The 8BitDo Ultimate Controller is yet another cracking piece of kit from the kings of supplying just about every way to play a game.
Wherever we go in this industry, or the various hobbies that surround it, 8BitDo is always there. Lurking, ready to strike, and be recommended. From Raspberry Pi retro boxes to Gamecube adapters for modern machines, it’s gotten to the point where we were getting a little fed up with them.
Not in a negative way, but waiting for something else to jostle them off their throne. With the Ultimate Controller, 8BitDo just seems determined not to go anywhere, any time soon.
- Weight: 228g
- Connectivity: USB-C, Bluetooth, 2.4GHz
- Compatibility: Windows, Steam Deck, Android, iOS, Switch
- Price: $69.99
Features: GuliKit joysticks, app connectivity to change settings, macros, and charging dock
A sleek black controller arrived at our door in an undisclosed parcel, with biro written on it. Opening it up, you’re greeted with this immaculately smooth and vaguely-Switch Pro controller-looking device.
The A and B buttons have been swapped over to better map with the Switch, and all the buttons you’d need to interact with the device are available to you.
It also slots delicately, and perfectly into the little holster for charging. In fact, if it were up to us, we’d be forcing Microsoft to take a good look at how this charging dock works, because it is sublime. The bigger size provides a sturdy bottom to rest on your desk, with no risk of the controller rocking out of its connection with the charging pins.
Each stick has this understated feel to it, with no real adjustments needed between hopping over to it. There’s also the fact that GuliKit sticks are houses on the inside. These prevent drift and provide a magnetic connection, ensuring a much more accurate joystick overall.
It is more comfortable than the Switch’s own Pro controller, but it stumbles at the directional pad.
It isn’t mushy, but it also isn’t going to change your mind about non-Nintendo-provided directional pads. If Microsoft and Sony, along with the billions of dollars at their disposal can’t figure it out, we weren’t expecting 8BitDo to crack the case either.
Don’t worry though, it’s better than the Joycon’s separated directional buttons and the god-awful stilted press on a standard Xbox controller.
One way street
It’s not a secret that 8BitDo is trying to outdo Nintendo at every turn. It’s not even a rivalry, because Nintendo doesn’t even acknowledge 8BitDo. Both companies’ understanding of the industry’s consumers is at odds with each other.
Comparing this to the direct competitor, Nintendo’s own Switch Pro controller, it’s night and day. The Pro attempts to emulate the Joycons, down to its triggers, while providing a proper directional pad.
Outside of being a little more comfortable for larger hands, it provides nothing in terms of being ‘pro’. There are no additional buttons, the triggers are bad at best, and other than the Switch’s NFC being built in for Amiibos, you might as well stick with the Joycons.
Is Nintendo even interested in making a ‘pro controller’?
Nintendo just isn’t interested in making a controller that suits the needs of those looking for comfort and utility outside of their detachable and prone-to-breakage Joycons.
This has been their attitude throughout the Wii and Wii U eras too. The Classic controllers on both those consoles weren’t worth the effort outside of Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Monster Hunter Tri.
Why would you need one of those more traditional controllers, when you have our big tablet or our remotes?
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You need vision
8BitDo, on the other hand, sees the need and seems more than happy to supply a controller for almost any scenario. Fighting games? We’ve got sticks. Wherever there’s a single board computer being turned into retro boxes? Here’s a controller that looks like the one you’re about to emulate.
The Ultimate is just the next line. If Nintendo won’t produce its own competitor to the Xbox Elite Controller, or the upcoming DualSense Edge, 8BitDo will do it for them.
What they also see is the need for a ‘pro-grade’ controller in line with these consumer products, that provides similar features without the need to spend upwards of $120.
8BitDo’s Ultimate Controller comes with two back buttons, which aren’t as good as the paddles provided by Microsoft on their Elite controller but feel similar to the pleasant clicky ones on the Steam Deck.
They can be mapped to any function you want, including macros. In fact, the whole controller can become one giant macro machine for your favorite in-depth MMO or RPG.
We found the trigger alterations to be a little bit odd if we’re honest. Rather than fitting them with a physical switch to force them into certain positions, you can set when you want the action to start depending on the pull.
An example we used was Perfect Dark HD on the Xbox, using the Elite controller. As the game doesn’t have the capability to acknowledge whether the trigger is half-pulled or fully pressed down, on the Elite Series 2, it made sense to set the triggers to similar to the original Nintendo 64 configuration. Locking the trigger into making it a simple button felt much better.
Here, when emulating the game with the Ultimate Controller, the minimal press of the trigger to activate it felt weird. Like seeing a yellow fire hydrant in Shelbyville. It keeps the costs down, but the entire concept of software dictating where hardware would be a better fit seems like an odd decision.
Software and 2.4GHz
Meanwhile, the software itself is generally quite good. It’s low-key, doesn’t seem like it’s hogging any resources, and is fairly simple to flick through and provide the controller with new profiles.
On the back, the toggle between Bluetooth and 2.4GHz for use elsewhere is a godsend. 2.4GHz is slowly becoming the norm over Bluetooth and none of this was highlighted more than on the Steam Deck.
The latency that was felt between docking the Steam Deck, and then using Bluetooth, has been an issue of ours since the device launched. In most cases, it works just well enough that the lag isn’t noticeable, but it never feels completely right.
Swapping over to 2.4GHz fixed most of these problems. In fact, connecting over 2.4GHz is so quick, we never actually swapped back over to Bluetooth other than to test it out on iOS.
The only issue with 2.4GHz we ran into is so specific, that we can’t even knock the controller for it. It kept crashing Resident Evil 6 for us. We don’t know why, but the fact that Resident Evil 6 – one of the world’s best-known franchises on the planet – isn’t tested enough on the Steam Deck to warrant a ‘playable’ or ‘verified’, speaks volumes to how small this issue actually is.
Is the 8BitDo Ultimate controller good for gaming?
The 8BitDo Ultimate Controller is utterly sublime. Having access to a great controller in pretty much all the spaces we game in on a day-to-day basis, is excellent.
The snappy bumper buttons, quick connection, and lack of any real latency make this one of the better controllers to pick up if you want something a little bit more universal. While it won’t work directly with the Xbox and PlayStation, we’re sure there are options out there for converting the wireless signals to those consoles somewhere in 8BitDo’s roster of products.
Verdict – 4/5
We can’t express just how great the 8BitDo Ultimate Controller really is. From the dual method of connection to the wide range of connectivity and level of customization, all contained in a handy $60 price tag? It really is one of the ultimate choices to game on.