It's not the first, but is it the best?

For those of you that don’t know SnakeByte is a European peripheral manufacturer that is making some serious waves at the moment. The company has unleashed a whole host of Wii-related controllers, including their own version of the Wii Remote – which is quite a significant product as you’ll remember that Nintendo has been notoriously protective of its controllers and for a while wouldn’t allow 3rd party variants to get to the market.

The SnakeByte Retro Controller is, as you might expect, the firm's version of the official Nintendo Classic Controller. We’ve already reviewed Nintendo’s option and found it to be an almost invaluable addition to any Virtual Console user’s arsenal, so why should you be interested in what SnakeByte has to offer? One word – wireless.

Yes, SnakeByte’s take on the classic controller is completely free of wires. A dongle is provided that plugs into the base of your Wiimote and as soon as you chuck a couple of batteries into the pad, you’re away. This is literally the one thing that stopped Nintendo’s controller from being perfect.

The packaging in all its understated glory

The thing is, SnakeByte is rather late to the party with this concept as we’ve already seen other 3rd party manufacturers release their own wireless controllers.

In terms of design SnakeByte’s pad is a very close match to Nintendo’s (but quite as close as Datel’s wireless pad, which we reviewed a while back). The button placement is practically identical (although we must confess that it seemed a little harder to reach the awkwardly-placed ZL and ZR buttons). What we did like about the shape of the pad is that it features more pronounced prongs which improve grip and make it look a little more like the classic Playstation pad design. The analogue sticks are also good, and feel astonishingly close to the ones on the official Classic Controller.

Of course, when it comes to using such a controller on the Virtual Console it’s the D-pad that matters most, and for the most part the one seen here is decent. It feels a little larger than Nintendo’s version, which is a good thing for people with larger hands, but it sits rather low in the casing and could probably have done with possessing a little more ‘travel’. If we were to compare it to another Nintendo D-pad then we’d say it was quite similar to the one found on the N64 pad or the Game Boy Advance SP. The shallow design may not suit everyone’s tastes but at least it’s responsive.

The Retro Controller also comes in a 'wired' version - as well as in a black colour

Because this is a 3rd party pad the build quality isn’t quite up to the high standards showcased on Nintendo’s own Classic Controller. While the plastic looks and feels the same the way in which letters and markings are printed onto the surface looks cheap. Considering the retail price of £29.99 this is a little disappointing – especially when you take into account the fact that Datel’s wireless pad sells for the half the price in the UK.

Even more puzzling is the fact that SnakeByte are also offering a wired variant of the pad, but it sells for £5 more than Nintendo’s version (£19.99 compared to £14.99). Quite why this is the case we’re not sure - it obvious that given the choice, most gamers will pick official peripherals over 3rd party ones – especially when the 3rd party option is more expensive.

Befuddling price points aside, all in all this is a thoroughly decent pad and while it’s not the first wireless retro controller we’ve seen, it’s still a vital selling point. We’d say that in terms of design and comfort of use Nintendo’s own Classic Controller still has the edge, but if you’ve tried Datel’s attempt at a wireless solution and found it wanting (and don’t mind spending a bit more cash), then this is worth investigation.

UPDATE: We've been told by SnakeByte that the price of both the wireless and standard versions of the retro controller have been reduced. The wireless version is now £24.99 and the wired £14.99 - which keen mathematicians will notice is a drop of exactly £5 in each case, making these peripherals that little bit more attractive.