When we first reported on the Hori Switch Horipad a while back there were a few puzzled faces in the Nintendo Life office. The big selling point of the wired controller was the fact that the D-pad could be removed to reveal a cluster of four buttons underneath; at the time, we genuinely pondered why you'd ever need to do this, and - we're not afraid to admit - wrote the controller off almost entirely at that stage. Wired, no accelerometer, no HD rumble and no NFC - what was the point, exactly?
Now we've had the chance to actually sit down with one of these pads we've come away pleasantly surprised. Sure, the wired nature of the controller is a pain and losing features like motion control and rumble is annoying - especially as we'd become accustomed to such creature comforts from using the superb Pro Controller since launch - but the Horipad has killer feature which sets it apart - and ironically, it's the one thing we found so crazy when it was first revealed.
Yes, that removable D-pad is brilliant. Not because it's removable, you understand - no, the really great thing about it is the fact that it's a "rolling" pad. The pad itself is a disc which pivots smoothly on a central point, a design which was commonplace on Sega systems like the Mega Drive and Saturn. Rolling pads offer the precision of typical "cross" pads you see on Nintendo systems like the NES and SNES, but have the added benefit of making flowing directional commands much easier; in a game like Ultra Street Fighter II, preforming the familiar fireball motion is a breeze as the pad "rolls" with the movement. In fact, we'd go as far as to say that this is the best Switch controller on the market if you're keen on playing 2D fighters, such as those released on an almost weekly basis as part of the ACA Neo Geo range.
Bizarrely, the fact that the pad is removable does actually make sense on some level. Games like Puyo Puyo Tetris and Magical Drop 2 - which require precise vertical and horizontal movements rather than diagonal input - are much easier to play with the pad removed, as those of you who have tried playing these games with the left-hand Joy-Con's button cluster will attest.
In terms of pure ergonomics, the Horipad is comfortable to use, lightweight and robust. The analogue sticks and buttons are just as good as those on the Pro Controller, while the new Turbo function is handy for old-school arcade shooters. The lack of rumble, motion control and NFC is a huge disappointment for sure, but the end result is a controller which costs a lot less than Nintendo's fully-featured option. Being tethered to your console is annoying too, but the cable is long enough for you to game on the couch without too much difficulty.
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All in all, we came away feeling rather foolish for dismissing this pad. Sure, it's not perfect - if you've got money to burn then the Pro Controller is perhaps a better option all-round - but that gorgeous rolling D-pad makes this a real contender when it comes to playing old-school fighting games.