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Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

8BitDo has come a long way in a relatively short space of time. In the beginning, the company wasn't taken totally seriously by a select few who saw its line of clone NES and SNES pads as little more than cheap facsimiles of the real thing, but following a rebranding and a particularly fruitful relationship with Analogue, the maker of the Nt and Super Nt systems, 8BitDo has become one of the foremost manufacturers of wireless controllers on the planet – and the fact that its range is compatible with Switch certainly helps, too.

In the past, 8BitDo has focused on creating clones of iconic Nintendo pads, and this approach has served the company well. These designs already have a built-in fanbase which knows how comfortable and ergonomic they are; there's a familiarity there that stretches back decades. However, with the impending arrival of the Analogue Mega Sg, 8BitDo has moved onto aping Sega products, and the M30 is its first stab at creating a pad aimed at those weaned on the likes of Sonic and Streets of Rage. Most notably, it's an all-new design which is arguably superior to the original Sega controllers it takes inspiration from.

The M30 is being released alongside the Mega Sg with a 2.4g receiver module, but, as has been the case in the past with the SN30 pad, 8BitDo is also releasing a Bluetooth model which works out of the box with the Nintendo Switch (as well as Android devices and computers, of course). That's the model we're looking at here, and the good news is that it matches 8BitDo's other products in every regard – in fact, we might even be as bold as to state that it's the best pad the company has produced, period.

Why would we make such a lofty claim, especially as 8BitDo's other controllers have been modelled on some of the most beloved pads in the history of gaming? Well, it's all about the D-Pad. The M30 – which is closest to the legendary 6-button Genesis / Mega Drive controller in terms of design and layout – features a 'rolling' pad, which uses a circular design with ridges to denote the Cardinal Directions. This pad sits on a 'stalk' which allows it to roll smoothly during use, making it the interface of choice for players of certain genres – 2D fighters being perhaps the most obvious, as the ease in which you can 'roll' the pad makes it ideal for pulling off the motions required for special moves.

However, the pad is equally well-suited for other games, including 2D shooters, platformers and many more besides. In the humble opinion of this scribe, it's the best D-Pad design of all time, and that's one of the reasons why we rate this controller so highly. Another very solid reason is the fact that it has six buttons arrayed on the face of the pad rather than the traditional four, which again makes it utterly perfect for games like Street Fighter. In fact, if you've got Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, then this will be your dream input.

The M30 connects to the Switch in seconds and is highly responsive, with no noticeable lag. Build quality is superb; the plastic feels premium and the pad itself is solid. The buttons are nice and firm and don't exhibit any of the sponginess that usually plagues third-party controllers, and there are two shoulder buttons on the top, which means you've got the same number of buttons as the typical Pro Controller / Joy-Con pair setup – even if they're arranged slightly differently. The 'Start' button doubles as the 'Plus' button, and underneath this are Screenshot, 'Minus' and Home keys.

On the bottom edge, there are four green LEDs which give information on various things, such as the power level of the pad's battery, whether or not it's trying to connect and what 'Player number' it is assigned to. On the top, you'll find the USB-C charging port, which is also used to deliver firmware updates to the device. Toggling between the pad's various compatibility modes – which cover Switch, Windows, Android, macOS, Steam and Raspberry Pi – is done via button combinations when starting up, and these have thankfully become standardised across 8BitDo's products over the years so it's easy to remember what's what.

If we were going to have one complaint about using the M30 on Switch, it would be the fact that the buttons are all mixed up. 'A' on the pad is actually 'B' on the Switch, while 'B' becomes 'A'. Likewise, 'X' and 'Y' are also swapped. It takes a little getting used to, but the main thing to note is that when you're playing any title in the Street Fighter 30th Collection, the buttons are laid out correctly from the start, with punches on the top row of buttons (X, Y and Z) and kicks on the bottom (A, B and C). Another minor grumble is that the pad only replicates the Joy-Con's left analog stick when it comes to input, so you can't use it with certain games – like Tetris 99, for example, which requires all three directional inputs to play. We also noticed that some games – Devil Engine being one example – wouldn't recognise any directional input from the M30. However, every other title we tried was perfectly fine (it's great for Neo Geo games, by the way), so this might be a problem with Devil Engine itself.

As well as working with a wide range of Bluetooth devices, the M30 can also be used with original Genesis / Mega Drive hardware via the handy Retro Reciever, an optional extra which plugs into the 9-pin controller port on the front of Sega's 16-bit console and also allows you to use other Bluetooth pads with the system. Again, performance is exemplary, and when you consider that the M30 costs significantly less than the only other wireless option available right now – Krikzz's Joyzz, which will set you back a whopping £65 – then there really is no contest – unless you really have to have a pad that's an almost exact replica of the original Sega 6-button controller.

To say that the M30 is 8BitDo's most accomplished controller yet might sound like hyperbole, and we accept that as rabid fans of Sega's 16-bit hardware (we're based in the UK, we can't help it), we can't help but love any pad that apes the same classic design. Irrespective of any personal affection for Sega, the rolling D-Pad and six-button setup make this a fantastic choice if you're a fan of 2D fighting games on Switch, and it's just as wonderful to use on other titles, too. You may find that the SN30 Pro is more to your liking – hey, everyone's got their own preference, and having analog sticks is handy – but the M30 is arguably one of the best 'retro' wireless pads money can buy right now, even if its scope is somewhat limited by reduced input options and the lack of rumble and NFC.

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Review unit provided by 8BitDo.