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.

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 of the Month; 8Bitdo NES30 controller [Updated 2.11.2014]

8Bitdo NES30 controller is pretty neat, first of all. The controller was made in celebration for the 30th anniversary of good old FAMICOM and to the same extent, the NES, was designed and built to replicate the core of the NES controller with a bit more modern twist. However, there are things that keep this controller from being a top notch product. The previous post is a preface for this review, so you might want to give that a look as well.

Appearance

At the first glance, the only thing that separates NES30 from the actual NES controller is the four action buttons and the shoulder buttons. Colours, dimensions and all those are very close to the original. Even the slight elevation of the gray plastic from the black textured one is faithfully replicated, even the overall colours are the same. Well, almost. The red used in START and SELECT are a hue too dark. The NES controller has brighter red that stands out much clearer despite the difference being so small. It’s not like you’ll be looking at the controller during gameplay all that much, the NES controller’s overall shape is ingrained to the mind of pop-culture. To my eye, the gray used the bars splitting the controller in the middle have ever so slight variation in the hue, but this may be difference in the ages of the controllers.

Like two berries from different parents
Like two berries from different parents

In addition to the usual NES fare, there are obvious deviations. Outside the buttons include an X-shell, that is attached to the back of the controller and adds few millimetres of thickness to the controller, which in hand ergonomics is pretty damn important. You can actually put the shell on a NES controller and add some heft to it. It’s not a perfect fit, because the screw holes of the 30NES in the back are not 1:1 with NES controller. That, the NES controller lacks the locking spots. This is a point that was missed, as the shell addition adds to the controller handling overall. The shell in itself has rather lacklustre painting, as the black X does not accurately fill the moulds. This isn’t a big deal in of itself because you won’t be looking at it too much, but in otherwise in a product that has more or less perfectly accurate painting, this strikes extremely odd and unfitting. Also, because of the engravings are in the buttons, be prepared to clean them occasionally as they will start gathering dead skin matter. This is unhygienic and could have been prevented very easily. Yours truly will modify the engravings with some black epoxy paste to fill them in.

All in all, X-Shell doesn't add much at first impression
All in all, X-Shell doesn’t add much at first impression

Despite following the NES characteristics to a large extent, the USB socket is in the middle of the controller rather than placed off-centre to the left. While one could argue that this was made so that the cord wouldn’t meddle with the L-button, but after testing the shell with the NES controller, there would have been none. The NES30 lacks the small notches the NES controller has on the back and front the cord, which is a minor detail. However, in a product like this minor details matter.

The two LEDs are useful, as long as you read the manual what they signify. They are your only way to determine in what mode the controller is in. Not much to say about them, but green and blue were good choices. They stand out from the controller well enough and don’t shine through the plastic. However, as the shell is very close to them, you can see the lights on it, but as said you won’t be looking at the controller too much.

The action buttons looks pretty good, overall speaking. How the gray plus shape has been added to the controller to fit the buttons reflects how the buttons on the NES controller were inside a gray square. An option would have been to left the centre black, but that up to personal taste whether or not this would have been a better choice. However, the button names are engraved into the buttons themselves and they just vanish in there. You could see the buttons clearly on the NES controller as the AB were printed on the controller next to the buttons. This is a deviation in NES30 strikes odd to me. If nothing else, the engravings should’ve been another colour to bring the letters up more. That, or print the letters on the controller.

IMG_1908
Everything as packed in these lousy shots. If anyone wants to see how the buttons looks with black in them, drop a comment

The shoulder buttons are placed much like on the SNES controller and facilitate surprisingly small footprint on the controller despite their looks. The gray used in the shoulder buttons is new, and the USB cord bundle with the NES30 shared the same gray. The shoulder buttons too have engraved L and R in them, which is business as usual. These will get a black modding as well.

The back to the NES 30 echoes NES controller's aesthetics, but the engraved 8Bitdo looks tacky
The back to the NES 30 echoes NES controller’s aesthetics, but the engraved 8Bitdo looks tacky

The minor deviations are mostly in appearance, but the impression NES30 gives out is slightly too far removed from the NES controller it imitates.

Connectivity

As a Bluetooth controller, it works pretty much like other of its kind. However, it can be connected to the Wii, and the connection is made by pressing Start and Y together with the Wii acceptance button. The LEDs show to what it is connected to, and overall functions pretty much as expected.

During play

Now here’s the meat of the controller. Screw how the controller looks for now, all that matters is how it functions and plays out. NES and SNES games where used as control points, the likes of Mega Man X and X2, Battletoads and few others, to compare how NES30 stands against both NES and SNES controllers.

Because of the X-Shell adds more area to the controller, it makes the NES30 fit larger hands slightly better. I have no means large hands, but I did find the shell making the controller more comfortable to hold in your hands. Using the shell with the NES controller adds similar effect. Without the shell, the NES30 sits in your hand like the standard NES controller. Whether or not you like that is up to you. Personally, I find the NES controller extremely nice fit to my hands due to its simple shape and light weight. I have never found any corner in the controller sharp, and despite my hands being far larger than when I actively played my NES the size is still fine. After finding a good position to hold the controller in, you’ll forget its existence pretty soon, unlike with modern controller that keep reminding of themselves with their unique solutions in ergonomics.

The D-Pad

Despite the NES30 has the exact same D-Pad as the NES from outer appearance, it functions are not in the same league. The NES controller I used responds to directions accurately and it allows pixel perfect gameplay whenever needed. The NES30 does not. This is apparent in stages that require high performance gameplay with quick reflexes and accurate motions. For example, on the NES I am able to oneshot Turbo Tunnel without problems. I’ve just learned every nook and cranny the stage has to the point my muscle memory works according to the musical cues. Trying the same stage with the NES30 proved difficult simply because the D-Pad did not take directions properly, or was too sensitive for them. Pressing Up caused the ‘Toad to move forwards as well, screwing timings and multiple deaths. Furthermore, Tetris showed that the D-Pad had a lot of troubles moving the pieces as intended. It is rather hard, if not impossible, to have pixel perfect movement with the NES30. You can forget finely tuned gameplay with this one.

However, games that do not require all that accurate execution, like Mega Man X and X2, fair much better. This is because of the game design utilising more block per screen design rather than pin-point pixel accurate gameplay.

It should be noted that Battletoads was running on an emulator. Multiple different emulators were used to see if the directional input problem really was in the controller itself. When the NES30 was tested on Shooting games PC, like Raiden Legacy and Blue Wish Resurrection, there was nothing to complain about. The D-Pad had no troubles whatsoever. The player ships controlled perfectly and it was possible to pixel perfect gracing.

For platforming, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dream and La-Mulana were utilised. These two games represent the loose-accurate spectrum of gameplay. Giana Sisters is not too accurate where the player is and has overall good hit detection, thus allowing nicely relaxed gameplay whereas La-Mulana has very strict but highly accurate controls akin to classic Castlevania. Neither game showed any problems with the NES30, despite NES30 does not facilitate enough buttons for all the buttons La-Mulana expects you to have at your disposal, and the standard layout is not all that great. It also takes time to get used La-Mulana’s controls with NES30, but that may be because I’ve used to play the game with Hori’s fighting controller I reviewed previously. In Giana Sisters the controller has more than enough buttons to choose from and allows sort of nostalgic trip to the past due to the NES aesthetics.

That said, it would seem that Windows native games work perfectly with the NES30. The D-Pad issues only raised their ugly head when emulators were used. This is point wouldn’t stand out all too much, but the NES30 is advertised as a controller for emulators. The issues persisted after updating to the latest firmware. That said, the overall feeling is similar to the NES D-Pad because of the shape, but it is allowed to more slightly more and has more definitive firmness at the extremes, but otherwise being mushier than the NES D-Pad. Fighting game motions are easier to pull off with NES30, and often it seemed that the D-Pad functioned better because of its better performance in fighting games. When it works as intended, that is. The problems in input recognition or how it functions with emulators, or whatever the problem actually is, makes the D-Pad in NES30 a mediocre D-Pad overall. It’s still helluva lot better than 360 controller’s D-Pad, but that’s not hard to do.

Action buttons

The action buttons, much like the D-Pad, resemble NES’ own red buttons but have different feel to it. This may be because of the age difference between the controllers, but that doesn’t explain why the X-button on NES30 has began to fail after one week of use. To be accurate, the X-button began to stuck into the down position, which means any sort of proper gameplay becomes more or less impossible. However, the buttons otherwise performs as you would expect. The springiness they have is slightly different due to the different set of zebra rubbers under them. They’re a bit more silent, if you found the clacking of the NES buttons too annoying.

The addition of X and Y buttons change the dynamics of the controller. In the NES controller, A and B buttons were perfectly placed for your thumb. Naturally, the users’ thumbs will find their cosiest place on Y and B buttons. Rebranding the buttons into a new order would have been a poor option, as most people know where the buttons is based on the other Nintendo controllers. It feels natural to map buttons like that and the controller does that with the Wii. If it seems like I’m hampering on a non-issue, it’s because I sort of am.

The Start and Select buttons are exactly the same with the NES controller. Slightly firmer rubber, but still soft to touch. Essentially, they’re perfect.

The shoulder buttons, while perfectly clicky without any mushiness, suffer greatly from the shape and size of the controller. While the extra face buttons work quite well, the shape of the NES controller was not designed to facilitate shoulder buttons. They are awkward to push, but because of their clicky nature they are very easy to push down from any point of the controller, be it from the controller corner or from the far end on the top. This easy but awkward nature of them makes them to somewhat useless, but overall this is due to the shape of the NES controller 8Bitdo emulated.

Overall function

If you liked the NES controller, you’d like the NES30. It’s a joy to use, a no-nonsense controller from a more simpler era of gaming. It’s very compact to boot and easy to carry with you, if you fancy to carry around a game controller. Outside the problems of the D-Pad, the greatest gripe I have with the controller is that the battery can’t be replaced without a little knowhow.

This takes points off a lot. Or it would, if I would use points
This takes points off a lot. Or it would, if I would use points

When the battery dies, the controller becomes completely dependent on the USB cord. It would have been better for them to include a changeable battery. Hell, I prefer using AA batteries rather than having to use a product that will essentially become half useless when the battery dies inside the controller. Because the shell has been moulded to fit this particular battery inside it, you can’t change it any other battery with larger dimensions. This may have been a cost cutting choice, but I would have paid that extra ten bucks for this if the battery selection had been better.

Because of the issues with the D-Pad and the soldiered battery, the current price for this product seems to be a bit too high. All other problems you may have with this controller directly stem from the dimensions and aesthetics of the NES controller, and as such I would recommend getting this controller for 20€ if this seems like something you would fancy. 30€ is slightly too high to pay for somewhat unreliably working D-Pad. It could be that my controller is a flawed one. This could’ve been a great controller, but the few big issues it has keeps it at bay.

Ultimately, we also need to address whether or not all the deviations from the NES controller were required. I would argue that if they were making a celebratory controller, sticking with the original elements more would have been the right choice.

To summarise this review; When the controller works, it’s absolute joy to use. When and if the D-Pad fails, you wish to fling it at the farthest and hardest corner on Earth.

Screw that.

You can see the main problem of the design here; the shell behind has no surfaces that would support the USB port. The whole offers no support, just a passthrough. You can see the rightmost lead dangling in the air, as the USB port hanged from it prior this photo.
You can see the main problem of the design here; the shell behind has no surfaces that would support the USB port. The whole offers no support, just a passthrough. You can see the rightmost lead dangling in the air, as the USB port hanged from it prior this photo.

While the outside build quality is decent, the most delicate bit, the Micro-USB port, is shoddily supported. The port crack off in normal use, rendering the controller useless unless re-soldered. I can’t recommend a product with such a important weak spot. Such spots in any device needs to be secured tightly to prevent this sort of things happening.