If you’re looking to add a bit of oomph to your Switch experience without completely upgrading the console, the first thing you should do is consider your controller situation. Sure, Joy-Cons can be pretty great, but sometimes you need something a little bigger, or smaller, or with a more comfortable grip. We’ve looked at the many controllers on the market today and found the best ones for all kinds of situations, whether you’re a newbie or experienced player.
Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons
Often the best controller is the one you have, and the Joy-Cons are versatile and cute. But, if you bought a Switch at launch, chances are your controllers are suffering from that dreaded “drift” problem. You can get them fixed, but it doesn’t hurt to pick up an extra pair regardless. They come in bright colors like bright pink and pastel green to match your personal style – I snagged the blue and yellow ones and I absolutely adore how my Switch looks in handheld mode now. And they’re far less likely to suffer from drift.
Sometimes you just want a standard controller to play your favorite action titles. By “standard,” we mean something like you’d get packed in with an Xbox, with grips for the heels of your hands, shoulder buttons and triggers, two thumb sticks, a set of four buttons on the right and a D-pad on the left. Nintendo knows that, which is why it created the Pro Controller. This first-party gamepad pairs easily with the Switch and features a D-pad on the left, while still maintaining features like the infrared sensor and HD rumble functionality that might go missing on third-party alternatives. The only downside of the Nintendo Switch Pro controller is the $70 price, but avid players of titles like Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom will appreciate the refined hardware and increased comfort.
If you’d prefer to kit out your system with a PlayStation-style controller, then you can’t go wrong with this retro-style gamepad that copies the general button layout of a classic SNES controller in a variety of colors. Even though it’s retro-styled, it’s not old fashioned in any way. It has lots of modern features, like twin thumb sticks, palm grips, back buttons, control remapping and even sensitivity adjustments. It’s the Swiss Army knife of Switch controllers – or any system, since it’s also compatible with Windows, Mac, Android, Raspberry Pi and even the Steam Deck. Even non-Switch players should keep this gamepad in their toolkit.
The Switch Online service ensures that retro fans will have plenty to play, thanks to its ever-expanding library of NES, Super NES, Game Boy and, if you shell out for the Expansion Pack, Nintendo 64, SEGA Genesis and Game Boy Advance titles. It’s a lot, so you might want a controller specifically suited to the task. For that we recommend the SN30 Pro, which is shaped like an SNES gamepad but adds dual thumbsticks and wireless connectivity for an easy and comfortable retro-gaming experience. It offers all the childhood nostalgia you could want while still giving you the benefit of modern conveniences.
Not all gamers have the same level of mobility in their hands, making “standard” controllers hard to use. The Lite SE puts all the buttons on the face so you can lay it down on a table instead of holding it in a death claw. It even has grips on the underside so it doesn’t slide around during frantic play. This controller is definitely worth having to ensure that all your friends and family can join in the fun, and it even works with systems beyond the Switch, including iPad, Mac and Apple TV.
GameCube Controller Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Edition
While the 8BitDo controllers are awesome for their versatility, for some players nothing but the utmost historical accuracy will do. Nintendo’s recreation of its classic GameCube controller uses a USB-C connection, but otherwise it feels exactly like you remember, from the button arrangement to the stellar build quality. For some, this is the only way to play Smash Bros, but even folks who play other types of games like Pikmin 1+2 might find this a welcome blast of nostalgia.
If the price of the official GameCube gamepad is too rich for your blood, or you prefer something wireless, PowerA’s controllers are pretty great too. They offer solid build quality, responsive buttons and even come in a variety of colors if you’re style-conscious. It’s the closest you’ll get to an old-school Wavebird experience short of plugging a few RF dongles into a GameCube adapter. And you’ll definitely appreciate it with so many GameCube classics being reissued on the Switch, like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Baten Kaitos, Metroid Prime Remastered, Tales of Symphonia and even Ty the Tasmanian Tiger. It’s a pretty great time to be a GameCube fan.
If you play mostly in handheld mode, a standalone controller isn’t going to do you much good. Fortunately, HORI makes its own Joy-Con like peripherals you can slide right in place in your system. If all you really want is a d-pad for old school gaming, the HORI d-pad does exactly that, replacing the small constellation of buttons on the left Joy-Con with a reliable d-pad. And it’s pretty affordable too, since you only have to buy one instead of a full pair. But at under $30, you might find yourself picking up a few extra anyway, especially if you’re suffering from the dreaded Joy-Con drift.
For those players looking for a more premium, Steam Deck-esque experience with their Switch in handheld mode, the Split Pad Pro adds in a contoured, easy-to-grip back, a d-pad on the left, and even turbo buttons. And it’s available in a bunch of fun colors and designs – if you wanted to show off your love of Pokémon, Mega Man, Sonic or even old school Pac-Man, HORI has you covered. It’s nice to know that even handheld gamers can still get a higher-end accessory experience.
If the Pro is a little too robust for you or just too bulky, the compact version of the Split Pad will fit a lot easier in both your hands and bag. It still offers the same selection of buttons, like a d-pad on the left side and dual turbo buttons, but in a less aggressive-looking form factor. That means slightly muted colors like a soft red or gray – though you can still snag Mega Man and Pokémon designs. It’ll slide nicely into whatever bag you choose to carry your system in, whether it’s an Amazon Basics clamshell or an expensive Waterfield case.