Launched in Japan alongside Monster Hunter 3 Tri and the Dark World Wii, the Classic Controller Pro is Nintendo's attempt at righting the wrongs of its original old-school pad. The good news is, it largely does. The bad news? It's got a few quirks of its own.
We snagged a shiny black one: so shiny, in fact, that our first thought went from "ooh, pretty" to "ooh, fingerprints" as soon as we liberated it from its box. The back of the controller is matted, but the glossy front is prone to visible smudges; a small price to pay for pretty gadgets. Another nice touch is the new placement of the cord that connects to the Wiimote; now that it’s on the top of the pad, strange wire placement in your lap is no longer an issue. Wireless would've been ideal, but alas, Nintendo is big on tethering their accessories this gen.
Also notable on the back is the new lack of expandable hook slots. Originally intended to allow things like handles or a Wiimote to be attached, that functionality has been rendered moot now that handles are part of the actual unit. The slots were never put to much good use anyway, so no real loss there. Gone also is the little button in the center on top that would open the slots, which turned out to be one of the most useless buttons in game controller history.
Once in hand, it's hard to imagine the reason why handles were omitted in the first incarnation since grip comfort is so greatly improved with them. Yes, the original controller was intended primarily for Virtual Console games, made apparent by it's design similarities to the SNES pad. It seems almost silly that ergonomics were sacrificed for aesthetics, especially since games that benefit the most from using the Classic (like Muramasa or many Virtual Console titles) can cause hand cramps during prolonged sessions. Well, not any more. The Pro is infinitely more pleasing to hold, which is the single best reason to upgrade.
The thumbsticks have been spaced out a bit too, making them more comfortable to use than the cramped original. Titles heavy on analog control, like Geometry Wars Galaxies, benefit the most as now your thumbs won't collide during particularly twiddly sessions. The handles also lower your grip on the controller, so the sticks feel more conveniently placed despite being in essentially the same spot as before.
Shoulder buttons L and R have gone from squishy to clicky, now feeling much more responsive. On the original model these buttons were large and in charge, cramming the two Z buttons into two nubbins that were awkward to use. The Pro solves this problem by adding a second layer of shoulder buttons, giving LZ and RZ much more breathing room; they're actually larger than L and R, similar to Sony's Sixaxis controller.
Now this may be a small quibble based on personal preference, but L and R seem to be harder to reach based on how I hold the pad: I typically have my trigger fingers on the shoulders, with my three other digits gripping the handles. Since the buttons have been resized, the Zs have gotten so large as to make it trickier to comfortably rest my fingers on the more often used L and R buttons. This problem isn't so big if keep my pointer on the top row and my middle finger on the bottom one, but then the controller doesn't feel as comfortable to me this way. Obviously if a game doesn't rely heavily on the shoulder buttons then there's no issue, but ones like Super Metroid can get awkward. As I said, this is more of a personal complaint, but it's one that may be a potential problem for a certain subset of people.
Likewise, the sticks still just don't feel as good as the Gamecube pad's. There are no noticeable changes to them since the vanilla Classic, but for some reason they don't feel as sturdy. If you have no qualms with the quality of the sticks on the old model then you'll have no problems here, but it's worth thinking about if you're weighing Wavebird retirement.
There's certainly plenty of improvement here to warrant an upgrade if you bust out a Classic regularly; with the addition of handles and a spacier layout, it's probably the best traditional pad designed for Wii. Of course, since there's no release date in sight for Western markets, you'll have to hunt it down at an import shop for the time being. There are plenty of options online that'll run you (including shipping) probably twice the amount of the non-pro model you can get down the street, and imported controllers work fine on a domestic Wii without a problem. If you play a lot of VC games and think the Pro is totally bad, importing could be a good choice.
The Pro will certainly make its way overseas at some point, so keep those peepers on Nintendo Life for any updates.