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Nintendo Switch's control options won't be optional for some

The Pro Controller will be a must-buy for some players

Nintendo Switch Joy-Con
Nintendo Switch's Joy-Cons with wrist straps.

I’m not one to balk at the idea of owning multiple controllers for game consoles, but I had hoped I wouldn’t be forced to do so with the Nintendo Switch.

I have two different fight sticks for my PlayStation 4 and a handful of different USB controllers for my PC, and I own every iteration of the Xbox controller. I’m comfortable with spending money on different controllers for different purposes, or even multiple controllers for the same console for when friends come over.

But the Joy-Cons and their adaptability are one of the Switch’s biggest selling points for me. The two little controllers that come with the system can be docked to the console, removed to be held in each hand by a single player, or used separately to accommodate two people and the system. The system even comes with a grip accessory (that looks like a cute pup) to make the two controllers feel like a standard console controller.

That’s a lot of value for a $300 system. Which is good, because Nintendo’s price tags for the extra controllers and accessories feel prohibitive and unnecessary. But after spending a few hours playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it feels like I basically have to spend $70 more for my home system.

The Joy-Con controllers seemed like a mismatch when playing Breath of the Wild, no matter how I tried to hold them. “Play with the controller that is the most comfortable for you,” they say in the fighting game community. “You should be fighting your opponent, not the controller.”

Playing Zelda with the Joy-Cons felt wrong. The placement of the face buttons, analog sticks and trigger buttons felt uncomfortable: I was battling the controllers themselves, not bokoblins in a forest. We’re used to Nintendo systems that feel great to use from the first moment to the last — think of the ergonomics of the original Wii controllers or the different options with the 3DS — and I just couldn’t figure out how to make the Joy-Cons comfortable.

My experience improved instantly with the Switch Pro Controller. It feels solid, familiar and tuned for complex movements, and that feeling is mandatory for Breath of the Wild. It didn’t just feel better for me; it made the experience wonderful. In fact, when a handful of players across Vox Media played the Switch in our office, the feeling was unanimous. Zelda just felt better on the Pro Controller. It wasn’t just me.

I’m serious about competitive and high-level play. I’m already excited about the new Mario Kart, Splatoon and Bomberman titles. My dreams of bringing these games around with me with only my Switch nestled in my jacket pocket have been dashed by the reality of how the controllers feel. If I want to play in a way that feels comfortable to me, I’ll have to bring the Pro Controller too.

Product shot of the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller on a red background
The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, which costs $69.99.

For some, it might be unreasonable to think that a portable device like the Switch should feel like a great gaming experience for someone who wants to play at higher levels. But I’ve never had issues with the Vita or the 3DS. My portable gaming experiences usually feel ready for high-level play, whether I’m racking up huge combos in Lumines or killing dinos in Monster Hunter. There is no way I can make Nintendo Switch’s portable configurations feel good without that Pro Controller.

My suspicion is that most people will be able to tolerate the stock controllers, a few will hate them so much they only play with the Pro, and a tiny number will absolutely love them. But I doubt I’ll be completely alone, which means a lot of players will need to budget an extra $70 on launch day.

If you’re looking to buy a Nintendo Switch, you still have options. And if you want to watch us unbox one of the consoles, check this out:

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