What is the Best Controller for Retro Gaming


The Best Retro Game Controllers – Top 10

Best Controllers for RetroPie!

Don’t skimp on your RetroPie controller—get the best! Ash (341)Mar 30, 20210Share7Discuss0Favorite1

If you want to play retro games on RetroPie, you need a controller. But not all controllers are created equal and the best one for you depends on what you want to play, how you like to play, and how much you’re willing to spend.

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Most of these controllers are USB only, but there are a few wireless options sprinkled throughout the list. You should be able to find at least one controller to suit your retro gaming needs. Table of Contents

BEST RETROPIE CONTROLLERS:

  1. All-around best wireless
  2. All-around best wired
  3. Best Bluetooth controller for RetroPie
  4. Best 8BitDo controller for RetroPie
  5. Best budget RetroPie controller
  6. Best Nintendo 64 RetroPie controller
  7. Best NES controller for RetroPie
  8. Show all 10

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All-around best wireless

8Bitdo SF30 bluetooth controllerCheck Price on Amazon

Cables? Forget ’em. The 8BitDo SF30 is your best option when it comes to wire-free gaming on RetroPie. 8BitDo has established itself in the retrogaming community as a reliable brand and somewhat of a staple. If you’re after a retro-themed controller with plenty of buttons, check out the SF30 from 8BitDo.

SpecSF30
Battery Life16 Hours
Price$44.99 on Amazon
Connection TypeWireless / Bluetooth / USB – C
MaterialPlastic
StyleSNES
QualityHigh

 Used hereSee all8Bitdo SF30 bluetooth controllerCheck Price on Amazon

SF30

All-around best wired

Xbox One Wired ControllerCheck Price on Amazon

If wired controllers are your speed, you need something reliable. This official Xbox One controller from Microsoft connects via USB and has the nearly instantaneous response times you want from a wired device. Because this is an officially licensed controller, you can expect industry-standard quality with the feel of a modern console.

SpecXbox One Wired Controller
Battery LifeN/A (Wired)
Price$58.75 on Amazon
Connection TypeUSB
MaterialABS
StyleXbox One
QualityIndustry Standard

 Used hereSee allXbox One Wired ControllerCheck Price on Amazon

Xbox One Wired Controller

Best Bluetooth controller for RetroPie

Xbox One Wireless ControllerCheck Price on Amazon

The Xbox One Wireless controller relies on a Bluetooth connection. Because of the number of buttons, it’s versatile enough to use with many different console emulators—from NES to Dreamcast. You will need a Bluetooth compatible Pi to connect. Check out our list of Raspberry Pi models for detailed specs to see if yours will work. If not, you can always try using a USB Bluetooth adapter. Setting up your Xbox One Controller on RetroPie is a cinch, too.Raspberry Pi Models and Specs: A Comprehensive GuideWhat flavor of Pi is your favorite?How to Use an Xbox One Controller on the Raspberry PiGet a grip and control your Pi!

SpecXbox One Wireless Controller
Battery Life30 Hours
Price$62.99 on Amazon
Connection TypeWireless / Bluetooth
MaterialABS
StyleXbox One
QualityIndustry Standard

 Used hereSee allXbox One Wireless ControllerCheck Price on Amazon

Xbox One Wireless Controller

Best 8BitDo controller for RetroPie

8Bitdo SN30 bluetooth controllerCheck Price on Amazon

Like we said before, 8bitDo is a hit in the RetroPie community. But which controller is the top-dog when it comes to 8BitDo? We believe that honor goes to the SN30 Pro+. It uses Bluetooth to connect and has a classy retro look—perfectly shaped for an SNES experience. It’s definitely pricier than some other models, the payoff is worth it for retrogaming aficionados. It has rumble support, motion controls, and USB-C support.

SpecSN30 Pro+
Battery Life20 Hours
Price$49.99 on Amazon
Connection TypeWireless / Bluetooth
MaterialPlastic
StyleRetro Original
QualityHigh

 Used hereSee all8Bitdo SN30 bluetooth controllerCheck Price on Amazon

SN30 Pro+

Best budget RetroPie controller

RetroFlag Classic Gaming Controller (Jpad)Check Price on Amazon

If the retrogaming hobby is burning a hole in your wallet, take control and invest in a reliable budget controller. The cheapest knock-offs will cost you more in the long run. The RetroFlag Classic Gaming Controller (Jpad) is perfect for anyone who wants something that looks old-school but plays with modern finesse.

SpecRetroFlag Classic Gaming Controller (Jpad)
Battery LifeN/A (Wired)
Price$13.95 on Amazon
Connection TypeUSB
MaterialPlastic
StyleSNES
QualityGood

 Used hereSee allRetroFlag Classic Gaming Controller (Jpad)Check Price on Amazon

RetroFlag Classic Gaming Controller (Jpad)

6

Best Nintendo 64 RetroPie controller

iNNEXT Saffun N64Check Price on Amazon

When it comes to emulating the Nintendo 64, controller shape is almost everything! The buttons and joysticks need to be ready for some serious abuse, especially if you plan on playing anything remotely as off-the-wall as Mario Party. Check out this USB N64 controller from iNNEXT for the reliable tri-grip delight you’re most familiar with.

SpecSaffun N64
Battery LifeN/A (Wired)
Price$15.99 on Amazon
Connection TypeUSB
MaterialPlastic
StyleNintendo 64
QualityGood

 Used hereSee alliNNEXT Saffun N64Check Price on Amazon

iNNEXT Saffun N64

Best NES controller for RetroPie

Hyperkin Premium NES ControllerCheck Price on Amazon

If you want a realistic NES experience, a SNES controller won’t do. This classic Nintendo platform had a unique controller with a distinct look and feel. That’s why we chose Hyperkin’s Premium NES controller as the best option for NES emulation on RetroPie. It brings the quality and feedback you expect from a modern controller with the design and button placement you remember.

SpecHyperkin Premium NES
Battery LifeN/A (Wired)
Price$34.99 (2-pack) on Amazon
Connection TypeUSB
MaterialPlastic
StyleNES
QualityGood

 Used hereSee allHyperkin Premium NES ControllerCheck Price on Amazon

Hyperkin Premium NES

Best SNES controller for RetroPie

RetroFlag Classic Gaming Controller (Upad)Check Price on Amazon

The SNES controller was a well-received upgrade to the NES controller. It had more buttons and a rounded design that fits comfortably in your hands. This controller is one of the most preferred when it comes to retrogaming emulation. If you want a reliable device for SNES emulators, check out the RetroFlag Classic Gaming Controller (Upad). This is from the same team that brought us the Raspberry Pi GPi Case.Retroflag GPi CASE: The Raspberry Pi Game Boy We’ve Been Waiting For!Finally, a plug-and-play Game Boy Zero!

SpecRetroFlag Classic Gaming Controller (Upad)
Battery LifeN/A (Wired)
Price$14.99 on Amazon
Connection TypeUSB
MaterialPlastic
StyleSNES
QualityGood

 Used hereSee allRetroFlag Classic Gaming Controller (Upad)Check Price on Amazon

RetroFlag Classic Gaming Controller (Upad)

9

Best PlayStation controller for RetroPie

DualShock 4 Wireless ControllerCheck Price on Amazon

Whether you want a PlayStation experience or just prefer the classic design, PlayStation controllers are definitely a good option when it comes to RetroPie. They have plenty of buttons for older and newer platforms and come with industry-standard quality. The DualShock 4 Wireless Controller from PlayStation works seamlessly with the Raspberry Pi while delivering the highly-responsive feedback you want while gaming.

SpecDualShock 4 Wireless Controller
Battery Life4 – 8 Hours
Price$68.99 on Amazon
Connection TypeWireless / Bluetooth
Material
StylePlayStation 4
QualityIndustry Standard

 Used hereSee allDualShock 4 Wireless ControllerCheck Price on Amazon

DualShock 4 Wireless Controller

Best arcade controller for RetroPie

Switch Fighting Stick MiniCheck Price on Amazon

This arcade controller, known as the Switch Fighting Stick Mini from HORI, is officially licensed for the Nintendo Switch, but works just as well with the Raspberry Pi. It has a classic arcade-style joystick and button layout, connecting with USB support. Short of making your own Raspberry Pi arcade controller, this is one of your best options when it comes to simulating arcade hardware.Pi Retrobox: Build Your Own DIY Raspberry Pi All-In-One Arcade JoystickBring the arcade to your tabletop!

SpecSwitch Fighting Stick Mini
Battery LifeN/A (Wired)
Price$49.99 on Amazon
Connection TypeUSB
MaterialPlastic
StyleArcade
QualityIndustry Standard

 Used hereSee allSwitch Fighting Stick MiniCheck Price on Amazon

Switch Fighting Stick Mini

If you’re just looking to play 2D games from console generations like the NES, SNES, Genesis, or Turbografx-16, I found that less is more, and the smaller controllers built for retro games felt much better than modern dual-analog options.

Through all my tests, there was one controller that not only felt the best for me, but also comes recommended from a variety of sources: the Buffalo Classic USB Gamepad. The Buffalo Classic controller has stellar reviews on Amazon and comes recommended from both How-To Geek and Shovel Knight developer Yacht Club Games. It also often tops out lists from the likes of NeoGAFReddit, and Racketboy.G/O Media may get a commissionBuffalo iBuffalo Classic USB Gamepad for PCBuy for $40 at Amazon

The Buffalo Classic is a near exact size replica of the original SNES controller, though it opts for the Super Famicom style face button design. The buttons have been resilient and continue to work just as they did when I first opened the box. The feedback is also just as good as the original SNES controller, which means the d-pad has a pleasing “click” with each movement and the buttons bounce back immediately after pressing them. Since it’s USB, it’s easy to set up. Just plug it in and you’re ready to go.

That’s a huge step up from the Tomee SNES controller we’ve recommended in the past. The Tomee controller feels poorly made and after a couple hours of use the buttons started to squeak and feel mushy. The d-pad feels like it’s held onto the controller with bubblegum and only responds when you press with a lot of force.

Of course, the Super Nintendo inspired design isn’t your only option. I also tested the Hyperkin Genesis controller. This was the only Genesis-inspired controller I could find with decent reviews. The six face buttons feel good, but the d-pad is stiffer than the original Genesis controller. It also doesn’t have the nice rolling action that set the Genesis controller apart from the SNES and made it perfect for games like Street Fighter II. If you’re only playing Genesis games, the Hyperkin controller does the job, but I found the SNES style works a little better for general use, especially when you consider how few Genesis games actually used all six face buttons.

If you want or need to go wireless, then the 8BitDo line of Bluetooth gamepads are well constructed, albeit luxury options. While the SNES30 Pro was the gamepad I tested the most here, I also got my hands on a couple other 8BitDo models, including the NES30 ($35) and SNES30 ($35), and they’re all similarly built. Despite their appearance, the controllers aren’t exactly replicas of the original Nintendo controllers. The buttons and d-pad are much more clicky than the originals and they all feel more like a modern controller. 8BitDo’s entire line of controllers are customizable, include firmware updates, and even support key remapping. It’s overkill for the majority of us, but if a ton of advanced options is what you want, then 8BitDo’s extensive line of controllers will suit your needs. From my experience the quality of controller extends to all their options.

However, the SNES30 Pro and NES30 are both tiny, measuring at about the same size as an original NES controller (which is not as big as you remember it being). If you have large hands, these are uncomfortable to hold. The Bluetooth also adds quite a bit to the cost, especially with the SNES30 Pro. If you don’t need wireless, this is totally overkill, but 8BitDo makes a quality, stylish controller provided you have smaller hands and you don’t mind paying extra.

I also gave the Nintendo 64 inspired Retrolink controller a shot for regular old NES, SNES, and Genesis games, and it’s truly awful. The controller itself is well made, but the bizarre button layout of the Nintendo 64 means it’s next to impossible to use this controller for anything but Nintendo 64 games. That includes the awkwardly placed and weirdly sized analog joystick, which bounces back into place with a satisfying, but odd, rubber band effect, just like on the original controller. The same can’t be said about the d-pad, which feels mushy at best. The slow response time on the d-pad makes it hard to get through a single level in a game like Ninja Gaiden.

I’ll get into this much more in the section below, but after hours of testing, I found modern controllers, like the Logitech F310, Xbox One, and DualShock, far too cumbersome to use for 2D gaming exclusively. That’s not to say they don’t work, but they’re heavy and the additional analog inputs are unnecessary if you don’t plan on playing anything beyond the SNES generation. For that, the $20 Buffalo Classic USB gamepad is all you need.

Our Pick for 2D and 3D Games: Sony DualShock 4 Wireless Controller

If you’re looking for a catch-all controller to work with both 2D and 3D games, the Sony DualShock 4 is what you want. The directional pad is well suited for 2D games, while the analog sticks are perfect to 3D games as well. It’s far too bulky and expensive to recommend for just 2D games, but if you’re looking to play everything from the NES to the PlayStation One, the DualShock has you covered.
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The DualShock 4 wins for me for a variety of reasons, but the main one is the d-pad. The buttons are responsive and the spongy click of each individual pad feels more like a classic controller than the other options I tested. The face button placement, size, and style also feels natural when you’re playing older games. If you already have a DualShock 4, you’ll likely be happy with it for retro games. It’s also a favorite among the likes of The Wirecutter and PC Gamer. You will need some additional software to pair the DualShock 4 with a PC, though it’s not terribly hard to use. On the flipside, it pairs with RetroPie on the Raspberry Pi and with OpenEmu on the Mac out of the box. If you’d prefer a cheaper option, the PS3’s DualShock 3 is just as good as the DualShock 4, but sadly doesn’t just work out of the box and requires, extra set up compared to the DualShock 4.

The squishier d-pad of the PS4 controller is in direct contrast to the XBox One controller’s clicky d-pad, which felt horrible for most retro games. Where the DualShock’s d-pad softens its click like a classic NES controller would, the Xbox One feels and sounds more like you’re pressing a key on a keyboard. While the d-pad style is a matter of preference, if you’re looking for the same feel as older controllers, the Xbox One doesn’t fit the bill. Aside from that, the d-pad placement in the center of the controller is also awkward and doesn’t work well for long bouts of play. The same goes for the cheaper Xbox 360 Controller, though the d-pad on that controller is basically unusable for most retro games because it’s so unresponsive.

The aforementioned SNES30 Pro also fits into this section just as much as the previous, but falls short with 3D games. It’s too small for most people to use for any game that requires dual-analog sticks because they’re tiny and jammed too close together. Likewise, the four buttons on the top of the controller are horribly placed, so it’s difficult to use them. Even despite all that, if you’re looking for a gamepad primarily for 2D games that can also handle the occasional 3D game, then the SNES30 Pro is fine, just don’t expect it to be comfortable for long.

If you only plan on playing Nintendo 64 games, the RetroLink controller does an admirable job of replicating the feel of the weird Nintendo 64 controller, though the single analog stick makes it completely useless for games on any other console. It’s impossible to recommend this controller for anything but Nintendo 64 games.

If you’re looking for a cheap option, the Logitech F310 (and its wireless counterpart, the F710) are big sellers, but even at the $20 price point of the F310, it’s hard to recommend. The analog thumbsticks feel tight, the face buttons are a little too big, and the input drop is too deep. This means it requires a little too much force to press a button in, which causes problems with any game that requires precise timing. The controller itself is also oddly shaped, feeling something like a mashup of both the Xbox controller and the DualShock. Most reviewers, including Polygon and The Wirecutter have pointed out the F310 feels weird to hold and I’m inclined to agree. The d-pad on the F310 has a satisfying clickiness about it, but that doesn’t translate to responsiveness on the game’s end.

A game controller is a personal thing, and which best suits you depends a lot on the size of your hands and what you’ve used in the past. If you’re happy with what you have right now, there’s no reason to change anything up, but if not, there’s an option out there that’ll suit your needs.

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