This modernized SNES controller is almost perfect – CNET

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Sean Buckley/CNET

When I first laid eyes on the 8Bitdo SNES30 Pro, I could almost feel my eyes light up. I couldn’t help it.

The controller seemed to be a mad fusion of the most iconic controller of my childhood and my favorite modern gamepad, the DualShock 4. Still, I steeled myself against my nostalgia. The updated controller promised dual-thumbsticks lifted straight from the PlayStation 4 gamepad, full gyro controls and even native support for the Nintendo Switch — but could the Super Nintendo’s ancient design really stand the test of time?

Actually, yes. It can. In fact, despite a few minor flaws, this wireless gamepad is almost a perfect alternative controller for Nintendo Switch owners — and it’s a pretty great PC, Android and iOS gamepad to boot. It costs $50, £40 or AU$60.

By borrowing the DNA of the original Super Nintendo controller, the SNES30 Pro stands on the same foundation of every great modern gamepad: four face buttons, a solid d-pad, two analog sticks and a pair of start and select buttons — flanked by trigger and shoulder buttons on each side.

Honestly, it sounds pretty standard — but that’s almost what makes it novel. Today’s modern PlayStation and Xbox gamepads are an amalgamation of iterative designs that all tie back to the Super Nintendo. You could argue that Sony created the original DualShock controller by adding two extra shoulder buttons, vibration and a pair of clickable thumb sticks to the SNES gamepad, while Microsoft‘s Xbox merely evolved the L2 and R2 buttons into functional triggers.

All 8Bitdo did was filter those innovations (plus motion controls) back into their original inspiration, creating a Super Nintendo-style controller with every bell, whistle and button you could possibly imagine.

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Sean Buckley/CNET

The end result is a piece of tactile nostalgia that somehow strikes a functional, comfortable balance between new and old. Its retro buttons are perfect for throwback games like Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap and Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment. Its dual thumbsticks lend it the nuanced control needed for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. Its motion sensors are deft enough to handle gyro controls in Splatoon 2.

When I needed a solid gamepad to play games on my NVIDIA Shield TV, the SNES30 Pro stepped in. It even played nice with my PC games library — working natively as an Xbox 360 controller via Microsoft’s XInput driver. There’s nothing like a classic d-pad for pulling off combos in fighting games like Injustice 2, and the controller’s PS4-style thumbsticks handled Wolfenstein: The New Order and Rocket League comfortably.

And yet.

The SNES30 Pro looks right. It feels right. It has enough buttons and inputs to handle anything you can throw at it, but little things hold it back from being perfect. It’s an incredibly versatile controller, but switching platforms can be a bit tedious. Want to use it on Android? You’ll have to hold B when you turn it on. In fact, there’s a different button combination for each platform, and I regularly forgot which combo to press to sync the controller to my PC instead of my tablet. Thankfully, there’s a cheat sheet on the back of the controller.

The gamepad’s classic design can cause a few hiccups, too. It’s perfect for the Nintendo Switch, but PC and mobile games swap the button layout from left to right. In other words, the B button on the SNES30 Pro will perform the function of the A button if you hook it up to your PC. If you switch between playing Nintendo and PC games a lot, it can get a bit confusing.

It also has some trouble with force feedback. Normal vibration features work fine, but the controllers motors simply lack the nuance to fill in for Nintendo’s HD rumble technology. That sounds stupid, I know — but I never noticed how subtle the Switch’s controller vibrations were until I played Super Mario Odyssey without HD Rumble.

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Sean Buckley/CNET

With Nintendo’s own controllers, you can feel faint vibrations pulsing behind almost every action. It lets the player feel the hum of a passing car or the bounce in Mario’s step as he jumps off of an enemy. On the SNES30 Pro, this feedback is just too strong, vigorously shaking the controller at the slightest action.

This lack of nuance isn’t necessarily the controller’s fault — its force feedback is no different than the industry standard rumble technology you’d find in PS4 or Xbox One gamepads — but it does change the force feedback experience from game to game. Games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 don’t seem to use HD rumble and, consequently, feel fine on the SNES30 Pro… but swimming through the ink in Splatoon 2 is a mess of overzealous vibration. Firmware updates have helped, but ultimately, it’s the fault of the internal motors: They just aren’t as subtle as the exclusive HD rumble technology of Nintendo’s own controllers.

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Fun fact: In Europe and Japan, Super Nintendo controllers had different colored buttons to those in the US.

Sean Buckley/CNET

Pressing L + R and Select will instantly toggle the controller’s force feedback on and off. This isn’t written in the manual that comes in the controller’s box or on the cheat sheet on the back of the gamepad. It’s not a deal breaker, but learning the trick is essential for some Nintendo Switch games.

If you can put those misgivings aside, however, the SNES30 Pro is a fantastic little controller. It’s small enough to fit comfortably in my work backpack, yet it has a full layout capable of playing almost anything. It’s a great native Nintendo Switch controller (and even charges with USB-C), but it also works with my Android TV device, my phone and my PC. It does everything I need and, on top of it all, it looks and feels just like one of my favorite gamepads of all time.

The SNES30 Pro isn’t perfect, but it’s a pretty great option for folks looking for a spare gamepad — particularly Nintendo Switch owners who don’t want to shell out $70, £60 or AU$90 for Nintendo’s official Pro Controller. If you need to feed your nostalgia and can live without HD rumble, this might be the controller for you.

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