“Everything old is new again.”
Foremost on this post’s agenda, I’m happy to be able to thank my new blogging friend, Jay Borenstein aka Jeowulf of nerdspeaker.com. Not only is Jeowulf a writer adept and an amiable individual, but he also tipped me off to a new update for functionality regarding the controller I’m reviewing today. Thanks, buddy!
And now for story time. After scouring retailers and the internet, at last I secured my very own NES Classic. It was the shopping equivalent of climbing Mt. Doom. But alas! The controller cord for the thing is indeed notoriously short. I needed something more. I did some research a while back and it became increasingly clear that the wireless retro controllers of choice are those produced by 8bitdo.
8bitdo sells a range of Bluetooth & USB controllers styled after various vintage classics. There are two controllers (regular and Pro) influenced by the NES and the Famicom, two modeled after the Super Nintendo, the Zero model which resembles a Wii console, and an N64 controller, in addition to various receivers compatible with older consoles. They even sell a very awesome looking Retro Cube Speaker. Their devices are currently compatible with Windows, Android, iOS, Mac, Steam, and future functionality will include the Wii/Wii U and PS3. The most recent firmware update allows you to use their wireless Bluetooth controller with… the Nintendo Switch!
So here’s the thing: I bought the controller for use with the NES Classic without even realizing that I was buying a bonus controller for my Switch. Awesome. Below are my organized thoughts on the controller I purchased, the NES30. I made a boo-boo and bought the controller without a bundled adapter for the NES Classic but I’m glad I get to use it with the Switch while I’m waiting on purchasing the adapter.
1. Learning Curve and Poor Instructions
Let me just get the one negative thing out of the way first. The NES30 comes with a fold-out pamphlet manual with sparse instructions. There’s an emphasis on iconography and info-at-a-glance, but I found myself having to re-read everything more than once just to figure out how to use the device. The controller doesn’t have a traditional ON/OFF switch and it cycles through different modes for connectivity, indicated via two flashing LEDs on the top of the controller, but it took me a little while to get accustomed to these and it seemed more trial and error rather than engaging with the manual’s actual material. Beyond that, I had to dig up some helpful YouTube how-to’s in order to figure out how to update the controller’s firmware properly. I fully recognize that I’m not the smartest nail in the coffin when it comes to this sort of thing, computer techy stuff, but I’m also not the dullest crayon in the box, either. Maybe there could’ve been easier ways to present and explain how this very versatile and awesome device worked, from start up to shut down.
2. Retro Aesthetics
The NES30 is the same size and seems to be roughly the same weight as the original NES controller. The biggest difference would be the A, B, Y, and X instead of the old A and B only. There are also L and R shoulder buttons. Combinations of these buttons such as holding Start+Y allow you to switch to different modes, features, and connections. For example, with the Switch, you can access a HOME input by pressing Down+Select. More importantly, they feel “real” when pressing them. They’re substantial buttons and not merely the products of a cheap knock-off clone device from Taiwan. I think it’s pertinent to add that my kid brother, who didn’t grow up with the NES, felt the NES controller is pretty comfortable considering it’s just one big rectangle.
3. The D-Pad
This is the main reason I was so excited to use the NES30 with the Switch. I don’t own a Pro Controller because paying $70 for the thing is just beyond my suspension of disbelief right now. However, don’t think for a second that I don’t want a Pro Con for my Switch. That’s mostly for the D-Pad. Infamously, the Joy Cons have some issues and among them are their lack of a traditional D-Pad, the first time since Nintendo hasn’t included their own revolutionary, cross-shaped invention in one of their consoles. It’s absence has left a hole in the experience. As cool as the Joy Cons are, and they are very cool, there are a number of games where I wanted that old D-Pad for better precision and thumb-sliding. Super Bomberman R, ACA NeoGeo Metal Slug, Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove, Kamiko, Blast Master Zero… I would’ve loved to play through these games with a proper D-Pad. Now I can and any future side-scrollers or retro-styled indie games are definitely going to make use of the NES30. With so few buttons, the NES30 can’t be a good choice for truly modern games but there are many games that it’d pair with perfectly.
4. Zero Lag
This is what separates the champs from the poseurs. A lot of wireless controllers are spiffy looking or boast great versatility and functionality, but they’re garbage if there’s any kind of lag involved. This is especially true when playing the classics. Retro games demand peak timing and skill to play, and maybe you can imagine the effect a little lag would have on a game like Mega Man II or Punch-Out!!. Lag and disconnecting is what apparently ruined the Sega Genesis Classic Game Console and made it entirely unpalatable to me. None of that seems to be a problem with the NES30. Obviously I haven’t tried every one of their controllers, but in reading so many reviews for their devices before deciding to buy one for myself, a lack of lag is one of their products’ most praised features.
Being compatible with so many different platforms is a great feature and it’s awesome that they’re planning to expand that roster. I was surprised and delighted that they just expanded compatibility to include the Switch. Some of my oldest controllers are really starting to break down, namely my NES and SNES controllers. After all these decades, I may just have to pick up additional adapters to use the NES30 with them.
I was pretty impressed with the attention to detail that went into the packaging alone. It’s not a huge make-it or break-it feature when buying hardware but it’s a nice dose of professionalism that makes the whole purchase seem more valuable. When it arrived in the mail, I was taken aback at how robust the box felt and when it slid it out of its sheath and opened it to first discover that controller sitting neatly in its black foam casing, I instantly thought of a wedding ring couched in velvet. It’s undeniably hipsterish with the recycled-aesthetic of the plain paper mini-boxes. I also love how the whole box fit everything together so economically.
7. Great Price Point
The NES30 only set me back $35. Compare that to $70 I’d have to spend on a separate Pro Controller and there’s really no comparison. I can’t play every game on the Switch with the NES30 but with it being a hybrid console so heavily focused on indie and retro gaming, there’s plenty for me to use the device with. And that’s just barely scratching the surface of this wireless controller’s capabilities.
I’m immensely glad I bought it. The NES30 is a great alternative to the Pro Con for Switch owners and its versatility for gamers across multiple platforms is a welcome, ever-expanding addition. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some retro gaming to take care of. As always, thanks for reading.
-The Well-Red Mage