What to Look for in a Retro Controller in 2022
There are so many video game systems to choose from that the “perfect” controller doesn’t exist. If you want an authentic retro gaming experience, you’ll generally want to go with a controller that replicates the feeling of playing retro games on an older system.
Starting with the NES generation of consoles, the controller became relatively standardized. If your general interest in retro gaming dates back to this era, it’s possible to buy a single gamepad that adequately covers multiple systems.
This includes modern controllers you already own, but modern controllers have one major drawback that makes them less than ideal for retro gaming. In particular, they have neat D-pads.
Most retro games make extensive use of the D-pad to control the game. Modern games use the D-pad for tasks like using items or switching between in-game modes, so they don’t need to be as precise. Therefore, a good retro controller should first and foremost be a crisp, accurate d-pad with good feedback.
The next thing to look for is compatibility. Most modern retro controllers will work with anything with Bluetooth or USB, but only a few are compatible with the original hardware. In this article, we’re not specifically looking for controllers to use with original consoles, but some offer that option as a bonus.
Ultimately, button layout and quality are key. If you want to play a game designed for a controller with six face buttons, using a controller with only four buttons can be a problem. The buttons should also be comfortable enough and give good crisp feedback. In retro games, keystrokes are more frequent and intense, so any controller should resist this.
With a laser focus on playing retro games as well and authentically as possible, let’s take a look at the best retro-style controllers you can buy.
Best Overall Retro Controller: 8Bitdo Pro 2
- ✓ More comfortable than most retro controllers
- ✓ Suitable for retro games of any gamepad era
- ✓ Rumble support
- ✓ Rear paddle buttons
- ✓ Individual profiles
- ✗ A mix of different controller designs
If you don’t have the budget to buy multiple retro-style controllers, then the 8Bitdo Pro 2 is our recommended option. It has all the controls for retro gaming to the modern 3D era where analog sticks hit the scene.
While it doesn’t have the six-faced buttons that Genesis or fighting game fans would prefer, it does come with two extra back buttons, so you can compensate for that when mapping the buttons for those titles. These back keys can also help in games where your fingers are hard on you, but where you don’t want to resort to the turbo function that spams the keys.
Ths 8Bitdo controller doesn’t match any particular retro console in design, unfortunately if you’re looking for a controller that matches your console’s aesthetic, you might be a little disappointed. However, the Pro 2 makes up for it with modern grips that make it more comfortable than most controllers that stick strictly to the old design.
Pro 2 is officially compatible with Switch, PC, macOS, Android, Steam and Raspberry Pi.
Best Retro Controller Overall
8Bitdo Pro 2
Retro Pro 2 tries to be all things to all retro gamers, and it largely succeeds. If you need a controller to play games from multiple retro systems, this is the one.
Best budget retro controller: 8Bitdo SN30
- ✓ Great quality, affordable price
- ✓ Wireless compatibility with the original SNES
- ✗ No Bluetooth
- ✗ A USB cable must be used for non-SNES devices
The SNES-style 8Bitdo SN30 controller lacks the SN30 Pro’s analog sticks, rumble, and extra shoulder buttons, but it comes at a significantly lower price. The SN30 uses a proprietary 2.4Ghz wireless standard that allows wireless operation with modern SNES reproductions such as the original SNES or Analog Super NT.
This means that this budget retro controller does not have native Bluetooth. If you want to use the SN30 Pro with a different system, you need to connect it with a USB cable. But it guarantees compatibility with a wide range of devices while offering a way to play with your original SNES.
The original SNES controller design was already great, but the SN30 manages to preserve what made it special while adding just the right amount of polish for modern gamers. The old-school semi-transparent plastic is a nice touch.
If you don’t mind connecting wirelessly to the original SNES or SNES-compatible consoles, a better alternative might be the wired version of the SN30 Pro. It costs the same and adds all the features of the SN30 Pro, just without the battery or wireless functionality.
According to our research, the SN30 should be compatible with any device that can use controllers via USB.
The best budget retro controller
- ✓ The six-button layout makes it perfect for retro fighting games
- ✓ Wide cord length
- ✓ Officially licensed
- ✓ Xinput and Dinput are compatible
- ✓ Works with almost anything with a USB port
- ✓ Great price
- ✗ Only two shoulder buttons
- ✗ Does not work with original Genesis or Saturn
Having a wireless controller is a nice modern convenience, but the best latency and responsiveness can still be found in wired controllers. Many wireless controllers you can buy allow you to use a wired connection, but if you’re only going to use it wired, why pay for a battery and a Bluetooth radio you’ll never use?
The Retro-Bit Official Sega Saturn USB Controller is a reproduction of one of the most revered controller designs in history. The original Genesis six-button controller was already well-loved, but the Sega Saturn version transforms it into something more convenient. So whether you want to play Genesis or Saturn games, the Saturn controller is overall the best choice.
This wired USB version controller obviously won’t work with the original Saturn, but Retro-Bit makes a wireless model with a Saturn connector. If you want to play on an original Genesis, you’ll have no choice but to go for the Genesis model with the original connector. Whichever model you choose, it will come with a generous 10-foot cable.
While this is a quality copy of the Saturn controller, it’s pretty modern under the skin. In particular, you can switch the controller between modern Xinput and older Dinput standards, so it should work with both new and old titles on PC.
This controller is officially compatible with Sega Genesis Mini, Switch, PS3, PC, Mac, Steam, RetroPie and Raspberry Pi.
Best wired retro controller
- ✓ NES-style control with better comfort and quality
- ✓ Turbo buttons included
- ✗ Additional dongles are required to work with a PC, Raspberry Pi or the original NES
- ✗ Can only be used with NES or other two-button games
The original NES controller was never the pinnacle of ergonomic design, but there’s nothing like the original rectangular controller for playing those classic 8-bit games. The 8Bitdo N30 Bluetooth gamepad is one of the best modern NES controllers, taking the iconic design and improving it. However, there is a bit of a catch – it’s designed specifically for use with the Nintendo Switch.
However, as with any Switch controller, it will work well with other systems that support Bluetooth controllers – but we’ve seen reports of mixed results when it comes to lag using Bluetooth across a wide range of 8Bitdo controllers.
This is also solved by purchasing the 8Bitdo Wireless USB Adapter 1. It works with any 8Bitdo Bluetooth controller and solves any latency and compatibility issues. You can even use it with the original NES when paired with the 8Bitdo Retro Receiver for the original NES.
8Bitdo also periodically releases new firmware for controllers (including the N30) to fix issues like lag and disconnection, so it might be worth trying the controller with the latest firmware before assuming you also need a receiver to get the best out of it.
More importantly, why go through all this trouble to convert this Switch-centric controller to work with other systems? That’s because we think it’s the best modern rendition of an NES-style controller. The N30 is more comfortable than other NES controllers, adds two shoulder buttons, has two turbo buttons, and has excellent build quality.
Aside from the need to buy extra dongles, the other major downside is that you can only use it on NES games, as the two turbo face buttons can only be used as turbo buttons, not as extra buttons needed for other consoles’ games.
The N30 should work with any Bluetooth device that supports Switch controllers, but you’ll need an additional dongle for seamless compatibility with PCs and Raspberry Pi.
Best NES style controller
8Bitdo N30 Bluetooth Gamepad
Probably the best modern approach to NES controller design. Requires additional dongles to work perfectly with PC, Raspberry Pi or original NES.
8Bitdo Wireless USB Adapter 1
A required companion to any 8BItDo Bluetooth controller if you want perfect compatibility with Windows, Mac and Raspberry Pi.
- ✓ It emulates, improves and perfects the SNES design
- ✓ Available in both regional color schemes
- ✓ Wireless compatibility with original SNES (Adapter included)
- ✓ Additional shoulder buttons and analog sticks are included
- ✗ An additional dongle is required to work with the original SNES
The SN30 Pro takes everything the SN30 did right and improves upon it. With analog sticks and four shoulder buttons, this controller has the same inputs as a modern gamepad, making it versatile. You can play your SNES games with the classic controls or mix things up using the sticks.
Best of all, the SN30Pro can also act as a standard modern controller, so if you’re looking for a PC controller, you don’t have to shop around.
The SN30 is compatible with virtually any Bluetooth system, but not the original SNES. This can be fixed by purchasing the 8Bitdo SNES Retro Receiver.
SN30 Pro is officially compatible with Switch, PC, macOS, Android, Steam and Raspberry Pi.
Best SNES-style Controller
8Bitdo Sn30 Pro Bluetooth Gamepad
The SN30 takes the already amazing SNES controller design and improves it for a modern audience.
- ✓ Eight buttons, six face buttons, works with Genesis and Saturn games
- ✓ Wide compatibility thanks to USB interface and private 2.4Ghz wireless network
- ✓ Includes SEGA Saturn Port receiver
- ✗ Not compatible with original Genesis, only Genesis Mini
As we mentioned in the best wired retro controller section, the Sega Saturn controller design is preferred for playing Genesis and Saturn games due to its sleeker design but similar structure to the six-button Genesis controller.
Just like the wired Saturn controller we mentioned above, this Retro-Bit Official Sega Saturn Controller is an officially licensed product. It includes a carrying case with two receivers. One fits the original Saturn and the other USB.
What sets the Retro-Bit controllers apart from the competition is SEGA’s official endorsement, which shows how seriously the company takes its work when designing these replicas. With improved modern materials and quality, there are numerous user reviews praising how precise and authentic the controllers are. Considering how much Genesis games can punish a controller, that’s high praise.
Unfortunately, if you have an original Genesis, this won’t work with it. In this case, it is better to buy the Retro-Bit Genesis Wireless Controller. This controller is compatible with any system that works with USB controllers, including the Genesis Mini.
Best Megadrive/Genesis Controller