Review: Retrobit Sega Saturn style bluetooth controller

Nowadays it’s become somewhat hard to find new controllers for your old hardware. You mostly have options from third party producers, who may or may not have the best quality to offer. For example, you can find NES controllers that look just like the original, but then the buttons have a terrible feeling under the thumb, Start and Select are hard plastic instead of soft rubber and the contact rubbers underneath are mostly trash. It’s surprising how much a controller’s responsiveness and tactile feeling comes from how good the contact rubbers are, how well they spring up, what’s their depth and how much pressure they require to be pressed down. You can get proper molds from existing controllers just fine, or if a company still has the originals, they can use those. Nowadays it is easy to model the controller in a CAD program and mill it out, though even that costs some money. Still, faster than creating a whole new product design, and with something relatively simple like the NES controller, the costs probably are not all that high.

It’s a tall order to ask a modern replication of an older controller feel and function the same. Some materials may have been changed, some components may not even be in production anymore, things like that. However, that should be the minimum level a replication controller should be like, then have some additional bells and whistles like wireless functionality, RGB lights and the like. The Retrobit Saturn controller gets the Saturn experience almost right. It runs just short in few areas, and these areas are probably something they can’t help too much.

As a side note, the photos in this review will be updated at a later date for better ones. Embarrassingly I’ve misplaced my Nikon’s battery charger, and you’ll have to wait until I’ve found it, or my travel charger has arrived.

If you’re wondering why my copy is transparent blue, it was the cheapest option out there. At first it comes as a bit gaudy with the hard plastic casing and such, which just wants to be scratched and cracked. It’s still a neat case, easy way to keep track on your two dongles, one basic USB and for Saturn. It’d be a surprise if a controller like this would make the sync process somehow obtuse, but nothing special to mention here, except the small sync buttons on the dongles feel extremely cheap and something that could break.

Overall, the controller is seemingly the same size as the original Saturn S controller, the one that really matters. The first Saturn controller is a slight monstrosity with really uncomfortable looking D-Pad, but I’d like to get my hands on one still for reviewing purposes. Of course, the 3D Pad was a thing, but mostly good only for Nights. It feels like a Saturn controller, which always felt like built from cheap plastic, hollow and clattered when shaken. Retrobit has managed to replicate all these, thought the battery adds ever so slightly more weight. It’s weird to call this controller feeling like cheap shit, because that’s part of Sega’s original design and engineering. It just works as intended. Even the face buttons moving about and making that rattly noise is part of the design. It doesn’t feel expensive or deluxe grade, it feels like something that’s made to fulfill its task.

Even the info labels are at the same spot.

I have to confess something though; you haven’t been looking at pure Retrobit Saturn Controller here. Instead, you’ve been looking at a slight hybrid.

Now the first one who tells me I should’ve put the rubber on its right spot above the face buttons rather than leave it off-center and crooked doesn’t get any cookies. Retrobit uses some kind of coloured rubbers, in my case blue, because blue case.

Whilst on the surface Retrobit’s controller looks like Sega’s original, the function is not there. The up diagonals are slightly too touchy and easy to push. C-Button, the most rightmost button on the lower row on the controller, got constantly stuck. There are three possibilities why this happens; the button itself is intended height, the contact rubber underneath allows the button to plunge too low, or the shells have just enough height difference that the button plunges too low. It may be a combination of these three. After quick measurements, the buttons themselves seem to be more or less accurate replications, so the problem must be on the rubbers, as tightening the screws at the back didn’t work.

This gave me an idea to try out; change D-Pad and rubbers from an old Saturn controller to this Retrobit one, as the shells are effectively the same with two extra slots. This, to my surprise, didn’t just fix the D-Pad problem I was having with the up-diagonals, but also tightened the button feeling, responsiveness and no buttons were getting stuck. It’s probable that some tolerances with the new parts are just slightly off, which is probably explained by them being manufactured nowadays. Something is a bit off, and throwing in older parts somehow fixes this. This isn’t an issue with using old parts per se, as I compared to a brand new Saturn S controller, which I really should’ve used in these photos and not the one I used as my daily driver with Saturn itself.

One of the reasons Saturn controller is well praised is because of its six-button setup and the D-Pad. The D-Pad in itself is the best one any of the major companies have produced to this day. This is a combination of three elements; Disc shaped top layer, the white cross-shape underneath and the cavities both parts sit in. With a good underlying rubber, this setup is simply accurate and easy to use. It has the benefits of a round D-Pad in that it is easy to roll your thumb around and its softer corners are godsend in longer gaming sessions, but at the same time the clear cross-shape beneath makes all the eight cardinal input directions stand out as individuals. The main difference between Sega’s and Retrobit’s design is that while Sega’s design holds itself together with sheer force of friction, which isn’t a whole lot but enough, Retrobit’s parts are lose enough to necessitate a screw. Well, this lead me to change the D-Pad as well. This leads me to wonder if the main reason the controller has some issues are tolerances, things are just that sub-millimeter amount too loose.

Saturn original underneath, the Retrobit above

The most major difference in the controller, outside it being wireless, is the shoulder buttons. They simply are different. Sega’s controller has a button that has a very short throw distance, it feels like it clicks down less than millimeter down. You can brush the button and it clicks instantly. It’s pretty damn great how it feels. It’s precise. Retrobit didn’t use the same part for whatever reason, be it that the part doesn’t exist anymore or they used a button that was more readily available. The difference isn’t just in the width of the button, but also that it requires more pressure to press down, its click is far mushier and has notably farther plunge. In comparison, Retrobit controller’s shoulder buttons feel less responsive. In action, like in Street Fighter Alpha 2, I did notice how some timings were off simply because my muscles memory. While this seems like a minor problem, it is a problem in a spot that lives and dies in millimeters. That sharp click is also much more pleasant to the ear.

I can’t help but to recommend the Retrobit Saturn controller. Overall, it is an almost exact replica of Sega’s famous Saturn S controller. The diagonals and C-Button sticking might be issues just with my copy, and I haven’t read anyone else having these issues. I find it stupid that changing the the D-Pad and the rubbers from an older controller makes Retrobit’s controller is almost a perfect replica outside those issues, with the shoulder buttons being the only true gripe. Even that is more an issue of getting used to, though that can be modded with desoldered buttons from the Sega controllers. Sure, it lacks the second stick, but that’s now what this controller was designed to have. It’s best for games that don’t need a stick and should be one of your top considerations for emulation and 2D gaming.

Review; Switch Joycons

Two reviews, in the same month? That’s what I call Lack of proper topics but mainly because the Joycons themselves are rather interesting piece of hardware once you get around how they’re spun around.


Why grey? Because I intend to change the shells on the controllers and the grey one cost me twenty eurobucks less

The JoyCons are essentially Wiimote 2.0. When attached to the main unit/screen, it becomes the second most unwieldiest portable console after the Lynx. It’s general shapes follows Sony’s handhelds and the Wii U pad quote closely, but at this points its more a necessity of ergonomics than lack of ideas. After all, pretty much all controllers follow the same core design nowadays rather than having widely different takes.

Of course, the main gimmick the JoyCons have is the ability to detached them and use them in tandem or individually. This is very neat, but at the same time these controllers are small by necessity. While slightly wider than the Hori Commander Mini I reviewed on the Famicom, everything else is in smaller scale. When used as single controller, you have access to the stick, four face buttons, two “shoulder” buttons L and LZ, and “top” buttons SL and SR. You can see these on the railing. Depending on the controller, you have Home or Capture button, and Plus and Minus (essentially glorified Start buttons.) The button that exist as shoulder buttons when JoyCons are attached to the main unit or grip rest awkwardly near your palm. The ergonomics are also lacking, but that comes with the size.

The most important part with the shoulder button there is that there is no sharp corners or danger for you finger to be pressed between the shell and the button. This is done by giving the button very short travel. Also, notice how the release button is tucked away into a corner

The sticks aren’t exactly the best, and it could use some some of the clickiness NeoGeo Pocket has. They lack any sort of tactile feel, despite the cutouts on the rubber. You simply don’t feel it. It has very short travel distance, which means control with tension becomes a must with certain games that require extensive stick control.

As the controllers have to work both as single entities and in tandem, the placement for the action buttons are sacrificed. They’re very much in the middle of the controller, which works when in tandem, but in single mode they’re just too far from the left edge, though larger hands could probably find this comfortable distance. This is also the reason why there’s no D-Pad on the Switch; everything has to do dual task, and these facebuttons, that use N64 controller’s C-Stick directions, work as D-Pad when used in tandem. It’s awkward and lacks the same smooth use as with normal D-Pad, and sadly its serviceable by a hair. Their dimensions and placement has been worked to its optimum. The buttons themselves are of better Nintendo standard, where the travel is pretty spot on, perfectly raised above the level and have nice tactile feedback.

It must be said that accessing the SL and SR buttons are surprisingly accessible, as index fingers seem to naturally hit their place. On themselves, they’re a bit too flat to use properly, but that’s why Nintendo gave us the wrist attachment people seem to put the wrong way constantly.

Plus and Minus are tucked away in the corner nicely so you don’t hit them, but whatever mode of control you use, they’re awkward to use. Think of Xbox’s Duke’s black and white buttons and you get somewhat similar idea.

 The wrist attachment slide the opposite way you slide the controller into the main unit, corner symbol meeting corner symbol. This adds some heft to a JoyCon and makes it somewhat nicer to hold in your hands, but its main use really is to make the SR and SL buttons more accessible with the larger pass-through buttons.

While you can use JoyCons in tandem separately like with the WiiMote and its nunchuck, Nintendo shipped the console with the grip attachment. It’s not exactly the best however. It’s like they wanted everything to stay straight and have the JoyCons sit like they sit on the main unit. This means whenever you use this, accessing the left face buttons for D-Pad use and the right stick requires either over-extending your thumb downwards or move the whole whole on the handles. Supposedly, the prototype was in an angle to give it more ergonomic shape, but for whatever reason this was dropped. There are many custom attachments on eBay that fix this and make this the most viable option to use the JoyCons in tandem. It would seem that the JoyCons will see rather large amount of optional accessories and attachments down the line. Here’s hoping Hori will do some good ones in the future, like the upcoming D-Padded JoyCon.

So, bottom line? The JoyCons are not the best controllers out there. The whole thing of them working as a single unit or in tandem forces just enough compromises to make all of them feel somewhat awkward. As usual, once you get used to them, muscle memory handles moving your hand up and down as needed. If there had been some concessions for functionality over visual design, these would have been winners as first hybrid console controllers. As they are now, JoyCons do their job, but the alternatives are probably better.

I must admit that the JoyCons have one thing over all other controllers; Switch has the most satisfying feel of clicks and clacks whenever you are attaching them to anything.

Review of the Month: Retro Fighters’ Brawler 64 controller

The stock three-pronged Nintendo 64 controller is a peculiarity, to say the least. Whatever Nintendo’s approach was with it, be it designed solely to play Super Mario 64 or just try to separate itself from the rest of the controller crowd, it has ended up as rather infamous. To cut to the chase, it’s not very good as a general controller, and its shape doesn’t exactly fit the hand as intended.

Enter Retro Fighters’ Brawler 64 controller, which was Kickstarted a while back, to which I threw some money at just for this review. Intended to be competent, modern replacement for the stock N64 controller, the Brawl 64 opts for the now-standard pad design and placements, while also carrying the action button setup from the stock N64 controller. There is a follow-up campaign coming up with updated firmware and hardware for translucent shells

Probably needless to say that the controller was tested on real hardware

Continue reading “Review of the Month: Retro Fighters’ Brawler 64 controller”

Review: Hori Fighting Commander 3 PRO PlayStation 3 controller

Goddammit I hate to write that name. Why couldn’t it be called HORI Fight Pad 3?

This review comes out of necessity. There’s zero proper reviews on this controller outside OMGF B3S7 CONTROLLAR 4EVAH or the like. I’ve supported HORI’s products for a long time due their good build quality and decent pricing. At times they do something that they intent to be new and awesome, and at times they fail at making such a product.

I’m ditching FC3P pad against two other products; one of the cheapest arcade sticks out there (also made by HORI) and the Sega Saturn controller. If FC3P is as good as pretty much everybody on the Internet says, then it should come out as at least as good as the Saturn pad. I’ll be frank from the get go; this controller won’t replace your arcade stick, but we’ll see if it is a good alternative.

So let’s check what this little beast has going on.
The controller is unique in sense that it’s asymetrical. I know some people are going to miss the second handle, but I don’t. It gives a nice grip while allowing you to “piano” the face buttons, but also mimics the Saturn controller’s edges with excessive design. It’s not uncomfortable at all, but takes some time to get to. The placing of the buttons in this controller however rise a question which I’ll return later.

Turnable D-Pad, six-button layout, turbo mode, and changeable D-pad status. Also, four NORMAL shoulder buttons and not the triggery kind? Brilliant!

Let’s with functions starting from left to right. The D-pad can be turned from it’s upright position max. 20 degrees clockwise. In the image I’ve turned it about 9 degrees. The D-pad is without a doubt the best in the generation, as behind the controller you find a lock mechanism that decides how tight or loose it is. While the people who haven’t played a lot with the D-Pad won’t notice a significant changes with this, but personally I noticed that certain moves were easier to pull off when the D-Pad doesn’t go all bonkers. I’m looking at you, Dreamcast controller.

Finding the sweetspot for the angle is a tricky business. You open the lock with the wheel beneath the D-Pad, which feels somewhat mushy. Doesn’t affect the gameplay thou. It’s much easier to throw quarter-circles and half-circles when the D-Pad in proper position. The D-Pad itself is very good with nice concave shape, which allows your thumb to rest in there and do pretty much whatever you want with it. The surface is slightly textured which I like, and has a soft touched as opposed to your standard PS3 controller.

When compared to the Saturn controller the D-pad still feels a bit harsh. While the Saturn controller makes that small sound whenever one of the main directions is hit, FC3P stays silent. In general, you have to be more aware what direction you’re inputting with the FC3P. The disc shape of the Saturn controller also allows slightly better control over the simple D-Pad shape, as the whole area of thumb is there. Same amount of force goes for both. It’s hard to top the Saturn controller in general, and FC3P comes close, but these minor complaints puts it slightly lower in the Best D-Pad scale. However, seeing this is the best D-Pad since N64, there’s little to complain overall.

Disclaimer; I know pitching any controller against Sega Saturn controller is unfair as hell

When compared to an arcade stick, this D-Pad loses, at least when it comes to fighting games. Arcade stick is always better than a D-Pad.

Select, PS Home button and Start do what they should. There’s nothing to write about them. However, the DP-LS-RS dipswitch switch what the D-Pad really is. DP for D-Pad, LS for Left Stick and RS for Right Stick. This makes it possible to use with some games that don’t really support D-Pad or Sticks.

The Turbo function is what you’d expect. Press Turbo while pressing the buttons you want to be repeated. Adjust the speed with the dipswitch. Clean and cut, no worries here.

The shoulder buttons are an interesting entity, not because they’re anything special, but that there’s a switch that changed L and R buttons the other way around. The switch is located at the top of the controller and not visible in the pictures. The shoulder buttons are awesome because they’re basic and extremely working. For some reason I actually find myself using and enjoying them unlike with normal PS3 or 360 controller.

Now, the six buttons. Hooboy.
HORI decided to put the six buttons. The angle the buttons are to each other mimics extremely Saturn controller’s, but the buttons are slightly bigger, closer to each other. The shape and spacing gives an illusion of more room, but it really isn’t so. When holding it like a normal control the Square and Cross buttons feels slightly too far away, tiring your hand without a proper reason. With four buttons fighter like The King of Fighters XIII you can assign the attacks to the closest buttons to your hand, but there’s no real reason to look the fact that spacing is a bit bad. People with larger hands (ie. pretty much everybody beside the ladies) will find the spacing pretty comfortable. Actually, the spacing is explained by the fact that this controller was made for the US market in mind.

However, while holding the controller in your lap for piano play, the controller suddenly gets cramped and too small. It’s completely possible to play all the matches with this position, but it’ll take some time. At least the buttons are extremely awesome for this and offers far better controls and tactile feeling than any other control pad. If we put the arcade controller next to the piano method, we can see why arcade controllers are as large as they are; they offer more freedom of movement and space the buttons clearly and alongside the hand’s curve. The buttons are bigger and at better reach. With FC3P your hand is in a small slump while with arcade controller your hand basically rests on the buttons.

All in all, the tactile feeling in the buttons is as good as with the Saturn controller after some time getting used to them. However, the shape and no real distinction of what button is what lessens the usability. With Saturn the top row is different from the lower, and with the arcade controller you just know because arcade controllers. It also seems that these buttons are one-level pressure sensitive only, and some games didn’t even go past the title screen when tested on them, namely the newer 2D Bloodrayne. Damn, this controller would’ve been awesome for 2D games, but now the buttons won’t even make the game start.

Disclaimer; I know this arcade controller has shit buttons

Is the controller worth it?
If you do not have an arcade stick for your PS3 (like me) then this is an option. It offers far superior control over moves and methods than what a normal PS3 controller can’t offer, but it’s design has few minor flaws that limit its final grade. The biggest setback outside fighting games is that it literally doesn’t work with all games because of the action buttons. I’d believe this to be the foremost flaw in the design, but it has to be overlooked slightly because this is a fighting game controller specifically. You won’t be able to play games that need dual sticks to function either, but hey, most of them are pure concentrated subparity as it is so no losses there.

The idea in this controller is there, and the build quality and long USB cable do offer a fresh change. By all accounts this is indeed a decent controller. It won’t replace your arcade stick, but at least in fighting games this is the better game pad.

But y’know what’s the most single best thing in this controller? It works with Windows 7 (at least). Just plug it in and enjoy.