8Bitdo continues to evoke 8- and 16-bit nostalgia with its throwback design takes on modern wireless controllers. Its latest gamepad, the N30 Pro 2, is a Bluetooth controller that uses the compact design of the original N30 Pro and adds motion sensing and vibration. It’s well made, boasts lots of features, and can connect to PCs, Macs, Android devices, and even the Nintendo Switch. However, its slightly bigger sibling, the SN30 Pro, simply feels much more comfortable, thanks to a less cramped and more natural-feeling control layout.
The N30 Pro 2 has a flat, compact design that looks like a cross between the rectangular NES and dog bone-shaped SNES controllers. At 2.4 by 5 by 0.5 inches (HWD), it’s slightly slimmer and much thinner than the almost-inch-thick SN30 Pro, which more directly emulates the SNES gamepad. While the N30 Pro 2 doesn’t directly mimic a specific retro controller, a variety of classic paint jobs evoke different Nintendo gamepads, like the NES-inspired black, gray, and red N Edition; the SNES- and Super Famicom-inspired gray 6 Edition, and the GameCube-inspired purple and yellow C Edition.
The controller has four face buttons, dual analog sticks, a direction pad, Start and Select buttons, four trigger buttons, and Home and Capture buttons just like the SN30 Pro, along with rumble and motion sensing. To pack all of these elements into a slimmer gamepad than the SN30 Pro, 8Bitdo had to make some ergonomic compromises. The physical controls are noticeably smaller, with the face buttons, direction pad, and analog sticks standing about two-thirds to three-fourths the size of their SN30 Pro equivalents. Besides being smaller, the A/B/X/Y buttons are clustered closer together, and can feel cramped under large thumbs. The smaller, more nub-like analog sticks can also feel awkward, though they’re closer to proper analog sticks in accuracy and responsiveness than the analog nub on the Nintendo 3DS.
The two pairs of shoulder buttons are positioned next to each other instead of on top of each other; if you want to press R2 instead of R1, you need to reach further toward the center of the back edge of the controller rather than just nudging your fingertip slightly lower like on most gamepads with two pairs of trigger buttons. Since they’re small and very close to each other, they can be difficult to tell apart and hold down, which can make shooters that rely heavily on all four triggers for aiming and shooting feel uncomfortable.
The Home and Capture buttons sit on the bottom edge of the controller, along with a Sync button for pairing it with your preferred devices. They’re much harder to quickly access than the Home and Capture buttons on the SN30 Pro or the Switch’s Joy-Cons, both of which hold the buttons in thumb’s reach, respectively under the right analog stick and left face buttons. If you want to snap a quick screenshot of a Switch game, the N30 Pro 2’s awkward button location might make you miss the moment.
Like the SN30 Pro, the N30 Arcade Stick, and DIY controller kits, the N30 Pro 2 works with several different devices. It features four Bluetooth connection modes: XInput for PCs, DirectInput for Android devices, and device-specific modes for Macs and the Nintendo Switch. These modes can be accessed by holding one of the face buttons down when pressing the Start button, which doubles as the Power button. To connect the N30 Pro 2 to your Switch, for example, hold down Y and press Start.
How It Feels
We tested the N30 Pro 2 on the Nintendo Switch with New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe and Super Mario Odyssey. The controller feels responsive and consistent with 2D platforming in New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. The direction pad provides slightly more accurate control than the direction buttons on the Switch’s Joy-Cons, and the traditional plus shape is much closer to the NES and SNES-era Super Mario Bros. gameplay the game invokes. The face buttons are even slightly larger than the Joy-Con’s face buttons, which is a nice improvement. However, the face buttons are also clustered closer together, and both they and the direction pad are markedly smaller than the buttons and pad on the SN30 Pro and Switch Pro Controller.
These elements, combined with the generally more cramped layout and thinner profile of the controller, can feel uncomfortable and awkward in larger hands. I found the buttons in particular to be unpleasant under my big thumbs because they were so close together.
Super Mario Odyssey shows off the N30 Pro 2’s new Switch tricks, which the gamepad executes flawlessly. Both force feedback and motion sensing worked well, letting me throw Cappy in a circle on command and providing both little twitches and steady rumbles when the action called for it. That said, the small, almost pointy analog sticks feel uncomfortable under my thumbs, and the narrow, awkward shoulder buttons had me regularly re-centering the camera when I meant to crouch for a long jump. Considering how important crouching is for skilled Super Mario Odyssey play (since it’s necessary for very long, multi-step, Cappy-assisted jumps), the awkward L2 and R2 buttons are a big problem. Again, this is from the perspective of a user with large hands. Smaller-handed players might not find it so frustrating.
Too Compact for Comfort
The 8Bitdo N30 Pro 2 is a very capable and functional little controller, but it’s the “little” part that many will find hard to deal with. Its controls are responsive, it’s built well, and it’s available in a variety of designs, but I simply find it uncomfortable compared with the fantastic SN30 Pro. Unless those extra millimeters of depth need to be shaved off so you can fit it in your bag, or you really want one of the unique color schemes only available on the N30 Pro 2, its SNES-inspired bigger sibling is simply the better-feeling gamepad. It does everything the N30 Pro 2 does, with larger, better-placed controls, making it our Editors’ Choice.