Review: Hori Pad Mini for Nintendo Switch

Another name for this controller, as used by e.g. Play-Asia, would be Hori Mini Controller, but let’s go what Hori themselves wrote on the box. Out of all third party controller manufacturers, Hori has been around the block at least since the Famicom days and have been making their Mini like of controllers for each generation of consoles. One of earliest examples I’ve managed to scrounge up was their Mini Commander controller. Hori has maintained their above-average quality compared to their competition rather well, with few points contention here and there, like how sometimes their D-Pads don’t stack up. That’s a slight spoiler.

Also, despite this being advertisd as a Switch controller, it uses a standard USB-A jack and does function in Windows as X-Input device without any troubles. It should be noted that this controller has no wireless option.

The Mini Pad for Switch comes in variety of flavours, but I ended up picking up red as I have enough blue in my life as is. The rest of the bunch have Nintendo licensed characters on them, and I’m guessing some people would find them more appealing. Design-wise, the Super Mario is extremely lacklustre. The licensed controllers do have slightly higher price point.

The first thing with this controller is how it feels, as it stands apart from from other third party controllers on the market. The surface is not glossy plastic on the front, but has this slight, almost soft texturing. It’s a very slight satin-like feel that makes the controller almost soft to touch. A very nice feeling that does give the controller a nice first impression, though in time that will polish off. The layout is nothing special, though the yellow chosen for the face buttons does make the button legend hard to see. The issue does not matter with the other colour options, though. Hori opted to use the same kind of stick Sony’s Dual Shock 4 uses, and thus have more travel. Going from frequently using Joycons to the Mini Controller, there is some learning before you get used to how high the left stick can go. There’s very little to say about any of the face buttons, outside their height. They’re extremely accurate and satisfying to press down. They are more raised than either Joycon or Dual Shock 4 buttons, which some may prefer. The menu buttons in the middle are your usual rubber, but sadly the legend on them is barely visible. The Turbo function, however, has its own label and a LED, and it works as well as you’d expect it to. A similar labelling could’ve been used for the rest of the buttons.

In terms of general size, the controller is smaller than Switch’s screen

 

The weakest part on the controller is the D-Pad. It’s the standard Nintendo style Cross-shaped D-Pad and functions about as well as you’d expect from it. Sure, hits the directions just fine, but there’s a slight need to pay more attention on the direction pressed. Diagonals are as easy to hit as with any standard Cross D-Pad. It is superior to modern Nintendo D-Pads, harkening closer back to the NES D-Pad in feel and size. It’s far from a deal breaker, but thus far the weakest point in the controller. I can’t fault it for not being a Saturn-style D-Pad, but that’s why we have Retrobit’s Saturn controller. The intention of this controller is to be a modern generic controller rather than specifically designed for retro gaming.

One thing I really dislike with this controller, visually speaking, is that the printing doesn’t extend to the top of the front shell. It looks cheap

The shoulder buttons are as mushy as any modern controller. You don’t get any satisfaction out of them, there is not click or the like. Their travel is rather significant and plunge amount 5mm to the bottom, but the overall feel is apt. The choice of not using any kind of trigger shape serves the controller’s overall depth, as it tries to keep itself as flat as it can. Their shape and size do feel nice and you can lay most of your finger on them just fine. This is one of the few controller yours truly doesn’t have any issue having first and middle fingers on all four shoulder buttons due to their size and close proximity. Due to the dimension, they end up feeling outright pleasant. Somehow holding and handling them makes we want to eat a KitKat, there’s a similar kind of positive energy to them. Despite them being mushy, they end up working almost better than most other shoulder buttons because of their overall design.

Bumpy

Despite being rather flat controller, Mini Pad does have the usual bumps to fit your palm. They’re nicely round and sit in your hands nicely. At first the geometry does feel a bit strange, but finding a relaxed position where you just let the controller rest in your hands rather than trying to grasp it makes it feel natural. The sculpt here is satisfying and fitting. Now let’s crack this baby open.

I have to mention that everything in this controller fits perfectly together.

Hori used a similar two-layer design in their Famicom Mini Commander. The PCB that’s on top on the photo is only for the sticks. Everything else is on the PCB at the bottom. This layout is very clean looking, but there also few bits that pop out straight away. You can also see that the shoulder buttons are just slotted. Because they don’t use springs, the mushy feeling comes from the contact rubber, hence the mushy feel. Also take note of all those labelled contact points across the PCB.

Also not that dangly bit above the chip? That keeps the rubbers in place on the other side.

Everything on this controller is handled by this one chip. What’s more interesting are those PROG CON points, which probably someone could find some use fore. More importantly, this controller seems to be an excellent candidate as a project controller, as the PCB lists contact points for all the buttons as well providing a nice round base to solder to. Even changing that USB cable seems to be easier job than expected, and throwing something like a high-quality braided cable might be a worthwhile idea.

The top PCB also carries clear labelling and contact points. This should allow a customiser to replace any of the sticks with direction buttons without worrying about incompatibilities. The two halves are also connected with a sturdy flat cable, something Hori also used in their Famicom Commander Mini. The front of the bottom PCB has nothing special to it, but Hori has maintained easy access to the contacts as well as has printed their labels there. The same also applies to the shoulder buttons, making this controller oh so sweet if anyone wants to just go town and make a custom one.

 

While there is no issues with the injection moulding of the controller, everything fits just perfectly with nothing popping in or out in a weird manner, I must mention how the action buttons do have small sprues still stuck on them from the moulding process. They don’t interact with anything, so they have no effect on the buttons’ functionality. With some other third party controllers there has been a need to shave off the excess, as the tolerances have been too tight. You wouldn’t know they left those snubs in if the controller hadn’t been opened. That applies to a lot of thing. If you even open your car’s doors, you’ll find that a lot of the stuff inside has peculiar ways of being attached and probably glue blobs left and right. What you don’t see, you don’t mind.

This controller is one of the better controllers in the Mini-line. It does suffer from the D-Pad being a secondary input option, and the flat Cross shape doesn’t benefit from this. The D-Pad is not a deal breaker. For whatever reason, all modern D-Pads are in the Just fine category, with notable exceptions here and there. The second hurdle is that the controller does take few minute to get used to because of its size. People with larger hands probably will find this controller somewhat uncomfortable and somewhat fiddly, but people with normal and smaller hands should find this controller just fine. This being a Mini controller, this is as intended.

I  find myself recommending Hori’s Mini Pad for Switch on the basis of it stacking up nicely even against the first party devices. It might not be as portable as the Joycons themselves, and necessitates some kind of dock or USB-A to USB-C converter, but even then its small size makes it very portable. It doesn’t feel cheap shit, even if it might look the part due to the overall visual design. Sturdy build, nicely responsive buttons and that ever so slight soft touch on the surface hit home just nicely. One of the better options out there, not necessarily the option to take depending on your own preferences.

Also thank you WordPress and your block editor for fucking up and deleting the contents of the initially published version of this post, I hate you too.

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