The Xbox 360 improved the quality of my console life in two notable ways. Firstly, I absolutely love having all my console games loaded right on the system at any given time. Playing Adventures of Lolo but having to get up and walk over to the NES to switch it out for some Kickle Cubicle? Ain’t nobody got no time for that. It’s pretty pathetic, but the first world pain is all too real. Comfy with my butt planted on the ground, and now I have to get up, walk like a peasant over to my cabinet, search for the game I have in mind, and then swap the media to change the game? I am no longer comfortable by that point.
Hard drives fixed that. For older systems which didn’t have hard drive game storage as a feasible option, we now have Internet people going back and adding that functionality to our beloved classic systems. Without getting into the whole piracy debate, there’s no question that these solutions make replaying games far easier than they did in the past, offering such luxuries as save states, translation hacks, and other benefits in addition to the wonders of jukebox game switching. Despite owning everything I play, I still rely on these devices because I strongly desire that convenience (and less wear and tear on my junk is nice, too).
The Xbox 360 also brought me into the world of wireless controllers, which are something which has been around for quite a while now. “But you have to change out batteries!” “OMG! Latency!” I know I and others had similar concerns about wireless controllers, and, to be fair, yeah, those things exist. However, those issues are so utterly negligible, especially in light of how convenient and awesome it is to not be tethered to the console at all times. Doing away with the tripping hazard that are wires across the floor is nice as well, as I know myself and I’m certain others have recoiled at the horror of watching their game in-progress fart all of that playtime away thanks to the family pet passing by.
8-bit Relief from 8Bitdo (and Analogue)
I’ve recently begun looking for wireless controllers for my classic systems, but with no good official wireless option for the NES as there are for the GameCube or Genesis — the NES Satellite is a bulky, battery-devouring, still-wired monstrosity — I was hoping some third-party or third-hacker may have come to a solution. Luckily for me, Analogue has partnered with 8Bitdo to release a Bluetooth capable device which allows the NES to receive input from a number of modern controllers: Sony’s DualShock controllers, Nintendo’s Wiimotes, and, of course, 8Bitdo’s own offerings such as the NES30 Game Controller.
People like unboxing galleries, right? I never understood the appeal of watching someone open a box, but I have to say that the packaging for the NES30 controller is pretty impressive. There’s a quality there that you normally don’t find in Chinese made third-party stuff. You can almost feel Apple’s influence given the attention to detail in what otherwise would be throwaway packaging, and the sturdy box, layout of the contents, and surprisingly heavy bonus keychain were all pleasant surprises. This isn’t something that shows up on your doorstop in a beaten envelope with broken English to match. This is nice. Real nice.
It’s A NES Controller, Except When It’s Not
It’s obvious 8Bitdo was aiming to remake the stock NES controller here, and initial impressions are good. Is it a box? Yep. Gray color scheme? Check. Complete lack of ergonomics which will introduce kids to the wonders of carpal tunnel syndrome? You know it. The iconic D-pad and red buttons certainly feel the same in my hand and while playing a game. Digital button response and that tactile feedback you get can make or break a controller, and thankfully 8Bitdo’s pad is on point there. The buttons aren’t clicky, the D-pad isn’t mushy, and I did not have to break in the controller or anything of the sort. It’s perfectly playable right out the box… or, at least, it would have been had I took it straight to my NES.
The weird X-backing plate looks to be designed as a phone caddy — 8Bitdo’s controller advertises Android, iPhone, and Windows support — but it’s much too light and ill structured to support anything. After some minor headaches (re: firmware update) getting the controller to sync correctly, I was playing Sonic CD on my Android phone with my NES lookalike controller. Welcome to the next level, indeed. Oddly, I just could not get the controller to work with Windows or my Windows Phone at all. Windows sees the pad just fine, but it’s either recognized as a keyboard on my PC or drops signal right away on my phone. I’d imagine some more time spent troubleshooting could fix either issue, but I didn’t buy this controller for Windows, so I moved quickly moved along to my NES.
The Retro Receiver is the epitome of plug-and-play. It synced with the NES30 in seconds and draws power straight from the NES controller jack. You really do plug it in and forget about it. I spent a few hours testing the setup on a variety of NES favorites — Batman, Super Mario Bros. 2, Bionic Commando, Double Dragon II, etc. — and loved how free and immediate the response was from the pad to the console. I couldn’t discern any delay and had no issue playing any game I threw at the combo. Hard to cry about fathom latency issues when I’m pulling off the same special attacks and triangle jumping over Bluetooth as I would wired.
Good, Very Good… But Not Perfect
I can cry a bit about the design of the pad, though. The original NES controller is pretty bad with its boxy shape and hard corners, and 8Bitdo copied it almost exactly in the name of nostalgia. Whatever, it works, yet I’m baffled as to why the company can go through such lengths to mimic the original design but then cast aside all of that effort when it comes to button placement. The NES30 uses the Super Nintendo’s four-button diamond layout, adding two new buttons to the face which (on the NES) act as turbo triggers. If you’re used to playing with the standard NES pad, the new button placement can feel a bit disorienting at times. It’s clear the company took some liberties there and with the additional shoulder buttons in order to create a more versatile controller, but while I can ignore the shoulder buttons which don’t exist in NES Land, memory burned button positioning is another thing. It’s something I can live with if I have to — I love my Bluetooth freedom too much to see going back now — but I still wish 8Bitdo had stuck to the script instead.
I had to see if it could be possible to fix it and decided to open it up. Six Phillip screws hold the controller together, the same as the NES original, and seeing as the controller mimics the original NES pad size and shape, it shouldn’t be too difficult to gut a stock controller and give it a Bluetooth upgrade. The gap for the cord may have to be widen a tad to allow for access to the micro USB jack which the controller uses to charge its battery, but it definitely seems doable and will have to be a project for me in the near future. Might be worth considering a battery upgrade seeing the space available, but I’ll cross that bridge when I’m ready to do it and bored enough to give it a go.
Now This is Pod Racing!
I should note that the receiver syncs one controller only, so you’ll need to spring for two Retro Receivers if you want to play Battletoads up to stage 11. I can only imagine what four of these would do to a NES Satellite. So, if you have friends, this can get a bit costly, and as much as I love Super Spike V’Ball, I’m not so sure I’d be willing to spring over $200 just so the other players can play wirelessly as well. I bought my Retro Receiver for $24.99 and the NES30 Game Controller for $33.22, both on Amazon. That’s a bit pricey given what you can buy the original NES pads for on eBay (albeit used), but I can’t complain with the results. If you’re looking to play your NES wirelessly and can deal with or embrace the new button configuration, then go for both. They’re an awesome combination.