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Hori’s Split Pad Pro for the Nintendo Switch gives you a real controller on the go

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Just in time for Daemon X Machina

As much as I love the portable aspect of the Nintendo Switch, I cannot pretend that it fits my hands, which are roughly the size of the Mano del Desierto and cramp up after any significant length of time with Celeste. I imagine the upcoming Switch Lite will only make matters worse. So when I saw that Hori, maker of the D-pad Joy-Con replacement, was working on a pair of large, officially licensed pro-style controllers designed for use in the Switch’s handheld mode, I knew I had to check it out.

The $49.99 Split Pad Pro is exactly what it sounds like. Take a Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, split it in two, and add Joy-Con rails to each side, and you’re pretty much there. It turns the Switch into a bizarrely long handheld that is in no way suitable for use outside the house.

At first, this felt awkward. The Switch screen seemed smaller than ever, and my instinct was to grip the controllers tightly for fear of dropping the whole contraption. But after a while, it gets easier to relax and just play the thing, and it’s vastly more comfortable than the default Switch setup. The Switch is constrained by the need to be fairly slim and flat; the Split Pad Pro is not. It digs into your palm with reassuring heft.

Hori knows how to make a good controller, and for the most part, this is a good controller. The face buttons are big and responsive without being clicky, while the shoulder buttons rest naturally under your fingers. The D-pad is only okay, but it’s a huge improvement over both the Pro Controller’s and the Joy-Cons’ button-based facsimile. The analog sticks are glorious compared to the Joy-Cons’, with a luxurious range of motion. The plus / minus and home / share buttons are a little weird and rubbery, but not to the point where it’s a problem.

Hori Split Pad Pro

The Split Pad Pro also includes turbo functionality and customizable buttons on the back, similar to the paddles on the Xbox Elite Controller and its various derivatives. These are useful in complex action games like Marvelous’ new Switch-exclusive mech combat title Daemon X Machina, which launched alongside the Split Pad Pro and uses up pretty much every button on a regular controller. The most obvious way to use the rear buttons is to assign face buttons to them, letting you access those commands when your thumbs are otherwise occupied by the analog stick.

Produced by a veteran of FromSoftware’s Armored Core mech series, Daemon X Machina is similarly a pretty niche game, with fun aerial combat that you’ll need to wade through mountains of exposition and menus to discover. The stark, bright visual style is a good fit for the Switch, and the quick mission structure makes it ideal for portable play. You don’t need to be interested in this game to pick up the Split Pad Pro, though. The cross-promotion only extends to the black-and-red color scheme and the “X” logo on the X button.

The Split Pad Pro felt like an improvement for pretty much everything I used it with, except maybe Tetris 99. (Those Joy-Con buttons are actually pretty great for Tetris.) Even if you’re not playing a hardcore mech game, you’re still going to benefit from the improved comfort and proper analog sticks. I played games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, and NBA 2K19 with the Split Pad Pro, and my hands thanked me for it all the way.

Daemon X Machina
Daemon X Machina.

There are a couple of caveats. The Split Pad Pro doesn’t contain any gyroscopes, meaning it won’t work with most games’ motion controls. There’s no rumble, either. Without any battery or wireless connectivity on board, you can only use these controllers in handheld mode. And there’s no NFC, so you can’t scan Amiibo.

Of course, you can always just play the Switch on your TV with a Pro Controller when you’re not on the go. When you are, the Split Pad Pro is wildly impractical. But if you do ever find yourself playing the Switch at home in handheld mode, and the missing features aren’t deal-breakers, I think you’d appreciate the Split Pad Pro. It feels like a whole new way to play the Switch, one where nothing was lost in the transition from the clunky but comfy Wii U GamePad.

Personally, I plan to pick up a Switch Lite for more convenient play outside the house but leave the Split Pad Pro on my original Switch and keep it in the dock. That way, I’m still going to have a better experience when I take it around the house or don’t want to occupy the TV. There’s no better way to play Dark Souls in the garden.

Photography by Sam Byford / The Verge