Premium nostalgic hardware scratches a particular itch in the consumer consciousness right now, and 8bitdo’s timing couldn’t have been better. The Chinese company has been making wireless controllers with retro theming for several years now, their older offerings in line with the typical gaudy plastic kitsch usually produced by third-party hardware manufacturers aiming to carve out the lower-end of the peripheral market.
But a strange confluence of Nintendo’s successes and missteps led to 8bitdo’s greatest accomplishment: the SN30 Pro, a modernized reproduction of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System’s minimalist masterpiece of a controller.
The Switch has been selling well, but its odd Joy-Con control configurations have left space for a traditional controller to flourish, and while the first-party Pro Controller is a solid option, the D-pad allows for sloppy inputs in multiple directions at the same time. Nintendo’s recent wave of microconsoles has been highly coveted, with demand matched only by their mind-boggling lack of supply, leaving an audience hungry for just this kind of product.
Part of 8bitdo’s success has been the care they have exercised not to market the SN30 Pro (and the matching SF30 Pro, inspired by the European and Japanese Super Famicom design) strictly as a Switch controller. A wireless, faithfully-designed SNES controller is the perfect complement to the tiny Super NES Classic Edition with its short-wired pads. The fact that they are also compatible with mobile devices and PCs, which truly benefit from a wide range of Bluetooth options, is icing on the cake.
The form factor is good despite the obvious changes, partly because 8bitdo committed to following the SNES controller’s already-successful design principles. They added L2 and R2 shoulder buttons, but rather than make them short and in-line with the existing R and L buttons as some previous “classic” models have done, they made both sets thin and lined them up behind each other. This configuration matches the modern standards used by Microsoft and Sony for their bumpers and triggers and maintains the feel of the long shoulders on the SNES. Similarly, the D-pad has been moved up to make room for two new sticks, but they didn’t interfere with the overall balance and spacing between the D-pad and the other face buttons.
Just because the SN30 Pro is 8bitdo’s masterpiece doesn’t mean it’s perfect. They have emphasised mimicking the SNES controller as closely as they can, but the build quality doesn’t feel exactly right. Maybe it’s because my controller is brand new and I haven’t had time to break it in yet, but the D-pad and face buttons are louder, more crisp, and a bit harder to press than the original. The shoulder buttons, despite the obvious differences, actually feel quite good. The rubber on the sticks feels a little thinner and more flexible (I hesitate to use the word flimsy) than other premium controllers. As someone who wore the sticks on his DualShock 4 down to the hard plastic bone, this could become a concern. Durability aside, 8bitdo has demonstrated a commitment to keeping the firmware up-to-date for both the controllers and the Bluetooth receivers.
As long as the rubber on the sticks holds up and the rest of the buttons settle comfortably into their grooves, 8bitdo’s SN30 Pro will continue to cultivate the illusion of playing Super Meat Boy on a Super Nintendo. If Nintendo ever decides to launch a functional Virtual Console service on the Switch, then this controller will become an absolutely essential peripheral.
Plays as Good as It Looks
Playing through Shovel Knight on the Nintendo Switch a few months after the console launched, it was apparent that none of the hardware options available at the time provided a true, classic directional pad. The official Nintendo Pro Controller had a D-pad, but something about it felt imprecise. Enter 8bitdo and their lineup of retro third-party controllers. The most Switch-friendly entry in an already well-received catalog of controllers is the SN30 Pro and the SF30 Pro.
The controllers are modeled after Super Nintendo and Super Famicom controllers respectively, with the addition of rumble, a second shoulder button on each side, as well as two clickable joysticks. While these controllers are advertised to work with a plethora of newer gaming systems, 8bitdo clearly created these new controllers with the Switch in mind, as they also have the “Home” and “Capture” buttons present on the official Joy-Con and Pro controllers.
My SF30 Pro arrived in a nice box with an included USB-C cable and an instruction manual. I found the manual to be thorough and helpful. Unlike Nintendo’s Pro Controller, there are a few additional steps to sync the SF30 Pro with the Switch. These are pretty simple and I encountered no problems setting it up. After the initial pairing, I was able to connect the SF30 Pro like I would any other Switch controller, albeit via the “Change Grip/Order” menu. The controller itself looks great, matching the aesthetic and coloring of the original Super Famicom controller. The buttons are colored nicely, and are all convex like on the Super Famicom layout. While many fellow North American players enjoy the concave X and Y buttons on the Super Nintendo Controller, I personally did not care for them and was pleased to see 8Bitdo offer both versions.
The controller feels great. 8bitdo were clearly fans of the original Super Nintendo and Super Famicom controllers, as the SF30 Pro feels very much like it. While the D-pad and face buttons were moved up slightly to accommodate the addition of the twin sticks, it was not drastic enough to make any noticeable difference while playing. The sticks work great and feel durable. Because the layout of the controller is slightly different than that of the the Joy-Con or Nintendo Pro controller, it does take some getting used to if the game uses the left stick. The D-pad feels outstanding. I have compared it to the original SNES controller and it feels similar. The rumble feature works, but it is not the HD rumble that is present in the first party Nintendo hardware. Overall, the SF30 Pro feels great to hold and game with. It is a little on the lighter side, but that might just be personal preference.
The SF30 Pro is at its best when it is being used for games that allow for the D-pad to control the player. Even though the D-pad and left stick are inverted, they still retain the same functionality of the D-pad and left stick of the Nintendo Pro Controller (or the button “D-pad” on the left Joy-Con). This works great on games like Shovel Knight and Sonic Mania where the player can choose to use either the stick or D-pad to move. In some newer games like Golf Story, the control stick is the only option to move, and the D-pad changes your golf clubs. This is not the fault of the SF30 Pro, as the game offers no button mapping options. Still, it is a bit disappointing that the D-pad cannot be used to control movement in all games. At $50 USD, this controller is a great option for players that are looking for a cheaper pro controller, a superb D-pad, and an overall outstanding looking piece of hardware.
8bitdo released the SN30 Pro and SF30 Pro controllers in December 2017. JC and Erik paid for their own controllers. Neither reviewer was in direct contact with 8bitdo.
Join the conversation! Comment on this review at This Old Neon‘s community forums.