I’ve owned a Nintendo Switch since launch, and the combination of the included Joy-Cons paired with a Pro Controller has been enough to enjoy most games. The two sets of controllers maintain the vision that this console can deliver the same experiences when docked to a massive living room TV or held between my hands.
However, some games disrupt that magic, and the game that shattered the illusion for me was Monster Hunter Rise.
It’s not because the game suffers from performance problems between the console’s two modes. In fact, Monster Hunter Rise seems to perform smoothly in both configurations, no matter where I play it. It’s how I play the game that begged for a change.
In docked mode, the Pro Controller is the best way to play. The large gamepad makes it easy to manipulate the game’s multiple shortcuts commands, new Silkbind attacks, and complex play styles from the best weapons in Monster Hunter Rise like the switch axe or bow. Shifting between the multiple shoulder buttons, analog sticks, buttons, and the D-pad on the big Pro Controller is easy — especially with years of muscle memory on similar gamepads.
In handheld mode on the smaller Joy-Cons, dancing around with my thumbs and index fingers felt a bit more cumbersome. Since Monster Hunter Rise makes ample use of both trigger buttons, I often had to keep my index and middle finger in an awkward position to hit them both with precision. It’s an uncomfortable grip I’ve never had to adopt for any other game. It’s a shame because the tiny controllers are the only thing that brings me back down to the reality that I’m playing Monster Hunter Rise on a miniscule mobile device.
It doesn’t have to feel this way, though.
My solution to making Rise feel just as good in my hands as it does paired with my big TV and a Pro Controller is an equally large set of controllers: The Hori Split Pad Pro.
What is the Split Pad Pro?
The Hori Split Pad Pro is a pair of controllers that attach to the side of the Switch just like the Joy-Cons. Each half of the Split Pad Pro mimics the left and right side of a controller layout similar to Nintendo’s Pro Controller.
For a sense of scale, each half of Hori’s creation is roughly the size of two Joy-Cons sitting side-by-side. Detached from the console and placed near a Pro Controller, they’re nearly the same size. The gamepads are also just as wide as the Switch itself.
What you get for the added heft is a duo of controllers that mimic the proportions of a Pro Controller, except that they’re hanging off the sides of your Switch. (Despite their larger footprint, these controllers don’t have batteries, so they have to stay tethered to your console.)
When I first attached them to my Switch, I felt like I may have made a mistake. I wasn’t sure if the bulkier size was worth the possibility of a more comfortable experience. Within minutes, those fears melted away. I love my large son.
Is the Hori Split Pad Pro worth it?
Last year, my colleague Russ Frushtick wrote a glowing Hori Split Pad Pro review that I dismissed at the time, but that was before I encountered a game worth slapping two aircraft carriers onto the side of my Switch. In other words, I hadn’t started playing Monster Hunter Rise.
I have fairly large hands, and I knew as a veteran Monster Hunter player that this game would require a bit of dexterity. With that in mind, I spent most of the first few hours playing the game docked and using my Pro Controller. Once I started feeling more comfortable with Monster Hunter Rise’s new mechanics, like the excellent Wirebug system, I wanted to casually enjoy the game on the couch or in bed. That’s when I ran into a problem.
I noticed it was a lot harder to keep up with some of the more challenging hunts with the small Joy-Cons. The muscle memory I built up on the Pro Controller didn’t translate as easily as I hoped.
For instance, as a lance player, I need to make split-second reactions to block big attacks, perform counterattacks, and swap through items. To do that, I fiddle with the shoulder buttons constantly. On a Pro Controller, there’s enough distance between the four buttons on the top of the controller to make hitting them easy. On a Joy-Con, the shoulder buttons feel cramped. It’s harder to confidently hit them in succession without holding the Switch awkwardly.
I really wanted to find a way to enjoy my time playing Monster Hunter Rise while in handheld mode, but controlling the game with the Joy-Cons wasn’t it. The Hori Split Pad Pro turned out to be the solution I was looking for.
This larger pair of controllers made the joy of Monster Hunter feel more accessible at any time. With it, I don’t have to compromise portability for playability. I can comfortably and confidently play the game in handheld mode without an awkward grip. The Split Pad Pro feels close to the experience I get with the Pro Controller, but I get to keep the Switch in my hands.
I also love the Split Pad Pro’s additional buttons.
Each half of the controllers comes with a programmable button on the back that I can hit with my ring finger. While they can only be mapped to buttons on each specific half, I found them especially helpful when strafing around monsters and performing specific commands.
Thanks to the two extra buttons, I can keep both thumbs on the analog sticks while using my ring fingers to hit important buttons that allow me to quickly heal or trigger a shortcut. I no longer have to momentarily let go of the analog sticks — and potentially lose sight of my monster — to hit an important face button or shortcut on the D-pad. There’s also a turbo button functionality, but I haven’t found a use for it in Monster Hunter Rise.
I’ve become so accustomed to using these back buttons that playing the game in handheld mode is now my preferred way to play Monster Hunter Rise.
I am curious whether these larger controllers will impact the way in which I I travel with the Switch — when traveling safely becomes a thing we can do again.
The beefier controllers make the Switch too large for my Chrome Industries backpack that seems tailor-made to carry a Switch in its front pockets. The same goes for just about every Nintendo Switch carrying case that exists. There aren’t many Hori Split Pad Pro carrying cases on the market, but the ones that you can find seem to account for the added vertical height of the analog sticks and D-pad.
The best handheld controller for Monster Hunter Rise
The Hori Split Pad Pro will undoubtedly make your Nintendo Switch look larger and sillier. What you lose in sleekness, you gain in functionality. With the Hori Split Pad Pro, Monster Hunter Rise feels just as good in my hands as it does beaming from my living room TV. I don’t think I’ll be playing other Switch games in handheld mode without it now.
Update: We’ve clarified a line about programmable buttons on the controllers.