For a system that's no longer in active production, the Nintendo 64 has sure seen a lot of new controllers recently. We reviewed the Tribute64 pad not so long ago, and now it's the turn of the Retro Fighters Brawler64 – a pad that was crowdfunded on Kickstarter as a "next generation" offering for Nintendo's much-loved 64-bit system.
We're actually coming to the Brawler64 a little late, as the pad has already been a huge success at retail to the point where its creator, Retro Fighters, has produced a revised variant which fixes a pretty major problem (more on that in a second) as well as versions that have different coloured plastic casing.
The most notable thing about the Brawler64 is that, like the Hori Mini Pad and Tribute64 controller, it drops the iconic three-prong design seen on the original N64 pad and instead opts for a more traditional two-prong approach, adding a second Z trigger to ensure everything works as planned. The analogue stick and D-Pad also swap positions, but otherwise, it's business as usual.
The analogue stick is worth mulling over a little more, because it simultaneously fixes one of the big failings of the original pad while introducing a new flaw. On the plus side, this is a modern-style stick which boasts a textured top for increased grip but retains the hexagonal 'gate' design of the original N64 pad. That means its easier to 'locate' directions when compared to, say, the stick on the Switch Joy-Con.
It really makes you appreciate how accurate the analogue wand on the original N64 controller is
There's a lot more travel on this stick than on the original N64 pad's 'wand', and that can be both a blessing and a curse. Because you've got more room to throw the stick around it feels great during games where precision isn't really a consideration; however, the moment you need to make finely-tuned adjustments, it feels awkward. Aiming a weapon, for example, can be quite a frustrating affair as the stick isn't as precise as it needs to be. It really makes you appreciate how accurate the analogue wand on the original N64 controller is, despite its flawed and easily-broken design.
The D-Pad is another story entirely and is no doubt why the pad has the word 'Brawler' in its name. It's located lower down on the controller and is easy to use; while we wouldn't say it was necessarily better than the one on the original N64 controller, it's certainly an excellent pad and makes playing certain games a real joy. While the N64 is light on fighting games, those that do exist play like a dream with this pad. In fact, any game that favours digital input over analogue feels great.
Retro Fighters has made a big deal out of the fact that the Brawler64's C-Buttons are larger than those on the original pad, and while we're not sure this is a game-changing design difference, the buttons do feel easier to locate and press. In fact, all of the buttons on the controller feel nice and responsive without feeling too soft or spongy – with the exception of the two Z triggers, which feel like analogue inputs even though they're not. There's a lot of travel on both and this means that your 'press' doesn't get registered by the pad until the trigger is about halfway down, which can lead to an annoying delay between your input and the subsequent on-screen reaction. Why Retro Fighters decided to use this faux-analogue design is a mystery, as the original N64 pad's Z trigger wasn't analogue.
All of the buttons on the controller feel nice and responsive without feeling too soft or spongy
What else? Well, there's a 'Turbo' button which – as you might expect – allows you to add rapid-fire functionality to any of the controller's buttons. All you need do to enable this is hold down said button, tap the face button you want to add turbo to and release. There's a 'Clear' button on the controller to remove the function when you're done. It's not something we can say we've ever really needed on a pad – even though 'Rapid Fire Units' were all the rage back in the '80s and '90s – but hey, it's there.
It's also worth mentioning how light the Brawler64 feels; it's almost so light that it gives off the impression of being cheaply made, but build quality is very decent. On the back, you'll find the all-important expansion slot, into which you can insert memory devices and Rumble Paks. However, the pad doesn't support the N64 Transfer Pak, so if you're a keen fan of Pokémon Stadium, this isn't the controller for you.
Wrapping up, it's nice to see that Retro Fighters has included a super-long cable on this pad – this is something we really liked about the Tribute64 controller, too. Oh, and we mentioned a design revision at the start of the review which relates to the first batch of these pads. Apparently (and we haven't tested this ourselves) pressing down the L button would impact the analogue stick's movement – quite a serious flaw, as you can appreciate. To its credit, Retro Fighters mailed out replacement internal parts to remedy this problem to those who had backed the project on Kickstarter, but it's worth mentioning as second-hand Brawler64 pads could potentially suffer from this problem, so try to buy brand new, just to be on the safe side.
It's nice to see that Retro Fighters has included a super-long cable on this pad
While it's billed as a next-generation replacement for your humble (and most likely failing) N64 controller, the Brawler64 doesn't quite take the crown as the ultimate interface for Nintendo's 64-bit console. The analogue stick feels great in practice and will certainly last longer than the wand seen on the original pad, but it's not precise enough for our liking; the one on the Tribute64 controller is arguably better. Furthermore, the Z triggers use a pointless analogue-style input and you can't attach the N64 Transfer Pak, which means this isn't a 'complete' pad that will totally replace your original controller.
Despite these faults, the Brawler64 is comfortable to use, while the longer cable and bigger C-buttons are welcome, too. It's great for games which rely heavily on the D-Pad for input, as well – even though they are few and far between. Ultimately, Retro Fighters' controller is undone by the fact that the Tribute64 has also released recently, and while that's not perfect either, it just about overshadows the Brawler64 – and it's cheaper to boot.
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Thanks to Games Connection for supplying the Brawler64 used in this review.