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8BitDo SN30 Pro Controller Review: Retro Style Meets Modern Features


My poor wife. She humors my gaming hobby so well, despite not being a gamer herself. She has also inadvertently helped me realize how crazy us gamers sound sometimes, when explaining why we need something that we clearly don't.

Case in point is this retro-style Switch controller by 8BitDo.

I kept eyeing this thing up. The Super Nintendo aesthetic really did it for me, and despite having all the gaming accessories I needed, I found myself wanting this for no good reason. She didn't complain when I grabbed the overpriced Switch Pro Controller, because I had a valid need—trying to play Super Smash Bros. Ultimate with a pair of joy cons was far from ideal.

But as I explained how I had no practical need for this new controller, but wanted it anyway, she gave me some very confused looks. Thankfully my wife is amazing, and ended up buying me the controller as a surprise birthday present.

And I'm glad she did, because I really like this thing! I've clocked in some quality time with it, so let's review the SN30 Pro controller by 8BitDo.

About 8BitDo

This is my first controller from 8BitDo, but it's not the first time I've had my eye on their old school controllers for awhile now. Everything from 8BitDo feels like a love letter to retro gaming, and if you have fond memories of a 16-bit or earlier era then they likely have something for you.

Unboxing & First Impressions

Holding this controller felt as if I had been sent back in time. The Super Nintendo was the first system I really played, and everything about the SN30 Pro brought me back to that era. Admittedly, it's been awhile since I've held an authentic SNES controller, so I can't compare the exact weight and dimensions—but this feels right. The shape, the build quality, everything is on point.

The DPad is excellent. The buttons are clicky and sturdy, but smooth. The face buttons are also spot-on. I forgot that the X and Y buttons on SNES controllers were concave while A and B were convex, but I find I love that little distinction.

Despite not having "grips" like most modern controllers, I was surprised at how comfortably the SN30 Pro was. My hand wraps around it nicely, and everything is within reach without feeling cramped.

If this was just a Bluetooth SNES controller, I wouldn't have bought it. I don't like spending money on accessories, so when I do I want to make sure they have multiple uses. The SN30 Pro manages to sneak all the buttons of a traditional Switch Pro controller on somewhere. The addition of dual joysticks is obvious from any picture. These aren't the main selling point of the controller, but to my surprise they feel well-made and comfortable to use. They also added a home button, screenshot button, and split the shoulder buttons to give you L and R as well as ZL and ZR. All of these additions feel right at home, despite not being part of the SNES legacy. The inclusion of these features means this controller can be used for any game, and that versatility is huge for me.



The SN30 Pro also has a few features that aren't as obvious. There's a gyroscope for motion-controlled aiming, as well as rumble. No Amiibo reader though, if that's your thing.

Also in the box was a brief manual and a Type C USB charging cable. The manual isn't really necessary, because they smartly put the pairing instructions on the back of the controller.

Overall, my initial impression of the SN30 Pro was very positive. It looks good, feels right, and it has all the features I want. Now it's time to put it to the test.

Playing Retro-Style Nintendo Switch Games

Let's be clear; this controller was designed for games like Stardew Valley, Shovel Knight, The Messenger, Katana Zero, and other pixel-art games on the Nintendo Switch. The SN30 Pro is marketed as a Switch controller, although it can be used on other devices as well (more on that later). But let's start things off with what it was clearly intended for.

Put simply, it's perfect.

Stardew Valley in particular feels amazing with this controller. The 16-bit style matches the aesthetic of the SN30 Pro, and I swear it's like I stepped back to the 90s. Sometimes Stardew Valley does require those extra buttons not found on the SNES, so I'm glad to have them here, but overall it's a wonderful way to play a great game. The rumble also works incredibly well; feeling the patter of my horse trotting along cobblestone made me happier than I expected.

Side-scrollers like Shovel Knight are also a ton of fun with this, even though the aesthetic is a little off. The controller might not resemble the boxy NES controller, but the DPad shines here regardless. The same can be said for the Nintendo Switch Online NES game library—any of those feel right at home with the smaller controller and prominent DPad. This is my go-to controller for any classic style game, whether its aimed to be like the SNES or not.

The SN30 Pro For Modern Games

Like I said before, this controller has all the buttons and joysticks that modern games expect. So how does it fare for something newer?

Honestly, pretty good. It wouldn't be my first pick for something like Breath of the Wild or Super Smash Bros, but it is perfectly functional for either. I actually like the ergonomics of this better than having the joy-cons in their controller grip, which I used for months. The gyro works great, and I'm not sure if the rumble is technically "HD" but it feels like it is. The joysticks have a good grip to them, and are in a comfortable position to use.

I wondered how this would feel for Hollow Knight, which may be a 2D side-scroller but doesn't lean on a retro art style. As I suspected, it works nice with the DPad, although something about the controls in Hollow Knight feel more natural with a Switch Pro controller.

Overall, this isn't my first choice for these kinds of games, but makes for a fine substitute if you don't have a Switch Pro controller or need an extra one for Smash Bros.

Playing On Other Devices

The pairing instructions on the back show how you can sync it up to either a Nintendo Switch, MacOS, as Xinbut, or even Dinput. After having so much luck on my Switch, I wanted to try it out on my computer or tablet—and had a heck of a time pairing it as anything other than a Switch controller. I figured Xinput would be the way to go for these devices, but it gave me problem after problem.

The good news is you can just pair it to your computer or Android device as a Switch controller, and it works great. True, for it to work on PC I needed Steam's controller recognition, but I use that all the time anyway. I had even less issue on my Android tablet once I tried pairing it as a Switch controller. In fact, the horrendous input lag I experienced with using a real Switch controller on my tablet was absent, making this hands down my best controller for it.

Pairing in general feels a little clunky with this controller, especially when moving it between devices a lot. Still, it wasn't too bad once I got the hang of it, and the compact size of the SN30 Pro actually makes it a great companion for gaming on my tablet.

A Word On Firmware

While trying to talk myself out of getting this controller, I poured over tons of Amazon reviews. A lot of people loved it, but plenty said it had terrible input lag. Some reviewers claimed updating the firmware fixed this, so that was the first thing I did when I got it.

I can't speak for pre-firmware updates, but I've been using the SN30 Pro for about a month now and have had no problems with input lag. Maybe that was the easy fix, or maybe I just got lucky. Either way, if you pick up this controller I'd recommend starting the same way. You can download firmware or manuals for any 8BitDo controller on their support site.

Final Verdict

8BitDo's SN30 Pro controller gives you exactly what you'd expect and more. It is hands-down my favorite way to play retro-style games, and does surprisingly well on modern titles too. It was designed for the Nintendo Switch but also works great on PC and Android, although you may have to convince it to pair nicely. If you want a controller that reminds you of the Super Nintendo era, this is easily worth the $45 price tag.

You can buy it from Amazon by clicking here.

What do you think of the SN30 Pro controller? Do you ever buy retro accessories like this? What is your favorite controller for different games? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

Comments

  1. I somehow didn't even know this controller was a thing! The SNES controller has never been my favorite (something about the shape and layout is perpetually slightly off putting to me), but I can still appreciate this one. It looks great and seems to perfectly blend the feel of the original and the newer Switch additions. Even though I don't have anything particular I would "need" this controller for, the gamer in me makes me really want to buy it!

    As much as I may want to buy ALL the retro accessories, the only recent one I have is a gamecube controller for the Switch to get the proper Smash experience for Smash Ultimate. I have to keep telling myself I don't have any practical need for the accessories - I just want them because they're cool! The designers really know how to stick it to us.

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    Replies
    1. Haha, I know the feeling about convincing yourself not to buy ALL the accessories... the struggle is real there! Doesn't help that there are a lot of really nifty accessories for the Switch, moreso than most game consoles I can recall.

      Not to tempt you further, but you should really check out some of the other products by 8BitDo... They have a lot more than just SNES style controllers, including Sega Genesis and more obscure options. Whether you buy anything or not, I know I have a lot of fun browsing, haha.

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