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Hardware Review: N64 Hori Mini Pad

Posted by Martin Watts

Better get this controller in a Hori

The original Nintendo 64 controller proved to be quite divisive as far as gamepads are concerned. With its peculiar three-pronged design – which was partly borne out of Nintendo’s fear that 3D gaming might not take off – camera buttons and novel Z-trigger, the controller was the perfect tool for fully experiencing most 3D games during the system’s heyday. Nevertheless, the D-Pad placement reduced the number of buttons available during play, or at least made it very awkward to use them. Some people just didn’t like the idea that for the majority of games, the left side of the pad remained completely unused. But most of all, the controller's joystick – while incredibly innovative for the time – was very susceptible to wear and tear and quickly became a considerable pain for regular players.

The official Nintendo 64 controller may have its faults, but it’s undeniably comfortable and at the time the joystick was unrivalled in terms of accuracy. During the system’s lifespan, there were a number of third-party controllers that tried to replicate Nintendo’s own magic formula, but very few ever came close. Even 17 years later, modern retro peripheral manufacturers are unable to match Nintendo’s technical brilliance, as we found out when we recently reviewed Retro-Bit’s Wireless Super Retro 64 Controller.

However, it’s true to say that there was actually one company which not only created one of the best third-party controllers available; it also arguably topped Nintendo’s own effort. Created by acclaimed Japanese peripheral manufacturer Hori, the N64 Hori Mini Pad was released late in the N64's life. If you’ve never heard of it then that’s likely because it was never released outside of Japan, therefore making this a rather sought-after item for ardent N64 collectors.

When compared alongside its original counterpart, the N64 Hori Mini Pad sports a rather unusual design. In fact, you could be forgiven for mistakenly assuming that it’s an early GameCube controller prototype. Gone is the trident-esque design in favour of a smaller form that’s somewhat similar to modern controllers. Much like Nintendo's version, the controller is available in a wealth of different colours and for the most part the buttons are identical in shape, size and colour. Aside from its radically different design, the N64 Hori Mini Pad features one major improvement; it has a vastly superior joystick.

What makes it better, you ask? Well, this joystick is similar to the one found on the GameCube controller, although it has a much larger head. It looks a bit out of place due to its size, but it provides your thumb with a good amount of grip and doesn't suffer from the wear-and-tear issues of the original controller. Joystick-intensive activities such as those palm-destroying mini-games in Mario Party are no longer a costly affair, although it’s probably still best not to use the N64 Hori Mini Pad in the same way. As a result, the stick's lifespan should more or less match that of a standard GameCube controller.

Interestingly, Hori chose to swap around the positions of the D-Pad and joystick. The D-Pad, which on most N64 controllers is ostracised to the left along with the even more under-appreciated L-button, sits neatly in the centre. Games like Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and Duke Nukem 64 benefit greatly from this, simply because it's just far more accessible. At the same time, the D-Pad is smaller and isn’t nearly as reliable; you're better off using the original controller for games that make exclusive use of it. It's also worth noting that the overall size of the controller is considerably smaller than the original, so players with larger hands may dislike how bunched up the buttons seem. Nevertheless, the two handles are contoured to snugly fit your hands, even if they aren't quite as delightful as those found on the GameCube controller.

When it comes to the shoulder buttons, things get a little confusing. Your left index finger is granted easy access to the L-button, and there's a Z-button on each side. It's nice that you can choose which side to use, however, the way the buttons are placed is a little confusing. L and R are situated directly opposite one another, with a Z-button below each. While this may look normal enough, in most N64 games the player only ever uses Z and R. As a result, it can feel a bit awkward using these as your fingers aren't level or naturally resting over the two as they do in the original design.

In terms of how it functions, the controller is responsive and the joystick is actually much more sensitive. This can make aiming in some first-person games such as GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark a little difficult, but it’s great for most racing, adventure and platforming titles. In some instances, the heightened sensitivity can have an unintended impact on gameplay; in Goemon’s Great Adventure, for example, the characters actually run faster when using this controller – even the rather rotund Ebisumaru manages a surprisingly quick pace.

Overall, the N64 Hori Mini Pad is a worthwhile upgrade. It’s likely that a first-party controller won't cost you as much, with Hori’s product fetching a higher price as a result of its quality and rarity. Moreover, some games still play better using Nintendo’s own controller – this is especially true in the case of first-person shooters on the system. Nevertheless, the joystick on the N64 Hori Mini Pad is much more durable and that's essentially what you're investing in here. It works superbly with most types of games and you don’t have to worry about the joystick becoming loose. Hardcore collectors likely won't need much convincing; the rarity factor of this product alone will be enough to sway you. Most of all though, if you’re looking for a controller with which to enjoy your N64 collection for years to come, then the N64 Hori Mini Pad is your ideal choice.

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User Comments (17)

1337man1233

#1

1337man1233 said:

is there a controller like this where the dpad and joystick are on the same same like a gamecube controller?

MegaWattsAdmin

#2

MegaWatts said:

@1337man1233 Not as far as I'm aware. The closest thing in layout would probably be the Mako Pad 64, but I've not heard good things about the stick.

TruenoGT

#3

TruenoGT said:

Man, when you said "get this in a hori", I was thinking they might be available new again from Hori... Oh well, my N64 pad is in pretty good shape!

sleepinglion

#5

sleepinglion said:

I picked up a bunch of the HORI thumbsticks last year and swapped them out for my aging original sticks. Works great! You can find them on eBay or Amazon and swapping the sticks isn't as hard as you'd think.

the_shpydar

#6

the_shpydar said:

@1337man1233
@MegaWatts
I can confirm that the Mako SuperPad 64 was horrible. I had one back in the day, and in GoldenEye multiplayer games, it was always given to the best player as basically a handicap to their ability. :D

Itglows

#7

Itglows said:

Ug I want to get an n64 eventually but I'm worried about finding a decent controller, I wish someone would make a new one that doesn't suck.

SCAR392

#8

SCAR392 said:

Button setup is never an issue for me, because I get used to any layout after not very long. The only thing I think they should have done, is put the D-pad directly under the joystick.

Blue-Thunder

#9

Blue-Thunder said:

I took my N64 apart recently to clean it and when I put it back together it wouldn't work. You might laugh but I did the same with the SNES and it still works and I also striped my fat PS3 down to the bare bones to fix YLOD with a heat gun and I put it back together and it worked so I'm not a complete incompetent.
If my N64 did work this controller would be a great option. Real pity it's not working, it's nice and clean though. :)

jahasnell

#10

jahasnell said:

I never knew this existed. I just bought one on eBay based on this review. Thanks, Nintendo Life!!

bahooney

#11

bahooney said:

I've been ogling these bad boys for some three years now. For the price, there will always be something I'll want instead... I really hope that I'll receive one as a gift, I love the design.

Nico07

#12

Nico07 said:

@MegaWatts I had the Makopad 64 back in the day and it was an indestructible joystick, although a little too tall so it felt awkward. I have personally retrofitted one of my original Nintendo 64 joysticks with a Hori joystick. It basically gives the joystick the same feel as the Gamecube joystick. If I had the money I would invest in a Hori as it is an unconventional but great controller for the Nintendo 64.

MrL1193

#14

MrL1193 said:

You know, I actually never knew that broken control sticks were a common problem with N64 controllers until I saw it mentioned in one of these articles. The control sticks on three of my four controllers are perfectly fine, with the fourth and oldest only occasionally having minor problems (mainly just with setting the proper neutral position when I turn the console on). The newest of the four controllers does have a slightly worn A button, but they're all in working order. They've certainly outlasted my original Gamecube controller's R button...

flummerfelt

#15

flummerfelt said:

Got one of these last year for around $60. Though I still use my original for some games, especially goldeneye, the hori pad is pro for games like smash bros and f zero.

Blue_Yoshi

#17

Blue_Yoshi said:

Whyyyy must you tease us by releasing a rare peripheral that we can't get our hands on?

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