro-style pads. (The two are functionally identical, the only difference is how they look; one is modeled after the original NES controller, the other the Japan-only Famicom.) The controllers have a layout similar to the original Wii’s Classic Controller, so they look a lot like an SNES gamepad with the addition of analog sticks and a few extra buttons. They’re compatible with the Switch, as well as Windows, Mac, and Android. Support for the PS3, Wii U, and Raspberry Pi is also in the works.
It’s a bit on the light side, but the NES30 Pro is very comfortable. It doesn’t have the extended grips you might be used to with modern Xbox or PlayStation controllers, but it still feels good to hold even after lengthy play sessions. And, like all of 8bitdo’s controllers, it has an excellent D-pad, something sorely lacking with the standard Joy-Con. If you play a lot of retro games on your Switch, or plan to with the eventual launch of Virtual Console, a quality D-pad is basically a necessity.
For the most part, 8bitdo’s controller also has all of the necessary inputs to play modern games. I had no problems running through laps of Mario Kart 8 or lobbing punches in Arms. The two models also just look cool. I’ve always been partial the Famicom’s metallic gold-and-maroon color scheme, and it’s great to see it emulated here.
At $42, the NES30 Pro is much cheaper than what Nintendo offers, and it’s also more flexible, since it’s compatible with a number of other game platforms. Instead of just spending money to have an extra controller laying around in case you need a fourth for Mario Kart, it’s actually something you can use in other situations, like playing Cave Story for the dozenth time on a MacBook.
The controllers can be a bit finicky when it comes to syncing them to the Switch. My first attempt took about 15 minutes, but once it was connected it worked fine, with no interruptions.
But by far the biggest issue with the NES30 and its Famicom-themed counterpart is the button layout. The face of the controller is fine, and the D-pad, analog sticks, and ABXY buttons are all where they should be. The sticks even click to double as an extra button, just like every other modern controller. The problem is with the shoulders: the NES30 Pro has two buttons on both shoulders, but whereas most controllers lay them out front-to-back — with one button in front and a bigger “trigger” button behind it — on the NES30 Pro they’re side by side.
This design is problematic because the buttons are both very small and very close together. For games that require the use of both, you have to hold the controller in a cramped, uncomfortable position, lest you hit the wrong button by accident. Much of the time, this isn’t even a problem. In Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, for instance, the R1 and R2 buttons perform the same function, so it doesn’t matter which one you hit. Other games don’t use them at all.
But for games that utilize both and necessitate quick reflexes, it doesn’t work well. I discovered this while playing a few multiplayer matches in Splatoon 2, where I would regularly throw a paint grenade when I meant to shoot my gun. I eventually became accustomed to the control scheme, but it never felt comfortable or natural. (I’d like to use this opportunity to say sorry to my Splatoon teammates for all of the matches I singlehandedly lost.)
SHOULD YOU BUY IT?
The NES30 Pro isn’t perfect, and it’s definitely not a replacement for the Switch Pro Controller. I wouldn’t recommend it as a way to make your trek through Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule any easier. But for certain situations it’s a great and inexpensive fit. It works well for local multiplayer games, most importantly Mario Kart, and it’s just about perfect for playing retro titles, whether you’re playing on the Switch or PC.