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The NES controllers for Switch do one thing well, and not much else

For playing Dr. Mario? Great. Smash? Not so much

Someone playing Switch with the NES controller

If you invested in the NES-style Joy-Con controllers for Nintendo Switch — sold exclusively to Nintendo Switch Online subscribers — I imagine it was for one of a handful of reasons: You’re a hardcore Nintendo collector; you’re a fan of all things nostalgic and retro; or you really, really love playing NES games on your Switch.

The controllers are perfect for any players who fit the above descriptions. That’s about it.

Sold as a pair for $59.99 (not including the cost of a Nintendo Switch Online membership), the Switch-compatible NES controllers look and feel much like the real thing. They replace the old cord with Bluetooth connection and the ability to dock them right onto the Switch to charge, but that aside? These NES controllers slide right between your hands with ease, the buttons sitting in the same familiar places as the original Nintendo Entertainment System controllers’ did.

Two NES controllers docked onto the Switch tablet.
The oddest of sights.

Using them to play the variety of NES games available on the console is a similarly recognizable experience. To test the controllers, we played some rounds of Dr. Mario, which felt like being back in the ’80s all over again. The controllers’ start and select buttons are much more helpful than their indiscriminate comparisons on the Switch Joy-Cons, a bonus that makes the NES controllers that much more attractive. The lack of a home button seems like an issue at first, but even that’s taken care of; press the L shoulder button (hidden on top as to not distract from this lovely simulacrum) to return to the Switch’s main menu.

That’s really all there is to it. You like playing NES games? Go ahead. Do the thing. But there are limits to these controllers, and we pushed them there. If you spend almost as much as we would on a pair of Joy-Con or a Pro Controller for these cutesy peripherals, it would be nice to get more use out of them, right?

Nintendo warned that the controllers were only compatible with the Nintendo Switch Online NES game collection, but that’s not exactly true. The system is more than capable of recognizing them in other games ... with major caveats.

Two NES controllers in front of Switch tablet

The problem is that, outside of the NES game collection, the Switch registers the mock NES controllers as Pro Controllers. The NES gamepads have little in common with the fully featured Pro Controllers, and in our tests playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which uses the joysticks to move around, the NES controllers becomes non-functional; the D-Pad is still mapped to typical D-Pad controls, making it impossible to move around.

It’s fun to have little taunt-offs, but that fun only lasts so long. The Pro Controller issue also means that Pokémon: Let’s Go! is unplayable with the NES controllers, since it doesn’t support that control method. We did have success with one type of game, however: Octopath Traveler uses just a few different buttons, and since it can register movement from the D-Pad, it’s fairly playable with the NES Controller. But the home button trick doesn’t work in this game as it does with the NES titles, so this is again a poor gameplay experience.

The NES controllers are one of those novelties that will likely fetch a high price on the secondhand market years down the line, standing out as nice-looking gadgets to stick on a shelf. Anyone in need of extra peripherals for the Switch, however, should definitely look elsewhere.

The next level of puzzles.

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