Hardware Review: Wireless Super Retro 64 Controller

Out of control

With digital download services on the rise and HD remakes becoming more of a regular occurrence, the retro gaming scene is bigger than ever. Restore points and improved visuals — not to mention the off-TV play function offered by the Wii U GamePad — have done a good job of making older titles more suited to our modern sensibilities. Nevertheless, there are still many of us out there that prefer the real deal when it comes to getting our retro gaming fix.

Of course, going down the traditional route isn't always ideal. As the equipment gets older, it often becomes a lot less reliable. This is especially true when it comes to the original N64 controller. While it marked Nintendo's innovative first step into the realm of true 3D gameplay, the controller's analog stick was susceptible to wear, reducing its reliability over time. Finding one that is still in good condition today is becoming increasingly difficult.

Thankfully there are still some companies out there which have retro enthusiasts' best interests at heart. Retro-Bit — the same team behind the Retro Duo Portable V2.0 — has created the Wireless Super Retro 64 Controller, a newly developed joypad for the Nintendo 64, which retains a similar trident design to the original but incorporates auto/turbo features and wireless functionality. Unfortunately, the latter is the only real worthwhile addition to the classic controller, although its inclusion has a negative impact on other features. The biggest issue here, however, is the joystick, which looks near enough identical to the original but is in fact looser and less sensitive.

To what extent this is a problem depends on your intended usage for the controller. If you’re simply looking for a cost-effective way to host the occasional multiplayer session, then the issues surrounding the joystick probably won’t matter. However, those that use their N64 on a regular basis will likely be disappointed. This is because you have to move the joystick further before it registers. While you’re not going to see a huge difference in something like Mario Kart 64, it's really apparent in games such as GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark and F-Zero X, which require an intricate amount of control; when using the manual aim mode in both of Rare's first-person shooters, it is virtually impossible to accurately line up your shot. We put the controller to the test with a more joystick-intensive title, the obscure Japan exclusive Ucchannanchan no Honō no Challenger: Denryū Iraira Bō – essentially the N64’s version of a steady hand game – and could barely navigate the simplest of corners.

With regards to the overall look and feel of the Wireless Super Retro 64 controller, it’s remarkably similar to Nintendo’s original effort. It sports the same distinctive three-pronged shape and button layout, albeit with auto and turbo switches at the top. The buttons themselves are slightly more elevated than the original pad and provide a satisfying click when pressed. The underside of each prong features a more rigid design, and although it doesn't sit as snugly in your hand as the original, it's still very comfortable.

The controller’s wireless functionality is a neat addition that's very responsive, but its inclusion is far from perfect. In order to accommodate a battery compartment to power this feature without drastically altering the shape of the controller, the expansion port for Controller and Rumble Paks is detached and instead housed within the wireless receiver that plugs into the console. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get the Controller Pak to work through this and were constantly met with a message that it couldn’t be detected or was damaged, despite working perfectly fine inside an official pad. Certain games such as Snowboard Kids had trouble just checking the expansion port to see if something was inserted, resulting in some eerily long waiting times. Moreover, the Rumble Pak becomes somewhat redundant when you can no longer use it in the controller.

Much to our disappointment, the battery compartment doesn’t contain a rechargeable pack and instead requires three AAA batteries. On the plus side, your wallet is fairly safe from excessive battery purchases, as the controller works for a reasonably long time on one set. The wireless range is around up to 10 feet from the console, which should be enough for most modern setups. When you take into account that the N64 doesn't exactly display the clearest of images on a modern LCD TV, the chances are that you'll just want to sit closer to begin with.

Overall, the Wireless Super Retro 64 Controller is a bit of a letdown. Despite releasing an astonishing 17 years after the official N64 pad, Retro-Bit's latest peripheral doesn't offer much in the way of innovation or improvement. While the wireless functionality is responsive and ideal for modern gaming setups, there are too many issues to make this a truly worthwhile purchase for most retro enthusiasts. The joystick fails to provide the same degree of intricate control, to the point where it's really noticeable in some games; furthermore, the separate controller expansion port is unreliable and removes any possibility of enjoying force-feedback gameplay. Again, if you're looking to enjoy the odd casual multiplayer session with friends — and can't stand the thought of tangled controller wires — then at the very least the Wireless Super Retro 64 Controller is an affordable alternative.

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