With retro-games finding themselves still in demand and intriguing consoles like the NES and SNES Classic Minis getting released, there is always the big question mark when it comes to controllers. Gaming has been filled with great, forgettable, and horribly awkward–glaring at you N64–controllers; and as gamers, we get attached to them. In the modern era, we are lucky to have an abundance of 3rd party options with various features, but some of us go into a withdrawal when we even think about putting down our favorite gamepads for good.
8bitdo, a really neat 3rd party (with multiple products outside of their controllers) have been making some of the best retro-pads, and one of my personal favorites, the "N30 Pro", over the last few years. Though they did have a booth at the 2017 E3 conference, these guys are still flying a bit under the radar.
I have only owned one 8bitdo controller as well as trying a buddies gamepad; however, there is a lot to get excited about when simply scrolling through the options on their site. They have brought back the look of the classic NES, SNES, and Wii classic controllers.
8bitdo is a Hong Kong based company that has definitely developed a cult following in the last couple years. With a plethora of choices revolving around appearance, features, and compatibility, they truly have an affordable retro-controller for everyone to fall in love with.
Color & Shape
The color schemes, like the NES black and gray with red buttons, or the SNES, light grey and black with purple buttons are both available. Controllers come with different color schemes as well, and on top of that, the controllers come in both the classic rounded gamepad shape or square-pad option. Overall they have about 11 different models that all look slightly different and house some different aesthetics and features.
If that wasn't cool enough, my 8bitdo controller has flashing lights on the sides that indicate whether the controller is on, searching for a connection, or is low on battery. They are as modern as they are retro.
Obviously, the old NES and SNES gamepads lacked analog sticks, and for players that want a controller as old school as possible, 8bitdo has multiple pads for sale that look almost identical to the old Nintendo controllers. On the flip side, if you want to use your gamepad to play more modern games (which most probably do) there are really neat retro controllers that have two analog sticks and LR buttons. My controller has the NES colors, SNES shape, and comes with all the bells and whistles of a modern controller–how about that.
Bluetooth and Wireless
One of the biggest complaints about the NES Classic Mini controller was that the cord was too short, and indeed, it was a travesty; seriously Nintendo? Here to save the day again are the 8bitdo gamepads. 8Bitdo controllers are plugged in via USB cords and can be played that way, but they have a facile Bluetooth wireless system that is initiated by just pressing and holding the wireless button on the bottom of the pad. The light will start flashing indicating that the controller is currently searching for a connection, so you don't need to sit a few inches from your computer screen or huddle around your TV.
Not all models have the Bluetooth feature, so make sure to look at your model of interest before buying.
The 8bitdo controllers boast an impressive compatibility list. They have made controllers for both the NES and SNES Classic Minis, and some of their controllers are now compatible with the Nintendo Switch.
In general, the gamepads are compatible with Macs and Windows computers, and they can be used for almost any emulator. I have used my controller with multiple emulators, even with more modern emulators like PS2 and had no problems whatsoever.
Many of the controllers are also compatible with other devices such as the Wii/Wii U, PlayStation 3, Steam, and Raspberry Pi units. I can affirm that 8bitdo controllers are a top-tier choice for enjoying a raspberry pi. Make sure to check the compatibility of your specific controller of interest on the website.
If interested, some of 8bitdo's controllers have a purchase or pre-order link from their website. Their website does list their distributors, though they can also easily be purchased on Amazon or eBay. Most controllers run around the $25-$30 price range.
The website does a great job of highlighting each controllers features, compatibility list, and price-point, so be sure to browse for more information.
Pros and cons
I can't speak for every controller, but for me, the pros are basically how easy they are to use, the modern features, and how many devices they are compatible with. They are also very compact, and the thinness/lightness of the controllers makes them ideal for traveling. They are extremely well made, and the analog sticks work very well for how small the controller is.
They connect really well with the newer Raspberry Pi Models that have innate Bluetooth, and it does retain some of that magical feeling of using an NES/SNES controller.
On the flip side, I definitely have to admit that the controllers feel small in my hands. When I first used it, it took some getting used to, and my hands felt a bit too big and clunky, but after an hour or so, I really felt at home with it and had no more issues with the size. The L1/L2, R1/R2 buttons are side by side rather than the flipper and trigger most gamers are now accustomed to. This also takes some getting used to and can affect a game that requires very fast decision making and maneuvers.
- Bluetooth and wireless
- Aesthetics are great
- Buttons are easy to press, don't stick, and are not noisy
- Can use it from anything from my Android phone to my Raspberry Pi
- Feels a bit small in my big hands
- L1/L2 and R1/R2 Buttons are side-by-side
8bitdo makes some of the highest quality and slickest retro-controllers on the market. There are plenty of choices, and the features cater to gamers of all breadths and are compatible with a ton of different devices. The Bluetooth works seamlessly, and the controllers are fun to show off. I love the iconic NES look and feel of my controller.
The controller is small, and it's probably not ideal for games like hardcore FPS, but the controller is designed more for retro-games anyway. Though it can play modern games, I definitely find it better suited for old-school titles and games that don't require as much 3D action.
With a price-point sitting around $30 for a brand new controller, these are a fantastic choice for gamers looking for a portable, durable, and fully-loaded retro-pad. I especially recommend it if you are using a Raspberry Pi. With the holiday season approaching, this would make an awesome gift to any friend who appreciates classic gaming.