The evolution of video games and the controllers we use to play them has resulted in the humble D-Pad becoming something of an afterthought for many hardware makers; that situation has arguably reached its zenith in the Nintendo Switch, which – in its default form, at least – doesn't even have a proper D-Pad. Analogue input has long been the accepted means of playing games and while the Joy-Con sticks are a fine substitute for digital control in most cases, there are some titles which really are best played with a good, old-fashioned D-Pad.
That's precisely what the PowerA Fusion FightPad provides. Modelled after the legendary Sega Saturn controller – which is rightly viewed by many as the best 2D fighting game pad ever made – the Fusion FightPad does away with analogue control entirely and instead aims to offer the perfect interface for one-on-one brawlers (and other classic 2D titles) that money can buy.
If you're already familiar with the Sega Saturn pad then you'll know roughly what to expect here. The basic design of the Fusion FightPad is near-identical, with a very similar rolling D-Pad (more on that in a moment), six face buttons (perfect for Street Fighter II) and all of the usual Switch-related gubbins (Home button, Screenshot, etc). On the top, you'll find the L, R, ZL and ZR triggers, and on the bottom there's a handy 3.5mm headphone socket for game audio.
You'll also notice two switches, one on the front and one on the top of the controller. The first allows you to toggle the function of the D-Pad itself; you can choose to switch between left-hand Joy-Con directional buttons, left-hand Joy-Con analogue stick and right-hand Joy-Con analogue stick. This is handy for games which don't directly support the direction button cluster for movement, but of course means you're not getting true analogue control, which might make some games difficult to play.
The second switch turns the R shoulder trigger into the 'C-Stick' input seen on GameCube controllers, which means you can play Super Smash Bros. Ultimate even more effectively. A simple tap of the R trigger will replicate a 'flick' of the C-Stick – handy for those who prefer the precision of digital input when it comes to Smashing Brothers. Elsewhere, the ability to remove the red faceplate and replace it with a white one (included in the box) is a nice touch; the plates clip on using a series of magnets.
In terms of build quality, the Fusion FightPad is pretty solid. In fact, it's a lot heavier than the Saturn pad it takes so much inspiration from – and it's thicker, too. That extra weight makes it feel more substantial, and it doesn't take long to become accustomed to those additional grams. Oh, and by the way, the increased heft isn't down to an internal battery – this is a totally wired controller and comes with a generously long, fabric-covered Micro USB cable.
So, the Fusion FightPad looks the part, but how does it actually perform? Can it really hold a candle to the Saturn controller, and does it supplant the 8BitDo M30 as the pad of choice for fighting game aficionados? Well, let's talk about that D-Pad first. Because it has a 'rolling' design it's well-suited for pulling off the smooth motions required for special moves in games like Street Fighter and King of Fighters, but, try as we might to shake the feeling, something doesn't feel quite right here.
We're not sure if it's because there's too much travel (noticeably more than on the Saturn pad, or the M30) or if the pad itself is raised too high out of the casing, but commands that require diagonal inputs seem to be very hit-and-miss. We tried a wide range of fighting titles and while we could pull off specials 80 percent of the time, we never felt totally comfortable with the Fusion FightPad; the M30 definitely feels like it has the edge in terms of accuracy and precision. When playing games like Final Fight or Thunder Force IV – which aren't reliant on motion-based commands – this is obviously less of an issue and the pad performs brilliantly. It's also worth noting that the face buttons are large and tactile and feel reassuringly 'clicky' in use.
It's a real shame that the Fusion FightPad doesn't quite live up to the hype because the Saturn controller it takes so much inspiration from is utterly superb. If you're not bothered about fighting games and simply want a decent wired pad that's great for old-school arcade titles (the Contra, Castlevania and Konami Arcade collections spring to mind) then this is a solid choice, but sadly when it comes to playing fighting games – the very genre it was created to cater for – it's somewhat less successful.
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