While a majority of people will play Smash with Joy-Cons (or anything within reach), there are a lot of controllers specifically crafted for this game. I collected a few of these along with Nintendo’s premium wireless Switch controller, a set of Joy-Cons, and a wireless adapter—then set aside a truly unreasonable amount of time for testing. After a week of intensive competing, controller swapping, and plenty of Training mode, I have plenty of thoughts. Here’s how each of the controllers fared in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
TL;DR – These are the Best Controllers for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate 2019:
1. GameCube Controller
A Legend For a Reason
Familiarity breeds contempt—except, it seems, for the GameCube controller. The GameCube controller has never been anything but beloved in the Smash community. There’s a slew of reasons—it boasts low latency, a mashable A button, and a flickable C-Stick that helps you pull off moves quickly. But if we’re being honest, the biggest reason boils down to muscle memory. Many Smash hardcores got deep into Smash playing Melee on GameCube and have sunk countless hours into Nintendo’s purple finger eater.
The GameCube controller only has two downfalls: first, it has just a single bumper button—a “Z” button that sits in front of the right trigger. There’s nothing on the other side, which can be confusing for anyone switching from a modern controller like the DualShock 4. Second, its triggers are spring-loaded and require a fairly deep press to activate, which means you could, theoretically, get outmaneuvered by someone with faster triggers.
Nintendo makes its own GameCube Controller Adapter that plugs into your Dock’s USB port and allows you to play with up to four wired GameCube Controllers. Because the connections are completely wired, it offers low latency. Best of all, if you already have the GameCube controllers, you’ll be only be out $20 for the adapter. I was amazed at how well my friends’ old GameCube controllers had held up over the years. Except for a highly suspect stickiness on each and every joystick, the controllers were pristine—with no loose joysticks, broken buttons, or torn cords.
Despite its old age, the Nintendo’s GameCube controller is still the fan favorite and a mainstay at tournaments across the world. That’s due in part to super low latency, an intelligently employed C-Stick, and a design that’s as beloved as it is peculiar. Finding an adapter that lets you plug it into your Switch without jeopardizing your latency or wallet? That’s an unfortunately painful experience.
Thankfully, some third-party solutions are stepping onto the scene to fill the void. I tested 8BitDo’s quirky little Gbros Adapter (See it on Aamzon) (below). It’s a bit of a strange contraption—a wireless adapter that you plug your wired controller into. You’ll need to feed it two double A’s and do a bit of pairing magic before you can get started, but once it’s paired, the GBros works like a charm.
Unfortunately, the dongle has two faults. First, it’s wireless—which means you’ll have slightly higher latency than a wired setup. And second, it only works with a single controller. If you want to plug in four separate GameCube controllers, you’ll need four different GBros Adapters, which will set you back $80.
2. PDP Wired Fight Pad Pro
A Great Budget Option
PDP Wired Fight Pad Pro
PDP makes a $25 GameCube-inspired controller that plugs into one of the Nintendo Switch’s three USB ports. The cord stretches 10 feet, so you’ll likely have no problem playing from your couch. The PDP’s frame is thicker than any of the other controllers I tested. I didn’t love the way it felt; it’s almost reminiscent of the Xbox’s Duke controller.
Whereas the GameCube only has one bumper (the Z button, located in front of the right trigger), the Fight Pad Pro has two—and both allow you to perform air dodges and grabs. The triggers are quite lovely, spanning the entire top ridge of the controller and sporting a small groove that your index fingers can rest on. Its smooth texture feels exponentially better in your hands than the Hori (more on that below), and it also sports an additional, taller C-Stick which is easy to attach. I preferred the included thumbstick and found it ever-so-slightly easier to pull off C-Stick attacks with this larger counterpart.
The controller’s only major downside is how freakin’ loud it is. Like, wake up your fiancée in the other room loud. The harder you jam the buttons, the louder it gets—and you’ll notice this especially when you’re smashing that A button during the Classic mode credits scene (or at least my fiancée did). It’s a bit thick and extremely loud, but PDP’s built a capable GameCube-inspired controller that can be plugged directly into your Switch Dock—no adapter required. I especially loved its taller, detachable C-Stick for performing smash attacks quickly. At just $25, it’s also cheap enough to easily recommend.
3. Hori Nintendo Battle Pad
Hori Nintendo Battle Pad
Hori makes a GameCube inspired controller that’ll set you back $25. The first thing you’ll notice about the Battle Pad is its texture. The handles are covered in a gritty plastic that’s supposed to be tactile and comfortable, but it feels like holding sandpaper. The controller is shaped more similarly to the original GameCube controller than the PDP and comes in a variety of cool, translucent designs. Like the PDP, the cord is 10 feet long and plugs directly into the Switch Dock’s USB ports. That’s about all the good stuff I have to say about this controller.
Its triggers are tiny, barely raised buttons. Like the PDP, it sports two bumpers, but the Battle Pads are barely more substantial than the Joy-Cons. Bizarrely, the triggers are switched—the R button is in the back, and the ZR button is in the front. It’s especially confusing when the game instructs you to hit the ZR button (like when you want to pull up the moves list in Training). Not only will you have no idea which button is which, it also relegates important moves to those horrible little bumpers. Fortunately, these buttons can be remapped.
To make matters worse, one of the Hori controllers I tested (they sent four) had significant dead zones in the directional input—especially when trying to flick diagonally. Time and time again, my King K. Rool was left to get demolished by some weak little Jigglypuff or whatever because the controller didn’t register my input. Another Hori controller I tested was not affected by the issue, but a cursory glance of reviews on Amazon show other people affected by the same problem. Don’t buy this controller, is what I’m trying to say.
There’s not much to love about the Hori Nintendo Battle Pad. It’s pretty much all-around worse than its equally priced PDP counterpart, with an uncomfortable texture, poorly designed bumpers, and misplaced triggers. At least its design looks great.
4. Nintendo Joy-Cons
Surprisingly Decent (in a pinch)
Of course, if you own a Nintendo Switch, you’re already the proud owner of a pair of joy-cons. When attached to a joy-con grip, they make for a surprisingly effective controller for all types of games—Smash included.
The tiny controller’s tinier buttons don’t inspire much confidence, but I’m always blown away at just how capable these little guys are. I like the clickiness of the buttons, but the low thumbsticks and small triggers aren’t going to be anyone’s preferred option. And if you have extra large hands, you’re going to hate it. My tallest friend (6’4”) started swearing the second the Joy-Cons graced his hands.
Things fall apart when you’re forced only to use a single joy-con to play. The bumper/triggers are mushy, and the buttons are finger-crampingly close together. But worst of all, a single joy-con has fewer buttons than something like a GameCube controller. Nintendo solves this problem by mapping grab to SL and shield to SR. It works, but you’re probably not going to be super competitive with this setup. Of course, if you don’t have any alternatives, it’s still a fun way to get in some casual two-player action.
These Joy-Con controllers won’t be anyone’s first choice, but they’re a far cry from the horrible hand-me-downs we used to play on. They work best with the included Joy-Con grip, where they feel more comfortable and are much easier to game on. Playing with a single Joy-Con, however, is not ideal and your play will suffer on the microscopic device.
5. Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
Expensive, But Worth It
Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
If you’re not a GameCube diehard, the Switch Pro controller is another excellent option. As far as its design and build quality go, it’s easily the most premium feeling device on the list. Nintendo’s $70 controller is heavy in the right way and offers rumble too (a feature sorely missing on the PDP and Hori controllers). Its uniform A, B, X, and Y buttons don’t incentivize the A button like the GameCube controller, which I also prefer. The thumbsticks snap back quickly and I adore the shallow click of its digital triggers—perfect for quick air dashing and rolls. There’s no C-Stick, but the Switch Pro’s secondary stick is comfortable and tall enough to easily hit from side to side—just like the PDP’s attachable version.
However, if you’re into tournament play, you already know you’d be better off with a wired solution. Any wired controller will have better latency than a wireless controller, and some tests show the Pro controller has worse latency than even Joy-Cons. While I’m not competitive enough to notice the difference, at certain levels of play it’s going to be a deal breaker.
But, for anyone who prefers wireless—and hasn’t sunk hundreds of hours into a GameCube controller—the Switch Pro is probably your best bet. Plus, you can still find it on Amazon. The best Wireless controller I tested, the Switch Pro controller oozes with quality. It’s heavy and ergonomic and features HD rumble. At $70, it’s not cheap—but it is versatile and feature-rich, while still feeling great for Smash. Unfortunately, at high-levels of play, the latency is a dealbreaker.
6. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Controller (Japanese Import)
New Controller, Old Standard
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Controller
I also tested Nintendo’s very own Super Smash Bros. controller—a $30 GameCube controller sporting the SSB logo. I tested the Japanese Import, which looks and works exactly the same as its stateside counterpart. In other words, the controller isn’t region-locked. While it says “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Edition” on the box, the name’s a bit of a misnomer—this is your standard GameCube controller. It doesn’t plug directly into your Switch and you can’t even get to the Switch’s home screen with the buttons on the controller. It’s a bit of bummer Nintendo didn’t modernize it for the Switch, but on the plus side, that means they didn’t screw anything up.
So how does a brand new controller feel in comparison to its 17-year-old counterpart? Honestly, just a little bit better. Each of the buttons boast that new controller clickiness, and even though the old GameCube controller has aged well, the new sticks felt faster and more tactile. You could argue that the new controller’s triggers were a little harder to activate without the springs being worn-in, but it was barely noticeable. If you don’t have an old GameCube controller lying around, this is a stylish option at a reasonable price. For better or worse, it’s the exact same GameCube controller you know and love—and that means you’ll need an adapter if you want to use it.
7. PowerA Wireless Controller
PowerA Wireless Controller
PowerA’s wireless controller is an undeniably appealing option for nostalgic gamers. The design is closely modeled after the original GameCube controller—with a few subtle differences. First of all, its wireless—which means all of the latency issues mentioned earlier are applicable here, too. (PowerA does make a wired version that plugs into the Switch Dock.) It also boasts a made-for-Switch button interface—which means you can navigate to the home screen and take screenshots. That also means it’s got two bumpers, where the original GameCube only has one. Besides that, almost everything about its design is indistinguishable from the OG GameCube controller—down to its nostalgia-inducing color combos. (I opted for grey and purple.)
In place of an internal battery, PowerA opts for two double A batteries in the back which help power its wireless action. That adds to the weight, but I like the size and balance of the controller, and the weight made it feel solid in my hands.
The controller, while almost flawless, does have two noticeable issues. First is the noise—it’s nearly as loud as the PDP controller above, and the A button may actually make more noise. Second, the triggers feel cheap, with a ton of give before they’re activated. All-in-all, that’s not a lot to complain about—and I noticed that after a few hours, this was the first controller I reached for when loading up Smash. If you’re looking for a modernized GameCube controller, this should be your first choice. Its design, shape, and feel all harken back to the OG GameCube controller, but it’s easier to sync and sports modernized buttons. It’s loud, and the triggers aren’t great, but at $49.99, this is the best option I tested.
8. 8BitDo Wireless Bluetooth Adapter
A cheap solution, with a pairing problem
8BitDo Wireless Bluetooth Adapter
If you’re most comfortable with a PS4 or Xbox One controller, 8bitDo also has a $20 adapter that lets you Smash with your DualShock or Xbox One S/X Bluetooth Controller. Setup’s a bit more laborious than with the other options on this list, and switching back and forth between consoles can be a bit of a pain. (Be aware, the original Xbox One controller’s are not supported—so you’ll need an S or X.) Before you even begin the pairing process, you’ll want to make sure your adapter is updated to the latest firmware, or your’e liable to have a bad time.
The 8BitDo dongle plugs directly into the Switch dock. Due to its blocky size, it won’t fit in the covered port at the rear of the dock, so it has to occupy one of the side USB ports. Once you’ve plugged it in, you need to pop into System Settings to turn on Pro Controller Wired Communications. Across two separate consoles and four controllers, I’ve had sporadic luck with pairing according to the instructions. (I’ve had the best luck plugging the adapter in after selecting the “Change Grip/Order.”) Next, hold the tiny pairing button on the adapter—then activate the pairing on whichever controller you’re using. After that, you may want to adjust the controls in Smash. On the Xbox controller, the A/B buttons are swapped—which can be a tad confusing. Then—and only then—are you ready to play.
Playing with a DualShock or Xbox One controller is basically black magic—it feels totally different than anything else on this list and will doubtless be the preferred solution for many gamers. With a DualShock controller, the symmetrical thumbsticks can take a little getting used to and the D-Pad defaults to taunts. The thumbsticks on both controllers take a little more push than the others as well—while you’re getting used to them, you’ll find yourself walking or jogging when you meant to sprint. I especially loved the feel of the DualShock’s bumpers, which can be easily jammed for ultra-quick grabs. And on the Xbox One controller, the thumbsticks feel quick, flickable, and consequential—while the tricks are easier to activate. The buttons are all clicky and the controllers feel balanced. But if you’ve read this far, you already knew that.
If you’re interested in this solution, it’s because you already love one of your controllers from another console. For those who have never grown accustomed to the Nintendo Switch’s GameCube controller, muscle memory will make these easy to get familiar with. However, the pairing process is pretty convoluted, and doesn’t always work on the first try. Still, all that hassle is worth it to play Smash with a DualShock or Xbox Controller—especially if you’ve grown accustomed to their designs and intricacies.
9. Hori Nintendo Switch Wireless HoriPad
For Smash Bros. Ultimate Players Who Also Play Other Games
Hori Nintendo Switch Wireless Horipad Mario Edition
Compared to Hori’s wired controller above, its wireless option doesn’t fare much better. While it’s not coated in a tacky grip like the Battle Pad, it doesn’t feel much better. While the controller has a pleasing thickness, it suffers from the same “hollow” feeling and its triggers just feel godawful. They’re aggressively sloped and made from uncomfortable, sharp plastic. Basically, they’re exactly the kind of triggers you’d expect to shatter if you dropped the controller.
It’s too bad, because there’s still a few things to love about the controller, especially its great Mario– and Zelda-themed designs. The controller boasts an accelerometer and gyroscope for motion control—which is great for other games, but won’t help you in Smash. The buttons are also wonderfully mashable, and are some of the quietest I’ve played with. The battery is rated at 15 hours of play, and recharging is done by simply plugging it into a a micro usb cable. The triggers alone should be enough to deter you from the Wireless Horipad. Add to that, it feels cheap and, at $49.99, costs the same as higher quality controllers. While the design is solid and the buttons are decent, its not enough to redeem the weird triggers. You’d be better off with something else.
Nic Vargus is a writer and tech enthusiast who thinks SSB 64 is the best in the series. He wept tears of joy when King K. Rool was announced, and you can follow him on Twitter.