The release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is just around the corner. With it, the perennial revival of the greatest controller of all time is upon us. As usual, Nintendo has brought back the GameCube controller to please the most hardcore of Smash fans, and alongside it, multiple third-party manufacturers are offering up their own versions. Today, we're taking a look at HORI's take on the classic controller: the Switch Battle Pad GameCube Style Controller. Let's just call it the Battle Pad for short.
As its name implies, the Battle Pad takes most of its design cues from Nintendo's original, but calling it a copy would do a disservice to the work HORI has put into creating something unique. Some design changes are apparent, like the addition of the home and screenshot buttons on the new controller, the translucent shell, or the changes made to the shoulder buttons, removing the GameCube controller's Z button and replacing it instead with similarly shaped ZL and ZR buttons, with a more traditional L and R button configuration behind them.
Other changes will become apparent once you have the controller in your hands. It's a bit wider than the original, almost imperceptibly so, but once you're holding it in your hands the distance between your right thumb and the buttons feels greater than before, which is good news for those with larger hands. The controller's handles are also textured, meaning they're less likely to slip during longer play sessions. We're fans of the change, but purists may be turned off. Everything else about the Battle Pad is a bit larger, too: the D-pad is absolutely massive, the analogue sticks are both a bit larger, too and the handles are slightly elongated.
The D-pad is, to put it bluntly, terrible. That isn't a big problem for Smash fans, as the D-pad is at best an afterthought in Sakurai's opus, but if you're trying to use the Battle Pad in other games, it could pose a major problem. The Switch 'sees' the controller as a Pro Controller, meaning you can use it any game that supports it. Unlike the stock Pro Controller, the Battle Pad doesn't sport motion controls, NFC or rumble, which is a recurring theme with budget-friendly pads. The rest of the controller is pretty great. The analogue sticks feel quite a bit looser than the GameCube original, and while we prefer the feel of the original in this regard, the difference is only truly noticeable when you have the real deal to compare against.
One design choice we did take exception with, however, is the placement of the shoulder buttons. As we mentioned before, the ZL and ZR buttons are on the top of the controller, with the L and R buttons being placed behind them. On official Switch controllers, the ZL and ZR buttons are situated behind the L and R buttons, and Smash Ultimate assumes this is the default configuration, which means you'll grab when you mean to block and block when you mean to grab without a little bit of retraining. For its part, HORI did include the ability to change the functions of these buttons by holding the L and R buttons as the controller is plugged into the Switch dock's USB port, but the decision to have the buttons reversed by default is strange as it feels unnatural in just about every game we tested. That said, once you've changed the shoulder button mapping it'll persist, even when you turn the Switch off, so it's only a minor headache.
As with Nintendo's own offering, the Battle Pad is wired meaning that it's not easily usable in tabletop mode. The USB cable is a decent length and unlike Nintendo's own offering you won't need an adapter to use it. Personally, we'd prefer a wireless version of the GameCube controller but that doesn't look likely at the present moment in time. Thankfully, HORI rival 8BitDo does offer a solution of sorts, but it relies on an external device so the pad isn't totally wireless.
HORI's Battle Pad is an excellent version of an already excellent controller, but it's unlikely to change the minds of the most diehard Smash fans. For the rest of us, this controller offers some interesting tweaks that will certainly win some over. The slightly increased size, inclusion of the home and capture buttons, much lower cost when accounting for the required GameCube adapter and ability to use HORI's controller with nearly any Switch game are all major pluses. If you're looking for a GameCube controller that can do more than just Smash, the Battle Pad may be the right choice for you.
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Looking for more controller options that harken back to Nintendo's lovable purple lunchbox? Check out this excellent rundown of the rest of the available options by our resident Lovely Person, Alex Olney, and be sure to comment with your favourite Smash Controller below.