Tue. Mar 5th, 2024


Nothing beats using an old-style controller when retro gaming, whether you’re on the original hardware, a Raspberry Pi, or an emulator. Make sure you get the best retro gaming experience with one of our recommendations.


UPDATE: 01/12/2024

We’ve reviewed our recommendations and have updated our recommendation for the best SNES style controller.

What to Look For in a Retro Controller in 2024

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 a controller replicating the feel of playing retro games on the older system.

Starting with the NES generation of consoles, the controller became relatively standardized. If your general interest in retro gaming is from this era onward, buying a single gamepad that adequately covers multiple systems is possible.

That includes the modern controllers you already have, but they have a major flaw that makes them less than ideal for retro gaming. Specifically, they tend to have mushy D-pads.

Most retro games extensively use the D-pad to control the game. Modern games use the D-pad for tasks such as using items or switching between in-game modes—so they don’t need to be as accurate. Therefore, a good retro controller must first have a sharp, accurate d-pad with good feedback.

The next thing to look for is compatibility. Most modern retro controllers will work with anything that has Bluetooth or USB, but only a select few are compatible with original hardware. In this article, we’re not specifically looking for controllers to use with the original consoles, but some offer this option as a bonus.

Finally, button layout and quality are paramount. If you want to play a game designed for a controller with six face buttons, using one with just four can be an issue. Buttons also need to be comfortable enough and give good sharp feedback. In retro games, button presses tend to be more frequent and intense, so any controller has to stand up to this.

With a laser focus on making retro games play as well and authentically as possible, let’s look at some of the best retro-style controllers you can buy.

Best Retro Controller Overall: 8Bitdo Pro 2

The 8Bitdo Pro 2 wireless controller
Jordan Gloor / How-To Geek

Pros

Cons

✓ More comfortable than most retro controllers

✗ A mishmash of different controller designs

✓ Suitable for any gamepad-era retro gaming

✓ Rumble support

✓ Back-paddle buttons

✓ Custom profiles

If you don’t have the budget to buy multiple retro-style controllers, then the 8Bitdo Pro 2 is the one we’d recommend. It has all of the controls for retro gaming up to the modern 3D era, where analog sticks came onto the scene.

Although it lacks the six-face buttons Genesis or fighting game fans would prefer, it does come with two additional back buttons, so you can compensate for that when mapping buttons for these titles. These back buttons can also help in games that are hard on your fingers, but where you don’t want to resort to a turbo function that spams keypresses.

Ths 8Bitdo controller doesn’t match any particular retro console in design, unfortunately, so if you’re looking for a controller that’ll match your console aesthetic, you might be a little disappointed. However, the Pro 2 makes up for it with modern grips, which makes it more comfortable than most controllers that adhere strictly to the old-school design.

The Pro 2 is officially compatible with Switch, PC, macOS, Android, Steam, and Raspberry Pi.

8bitdo pro 2

8Bitdo Pro 2 Bluetooth Controller

Best Retro Controller Overall

The Pro 2 tries to be all things to all retro gamers and by and large, succeeds at it. If you need one controller to play games from multiple retro systems, this is the one.

Best Budget Retro Controller: 8Bitdo SN30

8bitdo SN30 being used with SNES
8Bitdo

Pros

Cons

✓ Great quality, affordable

✗ No Bluetooth

✓ Wirelessly compatible with original SNES

✗ Must use USB cable for non-SNES devices

The SNES-style 8Bitdo SN30 controller lacks the analog sticks, rumble, and additional shoulder buttons of the SN30 Pro, but it comes in at a significantly lower price. The SN30 uses a proprietary 2.4Ghz wireless standard that allows it to work wirelessly with original SNES or modern SNES reproductions such as the Analog Super NT.

That does mean that this budget retro controller lacks native Bluetooth. If you want to use the SN30 Pro with a different system, you’ll have to plug it in with a USB wire. But this does guarantee 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 maintain what made it special while giving it the right amount of polish for modern gamers. The old-school semi-transparent plastic is a nice touch.

If you’re not concerned about wireless connectivity to the original SNES or SNES-compatible consoles, then a better alternative would be the wired version of the SN30 Pro. It costs the same price and adds all of the features of the SN30 Pro, just without a battery or wireless function.

According to our research, the SN30 should be compatible with any device that can use controllers via USB.

8bitdo sn30

8Bitdo Sn30 2.4G Wireless Gamepad for Original SNES

Best Budget Retro Controller

This high-quality controller works with the original SNES via lag-free 2.4Ghz wireless connectivity.

Retro-Bit Saturn controller on pink background
Retro-Bit

Pros

Cons

✓ Six-button layout makes it perfect for retro fighting games

✗ Only two shoulder buttons

✓ Generous cord length

✗ Does not work with original Genesis or Saturn

✓ Officially licensed

✓ Xinput and Dinput compatible

✓ Works with almost anything with a USB port

✓ Great price

Having a wireless controller is a nice modern convenience, but the best latency and responsiveness are still to be found with wired controllers. Many of the wireless controllers you can buy also let you use a wired connection, but if you’re only going to use it in wired mode, why pay for a battery and Bluetooth radio you’ll never use?

The Retro-Bit Official Sega Saturn USB controller is a reproduction of one of the most respected controller designs in history. The original Genesis six-button controller was already well-loved, but the Sega Saturn version refines it into something even more comfortable. So whether you want to play Genesis or Saturn games, the Saturn controller is the best choice overall.

This wired USB version controller obviously won’t work with an original Saturn, but Retro-Bit does make 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 with a generous 10-foot cable.

While this is a quality replica of the Saturn controller, it’s quite modern under the skin. In particular, you can switch the controller between the modern Xinput and older Dinput standards, so it should work with both new and legacy titles on PC.

This controller is officially compatible with the Sega Genesis Mini, Switch, PS3, PC, Mac, Steam, RetroPie, and Raspberry Pi.

retro-bit Saturn controller

Retro-Bit Official Sega Saturn USB Controller Pad (Model 2)

Best Wired Retro Controller

The Model 2 revision of the Saturn controller is beloved by Sega fans and this wired official replica works with almost anything that has a USB port, at a killer price.

Suily NES controller on grey background
Suily

Pros

Cons

✓ Replicates the classic NES controller well

✗ Not compatible with NES Mini

✓ Simple design with no overly complicated extras

✗ Construction feels a little cheap

There’s only one way to truly experience retro gaming, and that’s with a controller fashioned after the iconic design. For NES titles, you’ll want to go with Suily’s NES USB Controller, a near 1:1 recreation of the accessory that once shipped with Nintendo’s first console.

Suily made a few minor controller modifications, specifically by adding etching to the red “B” and “A” buttons. Of course, the biggest change is the somewhat short 5.6-foot cord, which ends in a standard USB-A plug for compatibility with Raspberry Pi, Windows, Mac, and Linux. You’ll have no issue diving into your classic NES library, and enjoying favorites like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Ninja Gaiden, and so many more.

If you’ve never held a classic NES controller, you likely won’t realize the Suily version feels a little cheaper. Though the mold is fairly accurate to the original model, its construction could use a little updating. So long as you’re not rough on your controllers, this USB-enabled NES controller should serve you well.

Because the controller only has two face buttons, the biggest limitation is in the library it works with. However, if you’re only playing NES games, it’s a wonderful way to feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

Suily NES controller

Suily NES USB Controller

Best NES-Style Controller

If you’re looking for a recreation of the classic NES days, Suily delivers with a near 1:1 replica of the iconic controller that helped truly launch at-home family gaming.

8Bitdo SN30 Pro Wireless Bluetooth Controller

8Bitdo

Pros

Cons

✓ Super cool transparent design

✗ Motion controls for Switch users only

✓ Wireless

✗ A little bit pricier than some alternatives

✓ Four shoulder buttons

✓ Turbo Function

Taking everything great about the 8Bitdo SN30 and then dialing up to eleven, the 8Bitdo SN30 Pro Wireless Bluetooth Controller is a premium SNES-style controller compatible with Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, and Raspberry Pi.

This 2023 version of the 8Bitdo SN30 Pro features an ultra-cool crystal purple transparent design that mimics the classic SNES controller layout but with four additional shoulder buttons. This wireless Bluetooth controller boasts motion controls for Switch users, with rumble vibration, turbo function, and screenshot buttons for everyone else.

The Turbo Function is a particularly nice feature to see on a retro-style controller, and the ability to assign the turbo function to a chosen button makes this upgraded version of the SN30 Pro even more versatile for modern gaming.

It comes with a fast-charging USC-C cable which will provide you with 16 hours of playtime for around one or two hours of charging time. Plus, the clicky buttons and D-pad add an extra tactile dimension to this controller, making it feel great in your hands.

Mimicking the retro style of the original SNES controller but with modern wireless functionality and features, the 8Bitdo SN30 Pro Wireless Bluetooth Controller is the cream of the crop if you’re on the lookout for a multi-platform SNES-style controller with all the trimmings.

8Bitdo SN30 Pro Wireless Bluetooth Controller Tag

8Bitdo SN30 Pro Controller

Best SNES Style Controller

$45 $60 Save $15

Seamlessly blending the retro cool of the original SNES controller with modern-day wireless functionality, the 8Bitdo SN30 Pro Wireless Bluetooth Controller brings style and precision to a gaming classic.

Retro-Bit Genesis controller box on blue background
Retro-Bit

Pros

Cons

✓ Shoulder buttons for a personalized experience

✗ D-pad can be flimsy

✓ USB-A port is compatible with most devices

✗ Issues remapping on some platforms

✓ Works with Genesis Mini

Rev up as Sonic the Hedgehog, explore distant planets as ToeJam & Earl, and embrace the beast within with this classic Sega Genesis Controller. Retro-Bit captured the Genesis controller’s classic look and felt with this original replication.

The six face buttons are there, as is the signature curve that may take a moment to get used to. Two shoulder buttons add a hint of customization so you can easily pull off some specials in Mortal Kombat with just the click of a button.

Retro-Bit went with a long 10-foot USB-A cable compatible with Windows, Mac, Raspberry Pi, and Linux. You may find the D-pad a little flimsy if you’re rougher on your controllers or take fighting games seriously. Otherwise, the construction is durable and light without feeling cheap.

A small “Mode” button at the center swaps between D-input and X-input, which expands the library of compatible titles. You may run into a few games that won’t map properly, especially if you go beyond the Genesis ecosystem, but the occurrence should be pretty rare for Sega games.

retro-bit Genesis controller

Retro-Bit Sega Genesis Controller

Best Megadrive/Genesis Controller

A faithful recreation of the classic Sega Genesis controller.



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By John P.

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