The Switch’s NES Controllers Are a Ripoff (And You Can Do Better)

On Sept. 18, Nintendo will launch its long-awaited online service for the Switch, finally bringing features like cloud saves and universal voice chat that gamers have been clamoring for.

Credit: Nintendo

(Image credit: Nintendo)

The debut of Switch Online also marks the beginning of NES games on the platform, as 20 titles including Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda and River City Ransom will be available exclusively to subscribers.

To commemorate the occasion, Nintendo is reproducing the iconic NES controllers with a modern spin. These pads are totally wireless, and are powered by batteries that can be recharged by sliding the controllers into a docked Switch.

It’s the kind of charming reference to Nintendo’s storied past that fans love to see from the company. And it would be a welcome one, if it wasn’t such a rotten deal preying on your nostalgia.

Here are three reasons not to bother with Nintendo’s retro gamepads.

They’re overpriced

Nintendo is selling a pair of Switch-compatible NES pads for $59.99, though that’s not really the true cost of the accessory. To have the privilege to buy one, you’ll have to be a paying Switch Online subscriber first, which will run you $19.99 for a year.

That’s a very reasonable price for a platform’s online services, especially when you consider that PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold, which are also required for multiplayer gaming, each cost $59.99 for a 12-month subscription. But it means those interested in picking up a pack of NES pads will have to spend a total of $79.99 when all is said and done.

That’s $80 for two NES controllers. In 2018.

Credit: Nintendo

(Image credit: Nintendo)

For reference, the Switch’s Joy-Cons — those little marvels of modular tech — already cost $79.99 for a set, and can be used as one while attached to the system. To add insult to injury, Nintendo is limiting sales of the NES pair to one per subscriber — meaning that should anything happen to your precious NES controllers, you’re out of luck unless you can swipe a friend’s voucher.

It’s not even a great controller

It’s also critical to remember that you don’t need these controllers to play NES games on the Switch. Your Joy-Cons have all the same inputs and will work just fine. Although the lack of a D-pad may be troubling for these older titles, there are tons of third-party alternatives out there to overcome that hurdle — from Nintendo’s excellent Pro Controller to budget priced options from companies like Power-A.

And if you need yet more convincing that you don’t need yet another set of NES controllers, here’s a hot take for you: it’s a pretty terrible pad.

MORE: Here's Every NES Game Coming to Switch

As a tiny rectangle, it’s hardly ergonomic — so there’s the inevitability of it digging into your palms during a spirited round of your favorite unfair platformer. Plus, it just has two buttons. That’s adequate for NES games, but only NES games. To be fair, the Switch version does have L and R buttons up top, but they’re the same kind of mini Tic Tac-sized keys that frustrate when playing with a single Joy-Con alone.

In other words, this isn’t the kind of versatile pad you can use for a variety of games — not that you’d want to. It exists for nostalgia’s sake alone, and it’s still not even the best way to play these beloved titles.

You can do so much better

If feeling like you’re back in the ‘80s is really what it’s all about, there are much better options.

8BitDo offers a selection of tributes to retro Nintendo controllers. Most of them are based on the much more comfortable SNES style, with rounded edges and a set of four face buttons in addition to properly integrated shoulder buttons. They’re super well-built, too, with an honest feel of quality. In fact, if it wasn’t for the absence of Nintendo branding, you’d assume they were first party.

8BitDo's SN30 comes in a variety of colors, from the traditional SNES and Super Famicom schemes to this navy blue inspired by the Game Boy Pocket. (Credit: 8BitDo)

(Image credit: 8BitDo's SN30 comes in a variety of colors, from the traditional SNES and Super Famicom schemes to this navy blue inspired by the Game Boy Pocket. (Credit: 8BitDo))

Our favorite is the SN30. It’s equipped with Bluetooth, so you can actually use it with your PC or smartphone as well — not just your Switch. Additionally, if you have an NES or SNES Classic, 8BitDo sells a dongle that plugs into those consoles to make its Bluetooth pads compatible with the hardware. It’s a brilliant way to get around those annoyingly short cables Nintendo ships with Classic products.

At $29.99, one SN30 is pretty much half the price Nintendo is asking for two NES controllers, which wouldn’t seem like significant savings. But the fact that the SN30 works with a greater range of hardware — coupled with the superior SNES design — makes it the clear winner.

If you’d really prefer to play on a brick, 8BitDo used to sell Bluetooth controllers based on the NES and Famicom originals. Unfortunately, it seems they may not be in production any longer — though you can still find the Famicom one on Amazon. There are also variations of many of the company’s pads with DualShock-style joysticks, if you’re so inclined.

Once upon a time, you needed an NES controller to play the games you grew up with. But times are better now — well, mostly — and you don’t need to suffer with callouses on your hands and a hole in your wallet.

Adam Ismail is a staff writer at Jalopnik and previously worked on Tom's Guide covering smartphones, car tech and gaming. His love for all things mobile began with the original Motorola Droid; since then he’s owned a variety of Android and iOS-powered handsets, refusing to stay loyal to one platform. His work has also appeared on Digital Trends and GTPlanet. When he’s not fiddling with the latest devices, he’s at an indie pop show, recording a podcast or playing Sega Dreamcast.