It's fair to say that the Nintendo 64 controller was a groundbreaking release. While it wasn't the first games controller to showcase analogue input, it was the first to be shipped as standard with its host console and therefore became the first taste of this now-ubiquitous control method for many players. The N64 pad – along with its iconic three-pronged design – is instantly recognisable and it's hard to imagine experiencing seminal titles like Super Mario 64, Zelda: Ocarina of Time and GoldenEye 64 without it; however, even the most dedicated N64 fan will admit that it's far from perfect. The analogue stick, in particular, is prone to wearing out over time, and that means that playing N64 in the modern era can often be a frustrating affair. Finding pads that are in an acceptable state is becoming ever more difficult, and while third-party options are available, they tend to miss the mark in other areas.
One pad that has long been lauded as the best control option for the N64 is the Hori Mini Pad 64, a fairly radical re-imagining of the original pad which was only released in Japan. It's now worth a pretty penny online, putting it out of reach for many players. Thankfully, accessory maker Retro-Bit has solved this conundrum by producing the cannily-named Tribute64, a controller which takes inspiration from Hori's effort but has the added bonus of being available in a form that makes it compatible with the Switch.
Available in 'original port' and USB versions, the Tribute64 – like Hori's pad – loses the three-pronged design that made the original N64 controller so eye-catching. Instead, it opts for a more compact two-prong shape which shifts the Z trigger to the top of the pad, next to the L and R shoulder buttons (there are actually two Z triggers, although they both naturally do the same thing). The D-Pad is placed slap-bang in the middle of the controller, which means it's very hard to use for anything but moving around menu systems. Around the back, you'll find the port for your Rumble Pak or memory card. This is present on the USB version of the pad too, although it's just a hole with no actual connector present.
The Analogue stick – which is a close match to the one seen on the GameCube pad – is fantastic to use
The controversial placement of the D-Pad means you won't be able to play games that use the D-Pad exclusively, like Mischief Makers, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards and Tetrisphere. So while the impact of the D-Pad's placement is felt to a degree, it only impacts a handful of games – but if even one of those games is a personal favourite, you might struggle with this pad. It's (just about) a worthwhile sacrifice in our eyes, as the Tribute64 is arguably a lot more comfortable to use than the original N64 controller.
We're pleased to report that Retro-Bit has solved the N64 pad's biggest failing with the Tribute 64 controller. The analogue stick – which is a close match to the one seen on the GameCube pad – is fantastic to use. It doesn't stand quite as proud as the wand on the original N64 pad but it has a larger dead zone (120 compared to the original's 80) so it's more precise. The face buttons feel a little spongy, but then again, so did the ones on the original N64 controller. The shoulder buttons and Z triggers are superb, and are easy to reach. To cap it all off, the pad comes with a 10-foot cable which will be more than long enough for most people's living rooms (2.4Ghz and Bluetooth wireless versions are in the pipeline, according to Retro-Bit).
While the original port version of the Tribute64 obviously only works with the N64 itself, the USB model is compatible with the Switch, PC / Steam, Mac and many other devices which accept USB controllers. Using the Tribute64 on Switch is a hit-and-miss affair, as it lacks a second analogue stick as well as other features, such as the ability to push down the analogue stick itself. For example, Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is borderline unplayable as you can't control the camera or sprint. However, depending on the game, you may find it to be an ideal interface; for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, its closeness to the GameCube pad makes it a great choice, so you're looking for a controller to help improve your performance, this could be the dream ticket.
It's a shame that Retro-Bit couldn't have factored in the two ports into a single pad, because if you fancy using this with your Switch and your N64, you've effectively got to buy the same product twice. Still, at $25 for the N64 version and $30 for the USB edition, it's not like these are unreasonably expensive products. If you're in the market for some pads to replace your ageing N64 controllers then this is a no-brainer; you could get four of these for less than what many sellers are asking for a used Hori Mini Pad 64 on eBay these days. Or, if you're a Switch owner looking for a new Smash Bros. go-to pad – or if you're keen to get a decent interface option for your PC or Mac – then we'd recommend giving the USB-based model a try.
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