8BitDo N30 Arcade Stick (Hardware) Review

You can find this review in full at GBAtemp.net:

I didn’t grow up in arcades. I never found the commitment to involve myself in the plethora of quality fighting games released in my lifetime. To me, an arcade stick is something interesting, and something new. With the N30 as my first, I wanted something capable of breathing new life into classic releases, and I was excited to give it a shot.

A Classic Feel

As with any 8BitDo product, the first thing to hit you is the design; needless to say, it’s gorgeous. Before receiving the N30, I was a little dubious on how the classic handheld controller would scale up; it’s a design that has been done to death, and I feel it all too easy to fall into the trap of looking like a cheap knockoff. These worries were thankfully misplaced. The bright red buttons offer a stark and visually pleasing contrast to the natural monochromatic tone of the NES, with the black buttons blending nicely into the shell. If I had to find fault in the design, it would come from the button labels perhaps being difficult to read because of the way the plastic reflects light. This is ultimately a non-issue once you get to grips with the layout. I can understand why this is as it is, going with stylistic consistency for the sake of having to look closer at the controller for the first hour of use.

Each of the main buttons; A, B, X, Y, L, R, ZL, and ZR; feel responsive, activating from even a slight press. Pushing each button down offers little feedback, ultimately feeling softer than I might have imagined pressing. If you’re looking for a new way to play your Neo Geo collection, or Nintendo’s own Arcade Archives series, this is unlikely to be an issue. The buttons still feel satisfying to press, and the layout clearly fits these games.

The black buttons and switches represent various toggles and less important buttons. These include a switch between XInput and DirectInput, Analogue and D-Pad for the stick, and buttons for Turbo, Pair, Select, and a large central Start button. Most of these are relatively self-explanatory in use. The Turbo button is a nice addition to this controller, but I can’t help but think it counter-intuitive to the overall purpose. To me, an arcade stick is fantastic for its ease of button mashing, no longer forcing hand cramps from an uncomfortable claw grip on a normal controller. That said, additional functionality is never a bad thing, and it being out of the way on the top-left means you can easily forget about it should it not interest you. Much like the SN30 Pro, the Start button is used to power on the controller, in conjunction with face buttons to connect to different devices. By now, this feels fairly standard for an 8BitDo controller, even using the same button combinations as the SN30 Pro, providing a degree of familiarity out of the box for long-time 8BitDo fans.

The stick itself uses four switches to register inputs in each cardinal direction, as well as diagonal inputs as two switches are held down at once. For those wanting a general arcade experience, it feels really quite nice. Each directional input felt responsive, with a click as a switch is hit. If you’re after something to spice up your average Switch game, this may not be the controller for you. While the stick can indeed be used as the left analogue stick, being limited to eight directions with no analogue input limits viable games.  It’s in games such as KamikoSuper Mario Bros, and Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds where this controller really shines. Thanks to the button layout, a game like Bayonetta can become incredibly enjoyable; but the experience is ultimately held back by the joystick. This isn’t so much a fault of the design, but it’s something people should be aware of if contemplating the N30 with no prior knowledge of arcade sticks.

I found the controller to be weighted quite nicely, much of this weight coming from the underside panel. It’s heavy enough as to feel stable on a table, but not so much you would feel uncomfortable with it on your lap. Overall, I find myself impressed with its build quality and overall design.

A Modern Touch

With the N30 Arcade Stick, 8BitDo boasts a degree of customisation. The unit’s back panel easily unscrewed, you can quickly get to the internals and swap out to your heart’s content. Featuring standard 30mm buttons, and fitting popular Sanwa joysticks, you can make this unit your own. The real joy of this stems from its price point. Being among the cheapest Switch-compatible arcade sticks, it puts itself forward as a fantastic entry-level device. It gives users a chance to test the water before spending heaps of money; and if the experience is one they enjoy, it can be upgraded with standard parts and little hassle.

Being an 8BitDo controller, expect to get your money’s worth with compatibility. Working not only on the Switch, but PC, Android, and MacOS, you have one widely compatible controller without the need for adaptors or fancy setups. From my first time using it, I’ve enjoyed reexploring classic titles across a plethora of devices. While Android support is something I appreciate, I wasn’t able to fully utilise it having only an Android phone. With how simple it is to connect, I can imagine it being a fantastic controller for any reasonably sized tablet. If you’re using this with your PC, you have the option of connecting it via USB using the included 3m cable.

One area I feel the controller poorly designed is its inability to be used while charging. I can only assume it thinks it’s connected to a PC whenever plugged in, completely disabling wireless capabilities. With this in mind, you can only play while charging if you plan on playing a PC game. It’s a minor gripe, and I feel it could be addressed in a future firmware update.

All in all, the N30 Arcade Stick does everything I wanted of it. It put new life into my classic titles, looking and feeling great to use. I see it as a fantastic investment should you be eagerly waiting for Nintendo’s Virtual Console to launch on Switch, with plenty of great games already available to take advantage of its design.

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