For the second year in a row, Nintendo has released a fantastic, miniature machine that’s just about perfect for playing classic games. And for the second year in a row, the company has burdened that machine with a glaring flaw: wired controllers with frustratingly short cords. The SNES Classic features longer wires than its 8-bit predecessors, but in a world of wireless everything, it’s still a frustrating omission.
Naturally, there are some wireless options from third-party hardware companies like Nyko and 8bitdo, and they’re both excellent alternatives. The simple act of shedding the wire dramatically improves the experience of playing games like Super Mario World and F-Zero. Here’s how the different options stack up.
Nyko Super Miniboss ($19.99; available now)
If you squint a little, Nyko’s offering looks almost like a standard SNES controller. It has the same color scheme, and the buttons are all roughly the same. But there are some small differences that add up to a slightly different experience. The biggest issue is the shape and design of some of the buttons. While the A and B face buttons are fine, the X and Y buttons feature an inverted design that leaves a sharp ridge around the surface. It may not seem like a big deal, but when you play for extended periods, it really starts to dig into to your thumb. After lengthy button-mashing bouts of Street Fighter II, it can be downright painful.
Luckily the rest of the gamepad is far more functional. The directional pad — a big issue with Nyko’s NES Classic offering — is much better this time around, though it’s a big larger than I would like, and at times can feel imprecise. Aside from that, everything works as it should. The dual shoulder buttons are nice and clicky, and the layout feels largely like a standard SNES controller.
There are two additional buttons. One on top turns the controller on and off, and I found syncing it to my SNES Classic to be a completely painless process. I simply plugged into the wireless adaptor, hit the power button, and it worked immediately. The other additional button is inexplicably labeled “turbo,” and it fixes the SNES Classic’s other big problem: the lack of a dedicated home button.
If you hit the turbo and select buttons at the same time, it brings you back to the home screen. (With the standard controller that comes with the SNES Classic, you need to get up and physically hit the reset button on the console to access the home menu.) It’s a great addition, though I’ve found it a bit finicky in my time with the gamepad; I often have to hold down the buttons for a while before the menu actually kicks in.
8bitdo SN30 ($24.99; available December 10th)
Like the Super Miniboss, 8bitdo’s SNES Classic gamepad takes almost no effort to set up. I had no problem syncing the wireless adaptor to the controller itself; it’s very much plug-and-play. And once you get started, there’s no learning curve. Aside from a few minor differences, the SN30 feels exactly like a standard SNES controller. (It even comes in two color schemes: one that matches the purple-and-gray North American SNES, and a more colorful option for the European variant.)
The buttons and D-pad all feel great, with the only real difference from the original controller being the placement of the start and select buttons, which are laid out horizontally instead of vertically. But given they’re not buttons you use much during actual gameplay, it’s not something I really noticed. In fact, the biggest compliment I can give the SN30 is that I rarely noticed any differences from the standard SNES controller while using it. I spent a few hours working my way through the crypts of Super Castlevania IV, and it just felt right. The controller even has an ever-so-slightly grippy texture that makes it great for extended sessions.
There are no extra buttons on the SN30, though, like Nyko’s controller, it does add a much-welcome home screen option. You simply push down and select at the same time, and you’re zapped to the menu pretty much instantaneously. It’s such a useful feature that I still don’t understand why Nintendo didn’t add it to the base hardware.
You can’t really go wrong with either option here. In terms of price and functionality, they’re very similar. I’d give the slight edge to 8bitdo; when it comes to replicating the feel of the original Super Nintendo controller, it’s a superior product. But either way, you’re getting a much-improved experience. Going wireless and adding a home button makes Nintendo’s miniature console feel more modern. You don’t have to worry about where you’re sitting, or whether or not you’re going to want to change games or alter the visual settings. You can just play.