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

The best Nintendo Switch accessories you can buy

It’s shaping up to be a good year for the Nintendo Switch, with games like New Pokémon Snap, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles and Famicom Detective Club giving us plenty of reasons to keep playing the now four year old console. The new OLED version might add a bit of extra pep to your game graphics, but a better Switch experience doesn’t have to cost $350. You can upgrade your setup with the right accessories, and we’ve got a few recommendations for different uses.

For Switches that stay at home

Nintendo Switch dock
Devindra Hardawar

The first thing you’ll want to pick up for your Switch or Switch Lite is a microSD card. After all, there are a lot of great games to download and your system has limited storage space. It’s also the only way you’ll get screen captures off your console if you haven’t connected it to Facebook or Twitter. Samsung's EVO Select line is recommended for its speed and reliability, but it’s the price that you’re likely to find most appealing, with a 256GB card running only $36 and the more spacious 512GB costing $70.

Buy Samsung Evo microSD card (256GB) at Amazon - $36Buy Samsung Evo microSD card (512GB) at Amazon - $70

It might be tempting to pick up a third-party dock for your Switch. Don’t. There have been reports of Switches getting bricked by non-Nintendo docks, which means you’re stuck with the official $100 model. However, if all you’re looking for is a change in look, you can buy a skin for your dock (and the Joy-Cons too) that will liven things up. Dbrand offers a range of bold, vibrant colors, and the skins won’t damage your Switch if removed. If you’d prefer something with a design, Slickwraps offers marble and camo patterns as well some attractive Super Nintendo and Super Famicom-themed skins.

If your Switch gets a lot of use, chances are you may have picked up some extra Joy-Cons and a Pro Controller. It’s a real pain to have to charge multiple pairs of Joy-Cons on one Switch, however, so a charging dock can be a great buy. PowerA’s Pro Controller charging dock has room for one pair of Joy-Cons and a Pro Controller, keeping them tidy and powered up. If you don’t need a place to put your Pro Controller, the regular charging dock can accommodate two sets of Joy-Cons. You can also use them for other controllers that slide onto your Switch’s rails like the official NES-style controllers or Hori’s Split Pad Pro.

Buy Dbrand skins starting at $8Buy Slickwraps starting at $35Buy PowerA charging dock at Amazon - $36

Labo VR headset
Kris Naudus / Engadget

I wasn’t a huge fan of the Labo VR kit from 2019, mostly due to its price and a lack of game support. But if you’re interested in trying out the virtual reality modes in games like Super Mario Odyssey and Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the VR starter kit is a good purchase. It comes with the basic headset and the blaster, which was easily the most fun of all the various Labo VR projects. It usually costs around $40, but Best Buy often puts it on sale for half that amount so be sure to keep an eye out.

Buy Labo VR starter kit at Amazon - $76

For Switches that travel often

 Devindra with Switch Lite
Kris Naudus / Engadget

You’re going to need a case, that’s certain. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just enough to protect your Switch from getting bumped around in your bag. The AmazonBasics model is cheap, has 10 slots to hold additional Switch cards and a mesh pocket to store an extra charging cord or set of Joy-Cons. If you’re planning to take your entire setup, dock and all, Amazon also makes a larger storage case that can fit all the cords and controller accessories. If you need something smaller for your Switch Lite, the official case from Nintendo is incredibly slim and even comes with a screen protector. But it’s not made for carrying a lot of games. For that, we recommend TomToc’s line of Switch Lite cases, which are waterproof and come in a wide variety of colors to match your handheld for under $20.

Buy AmazonBasics case at Amazon - $10Buy AmazonBasics large case at Amazon - $27Buy TomToc case at Amazon - $18

SteelSeries Arctis 1
Kris Naudus / Engadget

You probably already have a bag that you’re carrying around all your stuff in, but if you were looking for one specifically made for your Switch, how about this backpack from HORI? It’s specifically designed to hold a Nintendo Switch and all its accessories, and comes in Pokémon, Mario and Zelda designs. The company also makes less overtly nerdy bags, but where’s the fun in that?

If Animal Crossing is more your aesthetic, Target sells a charming collection of bags emblazoned with leaf or character patterns. The backpacks have a special pocket just for your Nintendo Switch, while the clutch purses are perfectly sized for the consoles while being super stylish to boot.

Buy HORI Backpack at Amazon - $45Buy Leaf Collection Mini Backpack at Target - $30Buy Animal Crossing messenger bag at Target - $50

Whether you hate the speakers on your Switch or just don’t want to bother those around you, you’re going to need a pair of headphones to listen to your games. Ideally you want something that doesn’t cost too much and can survive a beating in your bag, so if you don’t mind wires we’re still big fans of Turtle Beach’s Recon 70, which offers great sound in an affordable, lightweight form factor. However, if you just can’t stand cords and don’t mind dropping a bit of extra cash, check out the SteelSeries Arctis 1 or Razer’s Barracuda X headsets. They both come with a USB-C receiver you can plug directly into your console for a solid wireless connection, and the sound quality of either is among the best you’ll find in any gaming headset, especially for under $150.

If you already have a pair of wireless headphones you’re particularly attached to, you can use those with your Switch or Switch Lite by plugging HomeSpot’s 5.0 Audio Transmitter Adapter into the USB-C port. It’s rather diminutive and can slip into your case easily, and very affordable at only $30.

Buy Turtle Beach Recon 70 at Amazon - $40Buy SteelSeries Arctis 1 at Amazon - $100Buy Barracuda X at Razer - $100Buy HomeSpot’s 5.0 Audio Adapter at Amazon - $30

PowerA Nano controller
Kris Naudus / Engadget

One thing you definitely have to worry about if you game on the go often is battery life, and in those cases you’ll want to carry around an extra power bank. For your Switch there are two features you need to focus on, and that’s the ability to use a USB-C cord to connect, and a slim profile so it’ll fit inside your Switch case. The RavPower 26,800mAh power bank fits both those criteria perfectly, is rather affordable at $61, and can even charge your device as you play.

Occasionally you might want to make use of the Switch’s kickstand and play with a standard gamepad. The official Pro Controller is generally accepted to be the best available, but it’s also kind of cumbersome to lug around in your bag. If you’re trying to travel a little lighter and don’t mind a slightly smaller version, PowerA’s Enhanced Nano controller can do the job. In my testing I found it’s susceptible to electrical interference, but when you’re sitting right in front of the Switch on a table it should handle the task just fine. It even comes with a little cloth bag to protect the controller from dings and scratches.

Buy 26,800mAh power bank at RavPower - $48Buy PowerA Enhanced Nano controller at Amazon - $55

The EU wants an investigation of the Switch’s Joy-Con ‘drift’ issues

The European Union's joint consumer program has urged an investigation into the Nintendo Switch Joy-Con drift issue after it received almost 25,000 complaints from across the continent. Drift occurs when the Joy-Cons don't communicate properly with t...

A ‘Monster Hunter Rise’ demo hits Nintendo Switch tomorrow

The wait is almost over for Monster Hunter fans who are clamoring to get their hands on the next game in the series before it lands on March 26th. A limited-time demo of Monster Hunter Rise will be available on Nintendo Switch starting Friday. Until...

Animal Crossing: New Horizons holiday update arrives on November 19th

The Animal Crossing: New Horizons winter update is about to arrive, setting up some holiday events and adding some much-needed features to Nintendo's massively successful life sim. The company previewed two upcoming holiday events in a video, Turkey...

Switch exclusive ‘Bravely Default II’ delayed to February 26th

Bravely Default II was one of the last few Switch exclusives Nintendo had on its release calendar for the remainder of this year. That’s no longer the case — it’ll now arrive on February 26th. “More development time is necessary to ensure this RPG ex...

‘Need For Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered’ arrives on November 6th

EA has revved up its engines for a remastered version of Need For Speed Hot Pursuit. It’ll land on PC, Xbox One and PS4 on November 6th, almost 10 years to the date after the original game was released. Need For Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered will arri...