8BitDo is best known for its affordable retro controllers, but its latest product is quite a bit more ambitious. It’s a wireless arcade stick for the Nintendo Switch and PCs, simply called the 8BitDo Arcade Stick, and at $89.99 it’s now the most expensive controller in the company’s lineup.
Arcade sticks can be pretty pricey, though. Hori sells a $199.99 PlayStation-licensed PS4 model, for example, so 8BitDo is still at the more accessible end of the market if you do want an arcade stick. And if you do want one for the PC or Switch, I think this one is actually a great place to start.
8BitDo’s stick is specifically designed for the Switch and PC (via XInput), and it manages to feel native to both platforms thanks to a neat little trick: the button labels are red LEDs that switch on and off depending on where you’re playing. Turn the knob at the top left of the stick and the labels you don’t need will disappear. It looks cool and makes the stick easier to use, which makes it a pretty inspired decision in my book.
The stick’s visual design otherwise comes off like the offspring of a NES Advantage controller and a Teenage Engineering OP-1 synthesizer, with its gray, red, and black color scheme offset by round colored buttons in the corner. It’s quite small, as arcade sticks go, but it feels hefty and well-built. And while the compact size and wireless connectivity make it easy to pack away, the design is sleek enough that it could happily sit on a coffee table for a while. (At least it could on mine.)
There are three ways to connect the stick: a 2.4GHz USB dongle, Bluetooth, and a USB-C cable. The dongle can be stored in a door at the back of the stick, which is a helpful touch. Hardcore fighting game enthusiasts wouldn’t dream of using a wireless stick in competition, so the wired functionality is very welcome, but I found wireless performance to be fine for casual play. Battery life is good in wireless modes, too — 8BitDo says you should get 40 hours with the dongle and 30 hours with Bluetooth, and I haven’t needed to recharge the stick since unboxing it.
In terms of feel, 8BitDo’s stick isn’t quite up there with the most high-end options, as you’d expect for the price, but it’s still very playable. The micro-switched stick is reassuringly clicky and the buttons feel solid, plus you have the ability to swap them out if you feel like diving into the rabbit hole of stick customization. My one complaint is that I’m used to bigger sticks and tend to grip from the side, so I sometimes found my (admittedly big) left hand “slouching” on the edge of the boxy chassis, which wasn’t too comfortable. But it did at least encourage me to improve my “broomstick” grip technique.
I used the stick to play various arcade-style games, mostly fighting games like Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike and Garou: Mark of the Wolves, as well as some scrolling shooters like Ikaruga. Did it make me any better at any of these games? Well, no, but I had more fun playing them than I would with a controller. While arcade sticks aren’t for everyone, there are some types of games that I’ll always prefer to use one with, and 8BitDo’s Arcade Stick is up to the task.
I really like the 8BitDo Arcade Stick, and I think it’d be a great product for most people looking for a stick for their Switch or PC. It’s relatively affordable but has a uniquely stylish design and user-friendly feature set, making it an easy way to get started in the world of arcade sticks.