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The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller is the best way to play Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
James Bareham

One of the most surprising things about the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con grip — the standard controller that comes with the console — is that it works at all. The controller amounts to essentially a plastic shell with two Wii remote-like Joy-Con controllers snapped to each side. At first, it doesn’t feel so different from any other modern controller. But after an hour or so, its compromises are noticeable. It’s cramped for one thing, forcing you to hold your hands very close together. It also lacks a proper directional pad, and several buttons can be awkward to reach.

These faults become especially apparent when you’re binging on a game like the lengthy adventure of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But there’s a solution: the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller.

Like its Wii and Wii U predecessors, the Switch’s Pro Controller is Nintendo’s attempt to add a more traditional control option to its lineup of motion wands and tablet controllers. The result is a sort of mash-up between Sony’s Dual Shock 4 and an Xbox One controller. (The Pro even features subtly textured grips just like the latest version of the Xbox’s gamepad.) But what’s most important is how it’s different from the out-of-the-box Joy-Con grip setup. The most noticeable thing is that the Pro is wider, so your hands sit more comfortably apart. This extra room also means that the buttons and sticks are comparably spread out, placed in more natural positions. Overall it just feels better, with a more solid design and better realized layout.

The Joy-Con grip configuration
Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

For Breath of the Wild, these changes are especially important. The game features a surprisingly complex control scheme. While exploring, you need to constantly swap between avoiding attacks, shooting arrows, swinging a sword, and more. With the Joy-Con grip this can be a bit cumbersome; the tiny face buttons mean that occasionally I will jump when I mean to attack, or throw my sword when I’m really trying to pull out a bow and arrow. These misfires are relatively rare, but nonetheless frustrating. It’s no fun dying in battle because you accidentally hit the wrong button.

Another thing you’ll be doing regularly in Zelda is pausing to load its menus. Pressing the + button lets you save, interact with your inventory, and check your objectives, while the - button brings up your map, which you’ll need to check constantly. The Pro puts these two buttons in a much more natural spot in the middle of the controller, easily accessible by your thumbs, while on the Joy-Con grip they’re awkwardly placed close to other buttons and one of the joysticks. The same goes for the screenshot button — a feature that seems tailor-made for Breath of the Wild’s many beautiful vistas — and the Switch’s home button. Both are in a weird spots at the bottom of the controller with a Joy-Con grip, while the Pro Controller places them in a more accessible area just below the + and - buttons.

None of these issues are huge, glaring flaws. Breath of the Wild is perfectly playable with the controller that comes with the Switch. The same is probably true for most other Switch games, though I haven’t been able to test any others just yet. But an experience like Zelda — a massive open world that will likely take you dozens of hours to complete — those tiny flaws become magnified. And if you’re the kind of person who has been waiting years to explore the latest rendition of Hyrule for dozens of hours, dropping an extra $70 on a fine-tuned controller might be a solid investment.

Nintendo Switch First Look