The initial appeal of the Nintendo Switch had a lot to do with the way it put expansive, console-quality games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on a portable console for the first time. But since then, I’ve been spending a lot of my time with the system on less technically advanced titles. I find that I’m more likely to want to play immersive 3D games on my TV screen or PC monitor, while the Switch is the perfect system for kicking back with indies and 2D games.
Well, apart from one problem: the Switch actually kind of sucks for playing 2D games.
The Joy-Con controllers don’t have a proper D-pad because you need to be able to detach each of them from the system and use them as standalone controllers with four face buttons. Nintendo’s own Pro Controller seems to have been afflicted by this, too. It has a D-pad, but it’s a really bad one that’s hamstrung by the apparent need to be able to press all four directions independently of one another. The result is the worst D-pad in living memory from the company that invented the concept, with constant unintended inputs.
Hori, the venerable Japanese third-party controller maker, is trying to fix that. Its new product, the D-Pad Controller, is an officially licensed left Joy-Con replacement that substitutes an honest-to-god D-pad for the original four-button solution. It’s out now in Japan, it costs $25, and it’s coming to the US soon with Zelda- and Mario-themed designs.
There are a few caveats. The D-Pad Controller only works in portable mode. There’s no wireless support at all, so you have to use it attached to the Switch tablet. Hori has also omitted motion control and rumble functionality. It feels (and is) cheaper than a Nintendo Joy-Con, and the buttons are a little off; the L bumper is clickier, for example, while the - button is mushier. Basically, you really need to want a proper Switch D-pad for this thing to be worth it, even at $25.
That describes me, though, and I would say this is money well-spent if you’re anything like me. I’ve been using the D-pad with technically challenging Switch games like Hollow Knight, Celeste, Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, and so on, and it’s hard to convey just how much it improves the experience. No more missed inputs or accidental diagonals. The Hori D-pad is responsive and accurate, if not quite up to the clicky precision of some of my favorites. If you die due to botching a downward attack in Shovel Knight, you’ll only have yourself to blame.
The missing functionality isn’t a huge deal in practice. Most games that use motion control rely solely on the right Joy-Con, so you can still use gyroscopic aiming in Breath of the Wild and Splatoon 2, for example. (But not Fortnite, oddly.) I didn’t miss the lack of rumble much, either, since it isn’t disabled on the right Joy-Con — though it does feel a little weird only to have one half of the system buzzing along to the music in Lumines Remastered.
I would happily use the Hori D-pad exclusively when traveling with the Switch except for one glaring flaw: its battery consumption. The Switch is already a power hog, but attaching the Hori D-pad causes the battery to drain between 8 and 10 percent an hour in standby mode, in my testing. With regular Joy-Con attached, it takes about three hours to drain by a single percent.
This is obviously less than ideal because it’ll seriously limit your ability to take out the Switch when the mood strikes you on a long trip. The Switch’s battery life is bad enough already without having a third of it chewed up in the time it takes for you to get onto a plane from your house. Hori says it’s aware of the issue and will have fixed it in time for the US launch, but it’s unclear whether it’ll be possible to fix Japanese units that are already on the market.
I can’t recommend this product wholeheartedly, then, and I might not use it as much as I’d like. But it’s still the best way to play 2D games on the Nintendo Switch, and I’ll no doubt be using it the next time I get stuck on a Hollow Knight boss.
Nintendo Switch Joy-Con Patent Suggests Classic D-Pad Will Return
A patent for a new Nintendo Switch Joy-Con has been granted and it has a D-Pad and a Circle Pad, with a design that could eliminate drift.
A patent for a new type of Joy-Con for the Nintendo Switchhas been granted, which will bring back the classic D-Pad and a Circle Pad, assuming that the controller enters production. The patent was originally filed in 2018, but it was only granted earlier this month.
It's no secret that Joy-Cons are some of the most fragile video game controllers ever made. This is due to controller drift, where the joystick deteriorates to the point where it starts registering inputs, even when not being touched. Nintendo is currently engaged in lawsuits regarding the Joy-Con drift, yet the company hasn't offered any alternative Joy-Cons that fix the issue. The Nintendo Switch Lite systems use the same type of Joy-Con controls, even though they are embedded into the system, making it even more disruptive to send them off for repairs.
Related: Why Nintendo Switch Game Cartridges Taste So Bad
Nintendo filed different patents for alternate Joy-Con designs in the past, including ones with a stylus attachment for touchscreen games. In 2018, Nintendo filed a patent that was archived on USPTO Report for a Joy-Con design. Users on ResetEra noticed that the patent was granted as of this month, meaning Nintendo can enter these Joy-Con designs into production.
The biggest difference with this Joy-Con design is that it has a solid D-pad, rather than using four segmented buttons. There are some third-party Joy-Con that already use a solid D-pad and some gamers prefer them, especially for the NES & SNES games on Nintendo Switch Online. The other major difference is that the joystick in the Joy-Con is similar to the Circle Pad used in the Nintendo 3DS, rather than the raised joysticks of the regular Joy-Cons.
The fact that this patent is so old means that it's unlikely that these Joy-Cons are part of some new design for the rumored Nintendo Switch Pro. It's unlikely that Nintendo was thinking that far ahead for an updated model, especially as the Switch was still in its first year. It's possible that this design came about as a counter-measure to Joy-Con drift, as this was an issue detected early on by Switch fans. The 3DS's controller wasn't drift-proof by any means, but it was far more durable than the design for the Joy-Con. It remains to be seen whether these alternate Joy-Con designs show up someday, or if they're just one of many ideas that Nintendo wanted to lock down for the Nintendo Switch, on the off-chance that it could be useful someday.
Next: Apex Legends Switch vs. Xbox Series X Comparison Isn't Even Close
Sources: USPTO Report, ResetEra
90 Day Fiancé: Deavan Clegg Makes Red Carpet Debut With BF TopherAbout The Author
Scott has been writing for Screen Rant since 2016 and regularly contributes to The Gamer. He has previously written articles and video scripts for websites like Cracked, Dorkly, Topless Robot, and TopTenz. A graduate of Edge Hill University in the UK, Scott started out as a film student before moving into journalism. It turned out that wasting a childhood playing video games, reading comic books, and watching movies could be used for finding employment, regardless of what any career advisor might tell you. Scott specializes in gaming and has loved the medium since the early ‘90s when his first console was a ZX Spectrum that used to take 40 minutes to load a game from a tape cassette player to a black and white TV set. Scott now writes game reviews for Screen Rant and The Gamer, as well as news reports, opinion pieces, and game guides. He can be contacted on LinkedIn.
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The 5 Best Joy-Con Replacements for Nintendo Switch
Nintendo’s official Joy-Cons are expensive, prone to “Joy-Con drift,” and uncomfortable for people with big hands. But don’t worry, third-party Joypads are nearly half the price of the real thing, and solve many of the Joy-Con problems that Nintendo refuses to address.
Looking for full-sized gamepads? Check out the best Switch controllers not made by Nintendo.
Note: Third-party Joy-Cons don’t work with ‘Super Mario Party,’ ‘Nintendo Labo’ toys, or ‘Ring Fit Adventure,’ and they may not fit in accessories intended for official Joy-Cons.
What to Look for in a Joy-Con Replacement
The days of crappy third-party controllers are long gone, but you still have to do a little thinking before you pull the trigger on replacement Joy-Cons. Some of the features from Nintendo’s Joy-Cons are absent from third-party options, and additional features, like turbo mode or macro buttons, vary from product to product.
Here’s everything you need to look out for in a set of third-party Joy-Cons:
- Usability: Nintendo’s Joy-Cons work in portable or handheld mode (attached to the console), in paired mode (to form a full-sized controller), and split mode (so you can share half the Joy-Con with a friend). Most third-party options can fill these three roles, though some Joypads, like the Hori Split Pad Pro, only work in certain configurations.
- Battery Life: The official Nintendo Joy-Cons last roughly 20 hours on a charge. Most third-party options advertise a 10-hour battery life, which is a bit of a trade-off for the lower price.
- Motion Controls: Some third-party Joy-Cons support motion controls for games like Splatoon and Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
- Rumble: Nintendo’s Joy-Cons have a feature called “HD rumble,” which allows for precise control over the vibration motors. While third-party Joypads do not support HD rumble, some have rudimentary vibration motors built-in.
- IR Support: Third-party Joy-Cons don’t have an IR camera, which is fine, because very few games require it (aside from 1, 2, Switch).
- Amiibo Support: Very few third-party Joypads feature Amiibo support for Nintendo’s action figures and trading cards. If you want Amiibo support for games like Animal Crossing and Smash Bros, grab the BestFire Joy-Cons.
- Turbo Mode and Macros: Many third-party Joypads feature an adjustable turbo setting to breeze through menus, plus macro buttons that can trigger a long string of pre-programmed commands (something that’s especially useful for combos in fighting games). The Joy-Cons in this guide do not need to be plugged into a computer for macro programming.
Now that you know what to look for, let’s cut to the chase. Here are the best third-party Joy-Cons for your Nintendo Switch.
Best Overall: ECHTPower Joy-Cons
They’re affordable, comfortable, and support rumble and motion control. The ECHTPower Joy-Cons are the best third-party option for most people. Their colorful ergonomic design is perfect for on the go gaming, and the controllers’ 10-hour battery life can withstand even the longest gaming session at your TV, whether you’re playing solo or in split mode with a friend.
ECHTPower Joy-Cons have a D-pad, two programmable macro buttons, and two turbo buttons. These Joy-Cons also come with a comfortable M-shaped grip for wireless gaming.
Best Premium Pick: Binbok RGB Joy-Cons
Binbok’s Joy-Cons are legendary for a reason. They feature an ergonomic design with a textured grip, rumble and motion support, a high-quality D-pad, and RGB lighting around the joysticks. With a 10-hour battery, an included Joy-Con grip, and support for portable, wireless, or split multiplayer mode, the Binbok Joy-Cons are a fantastic alternative to the real thing.
The Binbok Joy-Cons feature two programmable macro buttons and two turbo buttons. The RGB lighting features eight different colors, which you can change at any time through a button command (hold the turbo button and press down on the joystick).
Best Portable-Only Option: Hori Split Pad Pro
Tired of cramped hands? The Hori Split Pad Pro only works in portable mode, but hey, who cares! It’s the closest you can get to a real controller while playing on the go. Just look at how the D-pad and action buttons are offset from the joysticks—a comfortable configuration that you won’t find on any other third-party Joy-Cons.
The Hori Split Pad Pro doesn’t support rumble or motion controls, but it does have two macro buttons, two turbo buttons, and two rear programmable buttons hidden behind the grip. Keep in mind that the Hori Split Pad Pro probably won’t fit in your Switch carrying case, and to reiterate, this controller only works in portable mode.
Best with Amiibo Support: BestFire Joy-Cons
Need Amiibo support? BestFire’s affordable Joy-Cons pack rumble and Amiibo support into a Gamecube-inspired package. With a comfortable curved design, a D-pad, and a familiar button layout, the BestFire Joy-Cons are the perfect option for Smash Bros players with a large collection of Amiibo figurines.
This Joy-Con supports portable mode, paired mode, and split mode for mutliplayer. That said, the 6-hour battery life isn’t exactly ideal for playing on your TV, and the rearranged buttons and shrunk-down C-stick aren’t ideal for split multiplayer.
If You Just Need a D-Pad: Hori D-Pad Joy-Con
I you already own a set of working Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons and just want one with a D-Pad, then buy the Hori D-Pad Joy-Con. It’s a replacement for your left Joy-Con that, you guessed it, replaces the awkward directional buttons with a proper D-Pad.
While the Hori D-Pad Joy-Con looks and feels like a regular Joy-Con, it doesn’t have rumble or motion support. Also, it only works in portable mode because it doesn’t have an internal battery or wireless hardware (that’s why it’s so inexpensive).
When it comes to accessories, the Nintendo Switch has a dizzying variety on offer. One of the best is the Hori D-Pad Controller, which is a Joy-Con equipped with a D-Pad. It made our best Switch controllers list, and now it's on sale.
Zelda Edition: $20 at Amazon
Mario Edition: $15 at Amazon
Pikachu Edition: $20 at Amazon
All three variations of the Hori D-Pad Joy-Con are currently on sale. You can pick up the Zelda-themed one for $20, the Pikachu version for $20, and the Mario edition for $15. They can only be used in handheld mode, and unfortunately, don't feature any rumble or motion controls.
As someone who has tested a multitude of controllers for the Nintendo Switch, some games just need a D-Pad. The recently added SNES games hammer this point home pretty hard, so if you're looking for something that feels a bit more comfortable with Super Mario World, Super Metroid, or any of the other classics, then you could do a lot worse than Hori's D-Pad Joy-Con.
If you're interested in more Switch controllers, including an excellent SNES-style one, be sure to check out our big guide on the best Nintendo Switch controllers we've tried so far.
Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email [email protected]
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