Advertisement

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Advertisement

Best Nintendo Switch controller 2021: Game-changing gamepads and Joy-Con alternatives

7 Oct 2021
Advertisement

Whether you play in handheld mode or with the console docked, these are the best Nintendo Switch controllers available right now

The Nintendo Switch is one of the best-selling games consoles of all time for good reason. The ability to play in handheld mode or while docked makes it wonderfully versatile, and its extensive game library features iconic characters including Mario, Zelda and Kirby.

But if the Switch has one weakness, it’s the controllers included with the console. The Joy-Con controllers are ingeniously designed and work well for casual play, but those looking to take their Switch gaming to the next level will likely want something more advanced.

With a huge range of officially licensed and third-party options available, selecting the best Nintendo Switch controller for your needs can be tricky. That’s where we come in.

We’ve handpicked the best Nintendo Switch controllers on the market, ranging from retro-inspired gamepads guaranteed to induce 16-bit nostalgia to customisable options complete with mappable buttons and additional triggers.

You’ll find our favourites listed below, but before we jump into the entries, it’s worth highlighting the key things to consider when shopping for a Nintendo Switch controller.

READ NEXT: Nintendo Switch OLED review


Best Nintendo Switch controller: At a glance


How to choose the best Nintendo Switch controller for you

The first thing to think about is the mode in which you do most of your gaming. If you primarily use your Switch portably, it’s probably not worth splashing out on a pricey wireless controller – you’ll be better served by investing in pads that can be attached to the console in place of your Joy-Cons.

Similarly, if you own a Nintendo Switch Lite, which can’t be docked, a fancy controller is unnecessary unless you want to use a stand to prop the console up on your desk.

It’s worth noting that using an external controller is the only way to experience HD Rumble and motion controls when playing the Switch Lite. If those are features you feel you’re missing out on, a controller that supports them is a worthwhile purchase.

Should I buy a wired or wireless Nintendo Switch controller?

If you’ve decided that a controller is better suited to your playing habits than a Joy-Con alternative, your next decision is whether to buy a wired or wireless pad.

Wired controllers have a couple of advantages over their wireless counterparts. They’re typically a lot cheaper and don’t have to be recharged, which means you’ll never run out of battery during a crucial quest.

Most wired Nintendo Switch controllers come with 3m cables that you connect to your Switch. That’s long enough to ensure you don’t have to sit too close to your television, but if you’re after true freedom, wireless controllers are the way to go.

Wireless controllers are a breeze to pair with your Switch and our favourite way to enjoy Switch gaming while docked. They remove all cable clutter from the equation and don’t restrict you to sitting a certain distance away from the TV.

They do require charging, though, so it’s important to check the battery life of whichever wireless controller you’re planning on buying. Most offer between 20 and 40 hours of playtime, but these are approximate figures and your mileage will vary based on the games you’re playing and the features being used.

READ NEXT: The best Nintendo Toy-Con Labo kits

Other features to consider when buying a Nintendo Switch controller

Size: Nintendo Switch controllers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. If you have small hands, a bulky pad is going to prove hard to grip properly and you may struggle to comfortably access some of its buttons. Conversely, those with large mitts may want to avoid compact pads as they’ll likely find the button layout rather cramped.

Rumble functionality: One of the great things about the official Switch Joy-Con and Pro controllers is their use of HD Rumble. While playing games that support HD Rumble, those controllers deliver haptic feedback vibrations to enhance the immersive experience. Certain games implement it a lot better than others, but once you’ve become attached to HD Rumble, it’s hard to go without it.

Sadly, there currently aren’t any third-party Switch controllers that support HD Rumble, although there are a number that offer standard rumble functionality. This is less precise and nuanced than HD Rumble but still provides enjoyable vibrations when gaming.

NFC: Near-field communication (NFC) is what Switch controllers use to interact with amiibos – small figurines that make for great desk ornaments but also grant in-game bonuses. Those bonuses vary depending on the amiibos used and the game being played.

For example, tapping a compatible Legend of Zelda amiibo on your controller while playing Breath of the Wild will net you special chests and other helpful items. Using the same amiibo while playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim gives you a chance of snagging Zelda-themed gear for use in Skyrim.

If you own a large collection of amiibos and plan to use them rather than simply displaying them, make sure the Nintendo Switch controller you’re buying supports NFC.

3.5mm port: If you prefer to play while wearing headphones or a gaming headset, look out for controllers with a 3.5mm port. These allow you to plug a headset into your pad, but you’re limited to wired controllers as the Switch doesn’t natively support wireless audio.

If you want to enjoy wireless audio while playing your Switch, head on over to our best wireless gaming headset page. Most of the products there come with wireless adapters that you can plug into your Switch dock and those that don't operate over Bluetooth.

In September 2021, Nintendo released a firmware update that unlocked the Switch's ability to connect to certain devices via Bluetooth. This means you can enjoy game audio via your favourite pair of wireless headphones. That certainly makes 3.5mm ports in controllers rather less important to many gamers but they're worth looking out for if you only own wired headphones.

Mappable buttons: More advanced Switch controllers give you the opportunity to change the function of some or all of your gamepad’s buttons. Some feature additional buttons or paddles to which you can assign certain inputs. Others, like the 8BitDo Pro 2, use software that allows you to remap buttons and gives you granular control over stick and trigger sensitivity and the power of vibrations.

Such customisation options are great if you take your gaming seriously and play games that require complex combinations of button inputs. However, the majority of people will find a basic button configuration works perfectly well.

READ NEXT: The best TVs for gaming


The best Nintendo Switch controllers to buy

1. Nintendo Switch Pro Controller: Best Nintendo Switch controller overall

Price: £60 | Buy now from Currys

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the official Pro gamepad is the best Nintendo Switch controller for most people. It supports all the key Switch functionality – HD Rumble, NFC and motion controls – has exceptional battery life and is reasonably lightweight. The analogue sticks are responsive, the X, Y, A and B buttons have a decent amount of travel but aren’t too noisy (even when button mashing), and the controller is extremely comfortable to hold.

It’s not perfect, however. The D-pad occasionally registers inputs incorrectly when playing games that require lots of quick changes of direction, and the textured grip handles can get a bit sticky during longer gaming sessions.

It’s also pretty pricey when compared with most third-party options, but if you want the full Switch experience, it’s definitely worth paying that little bit extra.

Key specs – Type: Wireless controller; Weight: 249g; Dimensions: 153 x 107 x 64mm; Battery life: Up to 40 hours; Rumble: Yes (HD Rumble); Motion controls: Yes; NFC: Yes; Mappable buttons: No; 3.5mm port: No


2. PowerA Enhanced Wired Controller: Best cheap Nintendo Switch controller

Price: £20 | Buy now from Amazon

If you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful Nintendo Switch controller, look no further than this officially licensed option from PowerA. It’s wired and lacks the bells and whistles offered by more expensive options, but does allow you to map additional actions to two buttons located on its rear.

It also houses a 3.5mm port for plugging in a gaming headset and is available in a wide range of eye-catching colours and designs. We want to give a special mention to the "Spectra" model, which was released in the summer of 2021. It costs £10 more than the other versions but features LED lighting around the analogue sticks, D-pad and A, B, Y and X buttons, along with an LED strip around the outline of the controller itself.

You can choose from one of eight attractive colours or have the controller cycle through the various colours while you're playing. It's easy on the eye and will appeal to those that like to add a bit of brightness to their gaming setups. The Spectra model has one other advantage over the £20 variants - the analogue sticks feature textured, "ant-friction" rings which make gripping them with your thumbs slightly easier.

The extra £10 outlay takes the Spectra model out of truly cheap territory, but there's no denying it's the most aesthetically appealing entry into the PowerA Enhanced Wired controller roster.

Key specs – Type: Wired controller with 3m detachable USB cable; Weight: 131g (without cable), 209g (with cable); Dimensions: 150 x 110 x 60mm; Battery life: N/A; Rumble: No; Motion controls: No; NFC: No; Mappable buttons: No; 3.5mm port: Yes


3. HORI Split Pad Pro: Best Nintendo Switch controller for handheld mode

Price: From £40 | Buy now from Amazon

The HORI Split Pad Pro is the ideal peripheral for those in search of a full-sized controller experience while using their Switch in handheld mode. The officially licensed pads slot into your console in place of Joy-Cons and are wonderfully ergonomic, with curved handles that nestle neatly in the palms of your hands.

The position of the analogue sticks and face and trigger buttons closely matches that of the Joy-Cons but they’re significantly larger, making the Split Pad Pro far easier to navigate. The sticks are pleasingly responsive and there’s a tangible click to buttons when executing inputs, while the precision D-pad is a big upgrade on the four directional buttons found on the Joy-Cons. There are also mappable rear triggers – FL and FR – located on the back of each pad, along with a Turbo mode that can be set at three different speeds.

The Split Pad Pro’s only real weakness is its lack of support for rumble functionality and motion controls. If you can live without those features, it offers a supremely comfortable portable gaming experience along with some handy customisation options. It’s also available in a welcome range of colours and designs, our favourite of which is the awesome Monster Hunter Rise version.

Key specs – Type: Console attachment; Weight: 155g; Dimensions: 70 x 110 x 42mm (each pad); Battery life: N/A; Rumble: No; Motion controls: No; NFC: No; Mappable buttons: Yes; 3.5mm port: N/A


4. PowerA Fusion Pro Wireless Controller: A Pro alternative you can personalise

Price: £90 | Buy now from Amazon

The Fusion Pro Wireless may be pricey but it offers some great personalisation options, including removable black and white faceplates and two extra thumbsticks. One stick is taller than its pre-installed counterparts, while the other is convex as opposed to concave like the other three. We particularly liked using the taller option as our left stick, but found the convex stick a little slippy compared to the concave ones, whose tips are textured.

The face buttons are positioned identically to the official Pro controller, though there’s a little more travel and a hollower thud to the X, Y, A and B buttons. The controller is also heavier than the official option (but not unwieldy), while the rubberised grip adorning the handles is of excellent quality and doesn’t get as sticky.

The ace up the Fusion Pro’s sleeve is its “Mappable Pro Pack”. It clips into the controller’s base and features four removable paddles, each of which can have a button input assigned to it. While not ideal for all games, the paddles offer a very welcome level of controller customisation.

The Fusion Pro Wireless doesn’t support rumble and there’s no NFC support, but the inclusion of a smart hard-shell carrying case goes a long way to softening the blow of their absence.

Key specs – Type: Wireless controller; Weight: 305g; Dimensions: 145 x 107 x 68mm; Battery life: Up to 20 hours; Rumble: No; Motion controls: Yes; NFC: No; Mappable buttons: Yes; 3.5mm port: Yes


5. 8BitDo Pro 2: Best Nintendo Switch controller for customisation

Price: £43 | Buy now from Amazon

If you’re after a truly customisable Switch gaming experience, this is the controller for you. Using the 8BitDo Ultimate Software mobile app (available on both iOS and Android), you can remap all of the Pro 2’s buttons, set joystick and trigger sensitivity, control the level of vibration and create macros – button combinations that can be executed instantly.

You can also create three bespoke profiles with different button layouts for specific games and switch between them on the fly at the press of a button. That may prove a step too far for those who struggle to remember a single set of controls, but for those wanting to gain the competitive edge in their favourite titles, it’s a game-changer.

The 8BitDo Pro 2 can be used to play games on Steam and mobile, too, making it versatile as well as supremely customisable. Motion controls and rumble (standard, not HD) are both supported and there’s a USB-C cable included to ensure the gaming doesn’t have to stop just because your controller has run out of juice.

Key specs – Type: Wireless controller; Weight: 228g; Dimensions: 154 x 101 x 65mm; Battery life: Up to 20 hours; Rumble: Yes; Motion controls: Yes; NFC: No; Mappable buttons: Yes; 3.5mm port: No


6. Nintendo Joy-Con: Most versatile Nintendo Switch controller

Price: £60 | Buy now from Currys

You get a pair of Joy-Cons included with the Switch, but what happens when they need replacing? You could pick up a cheap pair from a third party but in our opinion, you can’t get better than the real deal.

Yes, some are affected by “Joy-Con drift”, whereby the thumbsticks of Joy-Cons register ghost inputs, and they lack a proper D-pad, but it’s hard to argue with the overall package. Battery life is solid, HD Rumble, motion controls and amiibo functionality are all supported, and the controllers themselves are supremely versatile.

Slot them into a Joy-Con grip and they function as a single controller, use them as two separate pads when playing with a friend or simply leave them attached to the console, the choice is yours.

Key specs – Type: Console attachment/wireless controller; Weight: Left – 48g; right – 51g; with Joy-Con grip – 197g; Dimensions: 101 x 36 x 28mm; with Joy-Con grip – 139 x 100 x 41mm; Battery life: Up to 20 hours; Rumble: Yes (HD Rumble); Motion controls: Yes; NFC: Yes; Mappable buttons: No; 3.5mm port: No


7. 8BitDo Arcade Stick: Best Nintendo Switch controller for fighting games

Price: £80 | Buy now from Amazon

If you're serious about fighting games, you'll know that nothing compares to the feeling of pummeling your foes into oblivion while stood at an arcade cabinet. The 8BitDo Arcade Stick won't bring the sticky floor and flashing lights of a local arcade to your games room but does provide an excellent platform on which you can perfect your combos and unleash your special moves.

It can be used with PC as well as Switch and there are three connection methods available: Bluetooth, wired and wireless (via a 2.4GHz USB-A transmitter). You'll be using it wirelessly while playing on Switch and the pad lasts an impressive 40 hours on a single charge, with a full recharge taking around four hours.

The Arcade Stick is highly customisable, too. You can map inputs to the various buttons using 8BitDo's Ultimate Software, create macros and even swap out the buttons and stick if you fancy doing a bit of modding at home.

Key specs - Type: Wireless/wired arcade stick; Weight: 2.1kg; Dimensions: 303 x 203 x 112mm; Battery life: Up to 40 hours; Rumble: No; Motion controls: No; NFC: No; Mappable buttons: Yes; 3.5mm port: No


8. HORI Battle Pad: Best Nintendo Switch controller for Smash Bros fans

Price: From £21 | Buy now from Amazon

The 2001 GameCube controller is widely considered to be one of the best controllers ever made. This updated version for Switch retains a very similar shape to the original but incorporates a few meaningful tweaks.

The thumbsticks make use of what HORI describes as “anti-snapback technology” to help you more precisely execute commands. In addition, the handles have textured grips, and you can switch the function of the L/R and ZL/ZR buttons at your leisure. There’s even a Turbo mode that can be set to three different speeds, which is useful when you’re feeling too lazy to rapidly press or hold down a specific button.

The controller is designed with Super Smash Bros fans in mind. The GameCube was home to one of the best entries in the series – Super Smash Bros Melee – and the five colourways available pay homage to some of the series’ leading characters: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Zelda and Pikachu.

Key specs – Type: Wired controller with 3m cable; Weight: 230g; Dimensions: 103 x 141 x 69mm; Battery life: N/A; Rumble: No; Motion controls: No; NFC: No; Mappable buttons: No; 3.5mm port: No


9. PowerA Enhanced Wireless Controller: An affordable Pro controller alternative

Price: £40 | Buy now from Amazon

Should you want a wireless controller but be unable to stump up the cash for the official Nintendo Pro model, this licensed third-party alternative from PowerA is your next best bet. It loses out to the Nintendo version when it comes to battery life and there’s no rumble functionality or NFC support but there are a couple of extra buttons on the back of the grips which can have inputs mapped to them very simply.

Its biggest advantage over the official Pro controller is that it’s available in a wide range of attractive designs. There’s an option to cater for just about everyone, including game-specific designs for titles such as Pokemon, Mario and Animal Crossing.

It’s worth noting that some of the older designs don’t house a rechargeable battery but are instead powered by two AA batteries. We don't really recommend these as the additional costs involved push the price up to a point where you're better off just biting the bullet and buying the official Pro Wireless controller. But if you have your heart set on a specific design and it's one of those that requires batteries, you'll definitely want to pick up a pair of rechargeable batteries and a charger.

Key specs - Type: Wireless controller; Weight: 312g; Dimensions: 150 x 106 x 61mm; Battery life: Up to 30 hours; Rumble: No; Motion controls: Yes; NFC: No; Mappable buttons: Yes; 3.5mm port: No


10. 8BitDo SN30 Pro: Best retro Nintendo Switch controller

Price: £40 | Buy now from Amazon

Despite being inspired by classic controllers of yesteryear, the 8BitDo SN30 Pro offers a thoroughly modern suite of features. It operates wirelessly over Bluetooth, supports rumble and motion controls and is compatible with Switch, macOS, Windows, Android and Steam.

It's the lightest entry on this list at just 114g as it forgoes the handles typically found on controllers, making it the perfect choice for individuals with smaller hands or anyone who wants to relive their days of playing Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II Turbo on the SNES. Extra attention has been paid to the D-pad to ensure the SN30 Pro executes commands precisely when playing directional input-heavy genres such as platformers, but there are analogue sticks for when you want to return to the 21st century.

Available in two colourways, one resembling the original Game Boy (shown above) and the other the Super Nintendo, the SN30 Pro is a welcome trip down memory lane for those as enthusiastic about gaming now as they were in the 80s and 90s.

Key specs – Type: Wireless controller; Weight: 114g; Dimensions: 144 x 65 x 33mm; Battery life: Up to 18 hours; Rumble: Yes; Motion controls: Yes; NFC: No; Mappable buttons: No; 3.5mm port: No

Read more

Best Buys