Nintendo has promised that the Switch’s upcoming online service will include a library of classic games that will help turn the portable console into an epic—but not perfect—retro gaming machine. The one thing the Switch is missing is a genuine, four-way D-pad, but that can be easily remedied with 8Bitdo’s new SN30 Pro gamepad—a clever hybrid of both classic and modern controllers.
Earlier this year I reviewed 8Bitdo’s excellent NES30 Pro controller, which was the best portable controller you could buy for the Nintendo Switch, and other gaming systems that are compatible with Bluetooth controllers.
My biggest complaint with the NES30 Pro, however, was that its tiny size, which made it great for traveling, also made it feel cramped and uncomfortable to hold during longer gaming sessions, particularly if you have larger hands like I do.
The new SN30 Pro (based on the original Super Nintendo controller) and SF30 Pro (based on the original Japanese Super Famicom controller) are near-perfect recreations of what is easily one of the most ergonomic gamepad Nintendo ever created. What’s the difference between the two? Aside from more colorful buttons on the SF30 Pro, and slightly darker gray joysticks on the SN30 Pro, absolutely nothing. Functionally and physically the SN30 and SF30 Pro are identical, so from this point on I’m only going to refer to the SN30 Pro in this review.
The design of the SN30 Pro is unmistakingly based on the Super Nintendo’s gamepad, but there are a few small updates, in addition to the added joysticks, that make it feel ever-so-slightly different when playing classic 8 and 16-bit games. When compared side-by-side to 8Bitdo’s SN30 (pictured on the left) which is an identical (but wireless) SNES controller clone, you can see that the SN30 Pro’s directional pad and Y, X, B, A-buttons have been shifted slightly upwards to make room for the two new joysticks.
It’s a minor design change, but it does make playing 16-bit games with the SN30 Pro feel just a little different than you might remember. Similarly, in order to accommodate modern games, the single shoulder button you’d find on either side of an original SNES’ controller have been split in two on the SN30 Pro, which I found affected the button-mashing techniques I relied on for games like Mortal Kombat.
But unless you’re a die-hard Super Nintendo purist, these design tweaks aren’t deal-breakers. In fact, if I didn’t have an original SNES controller on-hand for direct comparison, I’m not sure I would have even realized there was a difference in its Y, X, B, A-buttons and D-pad placement.
Besides, it’s a minor trade-off made for the greater good because by moving things around, 8Bitdo has managed to make room for extra function buttons and a pair of analog joysticks on the SN30 Pro, so it can be used to play modern titles too. In addition to testing the controller with Super Nintendo emulators running on a MacBook Pro and an Android smartphone, I also paired it with my Nintendo Switch to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
As with the NES30 Pro I tested earlier this year, the SN30 Pro performed flawlessly as a wireless controller, but I found it still felt slightly cramped compared to playing with the Switch’s Joy-Cons, or Nintendo’s larger Switch Pro Controller.
The analog joysticks on 8Bitdo’s SN30 Pro are smaller and closer together than on the Switch Pro Controller, which, to my larger hands, didn’t feel quite natural. Your mileage will certainly vary, and some gamers might find the layout perfectly comfortable. But if you consider yourself a pro gamer, the SN30 Pro probably won’t be the first gamepad you’ll want to reach for every time.
I also have to ding 8Bitdo for the process by which you sync the controller to different devices. When you power up the SN30 Pro using the Start button, you also need to press a specific action button to put it into either Switch, Android, Windows, or macOS compatibility modes. I understand why it has to be this way, as each platform communicates with game controllers differently. And while I appreciate 8Bitdo including a quick guide on the back of each gamepad, I think a multi-position toggle switch would work better, letting you easily dial in what device you want to connect to before powering up the gamepad.
Is the SN30 Pro the one controller to rule them all? Not quite. If you’re looking for the absolute best way to relive your childhood playing hours of Super Nintendo, 8Bitdo’s SN30 gamepad is actually a perfect replica of the original, and a better choice. And if you consider yourself a hardcore gamer and want the best possible experience for games that rely on two analog joysticks, Nintendo’s excellent Switch Pro Controller is a better choice.
Where the SN30 Pro excels, however, is as a jack of all trades for casual gamers who spend as much time playing classic retro games as they do modern titles like Super Mario Odyssey. Despite a few minor design tweaks, the SN30 Pro is still a fantastic-feeling retro controller for 8- and 16-bit titles. And even though some gamers might still find it a little on the small side, it’s larger than 8Bitdo’s NES30 Pro, and I would argue that actually makes it a better portable controller in terms of comfort and compatibility. If you’re a Switch owner, once Nintendo delivers on its all-you-can-eat classic game promises, the SN30 Pro will undoubtedly be the one controller you’ll always want to bring with you.
- A near perfect replica of the original Super Nintendo (or Super Famicom) gamepads, with extra joysticks and buttons for playing modern games as well.
- Form factor might still feel a bit cramped to some gamers when playing with the analog joysticks.
- Features vibration functionality, but with a weak motor that can occasionally start to feel more annoying than immersive.
- At $50 the SN30 Pro and SF30 Pro are $20 cheaper than Nintendo’s Switch Pro Controller.
- Syncing to different devices can be a bit confusing.
- No iOS support, but Apple’s mostly to blame for that.