The best Switch controllers for every player level

The Nintendo Switch is pretty popular, but its included Joy-Cons aren’t for everyone. Some players feel the detachable controllers are a bit small for their hands. Many players miss having a regular D-pad. Whatever your reasons for wanting to upgrade your Switch controller situation, know that there are alternatives — it’s just a matter of picking the one that fits your needs. We tested out a bunch of Switch controllers to see which are worth your money.

For casual gaming: Joy-Cons

Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons
Kris Naudus / Engadget

Honestly, there’s a lot to like about the included Joy-Cons. They come right in the box and can be separated from the system so two people can play. The system also includes a special gamepad grip so you can hold them in your hand like any standard controller. So if you are in fact, happy with your Joy-Cons, there’s no need to switch them out. Just tweak them a little depending on your needs. Find them a tad too small? FastSnail’s matte rubber shells can make them a little easier for large hands to hold, and Hori’s Analog Caps can make the thumb sticks grippier. 

Buy FastSnail grips at Amazon - $14Buy Hori analog caps at Amazon - $9

There’s really no good way to replace the Joy-Cons entirely with a third-party copy. Some Joy-Con-like controllers won’t connect wirelessly, while others lack key features like vibration or an NFC reader. But there are some tradeoffs that are worth it. For example, if you like to play a lot of 2D platformers in handheld mode, Hori’s D-pad controller will restore the beloved cross-shaped directional button to your gameplay. If you’re looking for something that’s also more comfortable in your hand, the company’s $50 Split Pad Pro is also worth a look. It has a D-pad on the left side and a more ergonomic grip than your standard set of Joy-Cons. But it also makes the entire assembled Switch a lot chunkier.

If you like to play your Switch with groups (or you’ve experienced the dreaded “drift” issue), chances are you’ve picked up one or two extra pairs of Joy-Cons. Which means you’re going to need a place to charge the spares. PowerA makes an excellent $25 charging station that can be plugged into your Switch dock (or any device with a USB port) and handles four Joy-Con-like controllers at once — that includes third-party gamepads as well as Nintendo’s own Switch-compatible NES controllers (see below).

Buy Hori D-pad controller at Amazon - $60Buy Split Pad Pro at Amazon - $88Buy PowerA charging dock at Amazon - $25

For action-packed games: Pro-level controllers

Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
Kris Naudus / Engadget

Sometimes you just want a standard controller to play your favorite action titles — and standard in 2020 means something like you’d get packed in with an Xbox, with grips for the heels of your hands, shoulder buttons and triggers, two thumb sticks, a set of four buttons on the right and a D-pad on the left. Nintendo knows that, which is why it created the Pro Controller. This first-party gamepad pairs easily with the Switch and features a D-pad on the left, while still maintaining features like the infrared sensor and vibration that might go missing on third-party alternatives. The only downside is the $70 price, but avid players of games like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will appreciate the refined controls and increased comfort.

While you can plug your Pro Controller directly into your Switch dock to charge, it’s not the most elegant solution. PowerA also makes an attractive $25 dock that accommodates both Joy-Cons and the Pro Controller, which should keep your gaming area nice and tidy.

Buy Pro Controller at Amazon - $70Buy PowerA dock at Amazon - $25
PowerA Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
Kris Naudus / Engadget

When the price of the Pro Controller is a bit rich for your blood or out of stock, PowerA makes its own version with the same arrangement of buttons. The Enhanced Wireless Controller skips the rechargeable battery in favor of AAs, which has its downsides, but at least when it runs low on juice you can just pop in a new pair of batteries and get right back to gaming. Unfortunately, there’s no USB-C port to connect with so you’ll have to pair the device wirelessly — which can be finicky and may take a few tries before your Switch recognizes the controller. It also lacks vibration, so you won’t get tactile feedback in games where it’s helpful. And the plus and minus buttons are placed a bit closer to the center, so those with smaller hands will have to reach a bit further to press them.

If you’d prefer not to have to recharge — or buy batteries for — your gamepad, PowerA also makes a wired version of the same controller that connects via USB. It’s got the same look and feel, but you won’t have to struggle as much with getting your console to recognize it, and there’s no potential for wireless lag, making it ideal for fast-paced shooters and fighting games. The included cord is 10 feet long so it should reach most couches just fine.

While most third-party controllers tend to mimic the Xbox style of gamepad, anyone more familiar with the PlayStation’s distinctive DualShock design will probably prefer the $50 Pro 2 from 8BitDo. The retro-styled controller has the same general layout as the classic SNES gamepad, but adds twin thumb sticks, palm grips, back buttons, control remapping and even sensitivity adjustments. It’s truly the Swiss Army knife of Switch controllers.

Buy Enhanced Wireless controller at Amazon - $60Buy PowerA wired controller at Amazon - $23Buy 8bitdo Pro 2 at Amazon - $50

For old school gaming: Niche and retro controllers

PowerA GameCube-style controller for Switch
Kris Naudus / Engadget

Twenty years later and the preferred controller layout for Super Smash Bros. players is still the one made for the GameCube, which is why today it’s still possible to buy new gamepads straight from Nintendo. The Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Edition GameCube Controller is identical in layout and design to the original gamepads, though now it connects via USB so it can be used with the Switch. The only downside to the reissue is that it doesn’t come in a bold shade of purple anymore.

However, if you’re still sporting a classic GameCube controller with its proprietary connector, you can also pick up an adapter that will let your Switch accommodate up to four old-school gamepads. Nintendo sells one on its store, but the Y Team controller adapter is also a good alternative that costs less and can be bought at Amazon.

But you might not want to be tethered to your console — especially if you have fond memories of kicking back on your couch with a Wavebird in hand to play GameCube games like Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Killer 7. PowerA’s Nintendo GameCube-Style wireless controller is the closest you can get to recreating that feeling short of plugging a few RF dongles into a GameCube adapter.

Buy Smash Bros. controller at Amazon - $73Buy Y Team adapter at Amazon - $14Buy PowerA Game Cube-style controller at Amazon - $55
NES Switch controller
Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

What if your retro tastes go even further back, say to the NES and SNES era? If you’re subscribed to Nintendo Online, you have access to over 100 classic titles, so you might want a more “authentic” controller to use with them. Nintendo Online subscribers can buy retro-style wireless gamepads directly from the company, though the $60 set of two small, rectangular NES controllers will remind you why we’ve moved on from that design. The dog-bone shape of the $30 SNES model is more hand friendly and can still be used with the NES games, so it’s a better use of your funds should you decide you want to recreate your childhood gaming experiences.

If you don’t need an exact copy of your beloved childhood gamepads it’s worth looking at 8BitDo instead: It makes a variety of classic-styled controllers that add just enough modern features to make them useful for a wider variety of games. Its models are almost all wireless, and there are some design changes to make the controllers more comfortable and easier to use. We’ve already recommended the DualShock-like Pro 2, but the $45 SN30 Pro also offers features like dual thumb sticks and vibration in the dog-bone controller style.

If you’re looking for something more portable, however, the $25 8BitDo Lite is smaller and swaps out the thumb sticks for two D-pads, keeping the four button arrangement on each side. It’s great for 2D games and it even matches the color scheme of the Switch Lite. 

Before you try any of the controllers listed in this guide, remember to update your Switch to the latest firmware — the 8BitDo controllers will run on any version, but the PowerA gamepads need your system to run at least version 6.0.0.

Buy NES controller pack at Nintendo - $60Buy SNES controller at Nintendo - $30Buy SN30 Pro at Amazon - $45Buy 8bitdo Lite at Amazon - $25

The best Switch controllers for every player level

The Nintendo Switch is pretty popular, but its included Joy-Cons aren’t for everyone. Some players feel the detachable controllers are a bit small for their hands. Many players miss having a regular D-pad. Whatever your reasons for wanting to upgrade your Switch controller situation, know that there are alternatives — it’s just a matter of picking the one that fits your needs. We tested out a bunch of Switch controllers to see which are worth your money.

For casual gaming: Joy-Cons

Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons
Kris Naudus / Engadget

Honestly, there’s a lot to like about the included Joy-Cons. They come right in the box and can be separated from the system so two people can play. The system also includes a special gamepad grip so you can hold them in your hand like any standard controller. So if you are in fact, happy with your Joy-Cons, there’s no need to switch them out. Just tweak them a little depending on your needs. Find them a tad too small? FastSnail’s matte rubber shells can make them a little easier for large hands to hold, and Hori’s Analog Caps can make the thumb sticks grippier. 

Buy FastSnail grips at Amazon - $14Buy Hori analog caps at Amazon - $9

There’s really no good way to replace the Joy-Cons entirely with a third-party copy. Some Joy-Con-like controllers won’t connect wirelessly, while others lack key features like vibration or an NFC reader. But there are some tradeoffs that are worth it. For example, if you like to play a lot of 2D platformers in handheld mode, Hori’s D-pad controller will restore the beloved cross-shaped directional button to your gameplay. If you’re looking for something that’s also more comfortable in your hand, the company’s $50 Split Pad Pro is also worth a look. It has a D-pad on the left side and a more ergonomic grip than your standard set of Joy-Cons. But it also makes the entire assembled Switch a lot chunkier.

If you like to play your Switch with groups (or you’ve experienced the dreaded “drift” issue), chances are you’ve picked up one or two extra pairs of Joy-Cons. Which means you’re going to need a place to charge the spares. PowerA makes an excellent $25 charging station that can be plugged into your Switch dock (or any device with a USB port) and handles four Joy-Con-like controllers at once — that includes third-party gamepads as well as Nintendo’s own Switch-compatible NES controllers (see below).

Buy Hori D-pad controller at Amazon - $60Buy Split Pad Pro at Amazon - $88Buy PowerA charging dock at Amazon - $25

For action-packed games: Pro-level controllers

Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
Kris Naudus / Engadget

Sometimes you just want a standard controller to play your favorite action titles — and standard in 2020 means something like you’d get packed in with an Xbox, with grips for the heels of your hands, shoulder buttons and triggers, two thumb sticks, a set of four buttons on the right and a D-pad on the left. Nintendo knows that, which is why it created the Pro Controller. This first-party gamepad pairs easily with the Switch and features a D-pad on the left, while still maintaining features like the infrared sensor and vibration that might go missing on third-party alternatives. The only downside is the $70 price, but avid players of games like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will appreciate the refined controls and increased comfort.

While you can plug your Pro Controller directly into your Switch dock to charge, it’s not the most elegant solution. PowerA also makes an attractive $25 dock that accommodates both Joy-Cons and the Pro Controller, which should keep your gaming area nice and tidy.

Buy Pro Controller at Amazon - $70Buy PowerA dock at Amazon - $25
PowerA Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
Kris Naudus / Engadget

When the price of the Pro Controller is a bit rich for your blood or out of stock, PowerA makes its own version with the same arrangement of buttons. The Enhanced Wireless Controller skips the rechargeable battery in favor of AAs, which has its downsides, but at least when it runs low on juice you can just pop in a new pair of batteries and get right back to gaming. Unfortunately, there’s no USB-C port to connect with so you’ll have to pair the device wirelessly — which can be finicky and may take a few tries before your Switch recognizes the controller. It also lacks vibration, so you won’t get tactile feedback in games where it’s helpful. And the plus and minus buttons are placed a bit closer to the center, so those with smaller hands will have to reach a bit further to press them.

If you’d prefer not to have to recharge — or buy batteries for — your gamepad, PowerA also makes a wired version of the same controller that connects via USB. It’s got the same look and feel, but you won’t have to struggle as much with getting your console to recognize it, and there’s no potential for wireless lag, making it ideal for fast-paced shooters and fighting games. The included cord is 10 feet long so it should reach most couches just fine.

While most third-party controllers tend to mimic the Xbox style of gamepad, anyone more familiar with the PlayStation’s distinctive DualShock design will probably prefer the $50 Pro 2 from 8BitDo. The retro-styled controller has the same general layout as the classic SNES gamepad, but adds twin thumb sticks, palm grips, back buttons, control remapping and even sensitivity adjustments. It’s truly the Swiss Army knife of Switch controllers.

Buy Enhanced Wireless controller at Amazon - $60Buy PowerA wired controller at Amazon - $23Buy 8bitdo Pro 2 at Amazon - $50

For old school gaming: Niche and retro controllers

PowerA GameCube-style controller for Switch
Kris Naudus / Engadget

Twenty years later and the preferred controller layout for Super Smash Bros. players is still the one made for the GameCube, which is why today it’s still possible to buy new gamepads straight from Nintendo. The Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Edition GameCube Controller is identical in layout and design to the original gamepads, though now it connects via USB so it can be used with the Switch. The only downside to the reissue is that it doesn’t come in a bold shade of purple anymore.

However, if you’re still sporting a classic GameCube controller with its proprietary connector, you can also pick up an adapter that will let your Switch accommodate up to four old-school gamepads. Nintendo sells one on its store, but the Y Team controller adapter is also a good alternative that costs less and can be bought at Amazon.

But you might not want to be tethered to your console — especially if you have fond memories of kicking back on your couch with a Wavebird in hand to play GameCube games like Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Killer 7. PowerA’s Nintendo GameCube-Style wireless controller is the closest you can get to recreating that feeling short of plugging a few RF dongles into a GameCube adapter.

Buy Smash Bros. controller at Amazon - $73Buy Y Team adapter at Amazon - $14Buy PowerA Game Cube-style controller at Amazon - $55
NES Switch controller
Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

What if your retro tastes go even further back, say to the NES and SNES era? If you’re subscribed to Nintendo Online, you have access to over 100 classic titles, so you might want a more “authentic” controller to use with them. Nintendo Online subscribers can buy retro-style wireless gamepads directly from the company, though the $60 set of two small, rectangular NES controllers will remind you why we’ve moved on from that design. The dog-bone shape of the $30 SNES model is more hand friendly and can still be used with the NES games, so it’s a better use of your funds should you decide you want to recreate your childhood gaming experiences.

If you don’t need an exact copy of your beloved childhood gamepads it’s worth looking at 8BitDo instead: It makes a variety of classic-styled controllers that add just enough modern features to make them useful for a wider variety of games. Its models are almost all wireless, and there are some design changes to make the controllers more comfortable and easier to use. We’ve already recommended the DualShock-like Pro 2, but the $45 SN30 Pro also offers features like dual thumb sticks and vibration in the dog-bone controller style.

If you’re looking for something more portable, however, the $25 8BitDo Lite is smaller and swaps out the thumb sticks for two D-pads, keeping the four button arrangement on each side. It’s great for 2D games and it even matches the color scheme of the Switch Lite. 

Before you try any of the controllers listed in this guide, remember to update your Switch to the latest firmware — the 8BitDo controllers will run on any version, but the PowerA gamepads need your system to run at least version 6.0.0.

Buy NES controller pack at Nintendo - $60Buy SNES controller at Nintendo - $30Buy SN30 Pro at Amazon - $45Buy 8bitdo Lite at Amazon - $25

eXtremeRate RISE DIY Back Paddles for PS5: Quadsense Controller

Critics and gamers lucky enough to get their hands on the PS5 often cite the console’s DualSense controller as a true next-gen controller, thanks to its precise haptics and force feedback triggers. However, the previous generation also saw a small but significant addition to gamepads – paddles. They come in various shapes and numbers, but the idea is the same – you get programmable back-mounted inputs that let you keep your fingers on the joysticks and shoulder buttons. Now you can apply that innovation to the DualSense, thanks to eXtremeRate’s RISE Remap DIY kit.

The RISE kit gives you two programmable paddles. By default, you can map everything but the L3, R3, and touchpad to those paddles. However, if you’re willing to do a bit of soldering, you can map even those three inputs to the paddles. The kit comes with everything you need to perform the upgrade, including a new back shell to hold everything in place.

This truly is a DIY affair, though, requiring you to basically teardown your DualSense controller. Im.A.Caveman has a good guide to installation on YouTube.

I spotted about a billion ways in which the procedure would go wrong in my hands. But I know you can do it! You can get the RISE Remap kit from GamingCobra for $40 (USD). It comes in various colors, from plain black or white to textured green and metallic yellow. It’s also on Amazon (affiliate link).

This Nintendo Switch 2 foldable concept makes it the ultimate Android gaming tablet

Nintendo Switch 2 Foldable Android Gaming Tablet

Think of it as the natural successor to the Nintendo Switch, and the clamshell-style Nintendo DS before it.

Sure, Nintendo’s probably going to announce the Switch Pro console very soon, but entertain the idea of a world where the Switch isn’t just a console, it’s an all-in-one tablet and gaming device. Designed by Alessandro Cesa and Nicola Pizzato, this conceptual Nintendo Switch 2 device makes a great case for how the company can fill a pretty big void in the gaming tablet market. The Nintendo Switch 2 comes with a dual-hinge folding mechanism (sort of like the Microsoft Duo) that creates a gap in between the two folding components… a gap wide enough to dock the Switch’s joy-cons. Moreover, the Switch 2 even sports a sprawling folding display that turns it into a full-size tablet when open. You could hold it as you would a Nintendo DS, or open it out and play games on a larger screen with the joy-cons in each hand, just like you would with a Nintendo Switch.

Nintendo Switch 2 Foldable Android Gaming Tablet

We all know that the Switch runs on a customized version of Android already, which makes it really easy for the Switch 2 to be more than just a gaming device. The large touchscreen display is perfect for everything from playing Animal Crossing to watching content on Netflix and YouTube. The joy-cons, which sit inside the tablet like bookmarks, can easily be removed when needed, and used as either game-controllers, or remote controls. The fact that they sit INSIDE the Switch would probably indicate that they charge wirelessly, using a reverse wireless charging technology built into the tablet.

Nintendo Switch 2 Foldable Android Gaming Tablet

Nintendo Switch 2 Foldable Android Gaming Tablet

The Switch 2 tablet and controllers take on a rather familiar design, with flat edges just like the iPad. The joy-cons sport battery indicators on the side, and have a unique design where the main buttons and the analog thumbsticks sit below the controller’s upper surface, protecting the screen from getting scratched or damaged when shut.

Nintendo Switch 2 Foldable Android Gaming Tablet

To expand its tablet functionality, the Switch 2 even comes with its own docked stylus, pitting it against the iPad Pro as a serious gaming and productivity device. The stylus docks in on the right side of the tablet, while the left comes with a slot for gaming cartridges, keeping the analog appeal of a gaming console very much alive!

Nintendo Switch 2 Foldable Android Gaming Tablet

Nintendo Switch 2 Foldable Android Gaming Tablet

Nintendo Switch 2 Foldable Android Gaming Tablet

That hinge is perhaps one of the most interesting details on the Switch 2. It folds the screen with a much broader curvature, so you’re not left with that godforsaken crease when you open it up. The folded version of the tablet also creates a perfect gap to dock the joy-cons. The Switch 2 also comes with a single-lens camera, a 3.5mm jack, and a USB-C port for charging it or hooking it to a variety of other devices. The designers even created a two-part case for the Switch 2 concept, with iPad-style foldable panels that allow it to dock at an angle as you play games or browse the internet on it!

Designers: Alessandro Cesa & Nicola Pizzato

Nintendo Switch 2 Foldable Android Gaming Tablet

Nintendo Switch 2 Foldable Android Gaming Tablet

Nintendo Switch 2 Foldable Android Gaming Tablet

Nintendo Switch 2 Foldable Android Gaming Tablet

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I feel your pain if you’re an iPhone user who loves gaming. Apple hasn’t been particularly kind to you, what with the removal of Fortnite from the game-store and the pre-emptive banning of services like Microsoft Xbox Game Pass and Google Stadia. However, if you’re really serious about gaming, just grab yourself a budget Android phone and one of Nacon’s MG-X Android Controllers and you’ll have perhaps one of the most powerful mobile gaming solutions in the palm of your hand!

Nacon offers two incredibly versatile gaming controllers for people with an Xbox Game Pass. The MG-X controller resembles a Nintendo Switch, with your smartphone sandwiched between two tablet-sized remotes, while the MG-X Pro gives you a more ergonomic piece of hardware, designed to look sort of like Sony’s Dual-Shock controllers with rounded grips, but with an Xbox button on the right-hand remote. Both of Nacon’s controllers are singular, with a stretchable design that grips your phone in between. They both ship with Bluetooth 4.2, which Nacon says will offer incredible lag-free input, along with a battery capacity of 20 hours on a full charge, and the ability to independently charge the controller while playing. They even come with the standard XYAB buttons, a D-Pad, two analog sticks, and shoulder-buttons that allow you to play more than 100 Xbox games on your Android smartphone. The controllers are set for an early-2021 debut, which means they’ll narrowly miss the launch of the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate next month… but I guess that window of time will really help Microsoft work out any possible kinks and bugs in their game-streaming service.

Designer: Nacon

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