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The Nintendo Switch Pro controller is a pricey way to get a more comfortable alternative to the standard Joy-Con. The N30 Pro is a third party solution that gives you the same nostalgic vibe and comfort.
The N30 Pro ($43) is a Bluetooth controller from accessory company 8Bitdo designed to evoke the style of the classic NES controller (the alternative F30 Pro instead uses the original Famicom design). It can pair with devices running Windows, Android, or mac OS, as well as consoles like the PS3, Wii, and Wii U. What we’re most interested in, though, is its capability as a Switch controller. On that front, it’s a compelling alternative to Nintendo’s Pro Controller.
Wireless controllers have to be paired. It’s an inconvenience we’ve come to live with, but the N30 manages to elevate the frustration to a new level. For starters, you have to turn the controller on the right way for each platform. To use it with Android you hold the Power button for one second, which is relatively straightforward. However, if you want to use it with the Switch, you have to hold Power plus the Y button for one second. This can get complicated to remember if you plan to use this controller for multiple platforms.
Then, to connect it to your Switch, you need to hold the Pair button for three seconds to enter pairing mode. On the Switch itself, you’ll head to the controller configuration screen and tap the L1 and R1 button on the N30 Pro and it should be paired immediately. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
In practice, getting the N30 Pro to pair to my Switch for the first time was a mild nightmare. If the pairing fails, there’s nothing to indicate there’s an error. You can connect the N30 to your Switch with a USB cable via the dock as a fallback, but that assumes you’re near a TV. If you’re traveling, you’re stuck hoping that it will connect the fifteenth time you try the same thing.
Curiously, the insane strategy of doing the same thing over and over again in the hope that it will work, well, actually works. When I finally managed to get my N30 connected to my Switch, I had no idea what actually made it work. I kept trying to tap the L and R buttons, plugging it in via USB and unplugging it over and over. Whatever I did that worked was something that failed to work a dozen times prior. Fortunately, this process is only necessary once. After it’s connected, swapping controllers was flawless and I never noticed any connection interruption. It’s just that first-time set up you might struggle with.
It’s a good thing that using the N30 Pro is so delightful because otherwise the connection problems would ruin the experience. Fortunately, the controller is a solid improvement over using the standard Joy-Con. Even when you’re using the Joy-Con grip, the standard controller is just a little too small. The N30, on the other hand, gives you more room, making for a more comfortable experience. It’s still not as big as an Xbox One or PS4 controller, but even a few extra millimeters is welcome.
There’s almost zero lag between the controller and the console, which made for as fluid of an experience as you’d find with an official Nintendo controller. Most of the standard Switch buttons map intuitively to the N30, so you don’t have to adapt very much. The ABXY buttons are in the same place, and the D-pad maps conveniently to the arrow buttons on the left Joy-Con. The D-pad is above the left control stick, while the arrow keys are below the left control stick on the Joy-Con, but frankly that layout just makes more sense.
The only frustrating part of the layout lies in the shoulder buttons. To reach the L2 and R2 buttons, you have to reach over the L1 and R1 buttons respectively. In trying to press L2/R2, you could inadvertently press L1/R1 at the same time. It took me a little while to adjust my muscle memory to this. It wasn’t a huge problem, but it was a little jarring.
Finally, there’s the control sticks. These things are tiny. That’s pretty weird, since everything else about the controller is bigger compared to the standard Joy-Con. This isn’t a huge problem, but it does occasionally lead to some sliding. With less surface area to grip your thumb, it can slip off a little bit if you move too suddenly. For the most part I didn’t notice the difference, but every once in a while, I’d be playing Super Mario Odyssey and try to turn too quickly, only to send Mario running in the wrong direction. Then again, I might just not be that coordinated—I’m bad at that game to begin with.
If you’re going to buy a second controller for the Switch that’s not a Joy-Con, you’re probably looking for something that’s more comfortable. On that front, the N30 delivers, if by a thin margin. It’s not the most ergonomic controller in the world and in terms of pure comfort, the standard Switch Pro Controller will probably be a little bit bitter.
However, it’s also around a much more palatable $43, compared to the Switch Pro Controller’s $70 price tag. That alone gives it an edge over just about any other Switch controller. You could even buy two N30 Pros for only slightly more money than one pair of Joy-Cons. The fact that this controller has a slick, nostalgic design is just the icing on the cake.
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