Three SNES Style controllers reviewed

Third party retro controllers are a dime in a dozen, and the current market is full of retro-styled USB controllers. Some range from decent to excellent, while others are just absolutely abysmal from the get go, not worth the plastic they’re built from. While this started a straight up review of a really, really terrible SNES-styled USB controller, I decided to make it a comparative review instead.

I’m going for a limb and assume most of my readers have used both SNES and GameCube controllers. The SNES controller is often claimed to be one of Nintendo’s best, if not the best. It certainly does great many things right, but it’s not the Saturn controller. It does so many things just right, like the placement of the shoulder buttons and the height the buttons sit in. D-Pad, while a bit loose, is nevertheless an excellent all around D-Pad, if not slightly inaccurate when it comes to the diagonals. It should also be said that the shoulder buttons are rather mushy and have no tactile feel to them. It’s not terrible by any means, but that’s perhaps something that can be extended to the whole controller; it feels slightly mushy. It’s not age either, this controller is pretty great condition, and my old-stock one bought few years back feels the exact same.

It must be mentioned that the mushy nature is by design. It allows some leeway movements and inaccuracies here and there, but also make the controller sturdier and able to take more physical trauma. It’s the same idea as with why you want laptops and some screens to flex rather than be rigid; it absorbs impact better. A rigid controller has higher chances to break down faster as well as last shorter amount of time. That’s why you can still rock original NES controllers, like the HORI Mini Commander, without much troubles.

The slight concave nature of the back also makes your fingers sit nicely and add slight grip to it. I feel a need to mention that the four-colour buttons are also a very nice sight, something the US version and the pictures USB controller didn’t do and it still looks terrible.

It’s no real wonder that SNES controller gets remade by other companies now and then, and one of the most sought after GameCube controllers is HORI’s SNES-styled controller for good reasons.

Perhaps the biggest pro and con at the same for HORI’s controller is that it opted to use the GC controller layout, but that’s hardly something that should be held against it. After all, it is a controller meant for GameCube. That said, if it had opted for the standard layout used in the original SNES controller (and thereafter in almost every other controller) it would have made a great all-around controller, starting from emulation to using adapters to different consoles like the Switch.

There really isn’t much to be said about it, outside that it’s probably one of the most faithful replication HORI does done of an official controller. Outside the layout, most of the mushy feeling you have in the official original is there. Even the slight mushiness of the GC original is in the buttons, but they’re no less responsive. Of course, the D-Pad crowns the controller, as standard GC controller had tiny ass D-Pad that was almost useless. This was the time when Nintendo’s D-Pads begun going downhill anyway and everybody moved their emphasize towards the controller sticks.

Despite all that speal about faithfulness, HORI did change the back of the controller. It still has that slight concave nature to it, but it also has raised sides for better grip. Coming straight from the original SNES controller this might feel weird, but once you begin playing with it, your hands find their natural spots and holding the controller becomes natural. However, it is an unorthodox solution to a degree, and you’ll be aware of them every time you pick it up. It’s a solid controller that I would recommend any GC owner to have for their D-Pad gaming, despite going for stupidly high prices.

So, if the HORI controller is a good example how to take and adapt SNES controller, how does Tomee’s USB SNES controller compare against it?

First impressions; it’s shit. While it weighs about the same as the real deal, there’s something you can deduce by just looking at it. Mostly that it is extremely cheap.

The cheapness really shows itself everywhere, but the sides are the worst. You can see that the mould has been re-used so many times that it has become faulty. It’s just not this one bit, but all around the controller. None of the plastic is really all that good, and corners have been cut wherever possible. Start and Select are now hard plastic instead of soft rubber too. Even the cord is the cheapest USB lead you can find, the kinds that just snap in two if you look at them long enough.

While the overall form fits the hand just like the SNES original, nothing else really matches the level of quality. All buttons have twice as much travel and require extra effort to press the contacts down. It’s like first pressing the buttons down, and doing a second level press to make them activate. It’s extremely easy just to press a button and have nothing happening.

There’s nothing good to say about this controller, but what do you expect from a cheap Chinese piece of shit? This controller cost around five to ten bucks, depending on where you buy it, but it’s not worth even for a project controller because none of the parts of any worth and the PCB is terrible. I didn’t take any pictures in my hurry, but there was corrosion there. This is a terrible waste of natural resources, but seeing there are tons of Tomee products out there, these things still sell. Thank God this one was donated for review.

This entry doesn’t really have a rhyme or reason to it, does it? Mainly to showcase two extremes of third party controllers, where build quality is directly tied to the price range. However, if you consider my other controller reviews, especially the HORIPAD3 Mini for PS3, there is a sweet spot in the mid-budget range where you get high quality enough controllers. it would seem that any controller under twenty dollars in the current market will always be trash, waste f everybody’s time.

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.