Relatively inexpensive. Works with lots of machines. Wireless. Fun for retro arcade games.
Doesn't support PS4 or Xbox One. Controls feel a bit spongy for serious competition.
- Bottom Line
The 8bitdo NES30 Arcade Stick is an arcade-style Bluetooth game controller that works with PCs, Macs, Android devices, and even the Nintendo Switch.
Arcade sticks are usually reserved for hardcore, competitive gamers who are very serious about their controllers. Active members of the fighting game community (FGC) will gladly spend hundreds of dollars for huge, chunky, wired sticks that offer the sort of feel and responsiveness that only comes with the same parts used in arcade cabinets. 8bitdo takes a different tack with its NES30. It isn't as bulky and it doesn't feel as crisp as serious sticks like the Qanba Q4 RAF, but it's only $79.99, wireless, and works with PCs, Macs, Android devices, and even the Nintendo Switch. Its friendly price tag and flexibility earn the NES30 our Editors' Choice, even if serious competitors will be better off with a pricier, wired stick.
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The Arcade Stick oozes classic Nintendo style. Like most 8bitdo controllers, the sitck is available in designs that evoke the classic NES and Famicom aesthetics. The NES30 is unmistakably Nintendo-themed, with a solid light gray over the body and a black top panel accented with darker gray horizontal stripes and red buttons. Basically, it looks like an NES controller as an arcade stick.
It's appropriately bulky, measuring 8.8 by 11.7 (DW) inches and standing 2.6 inches tall from base to top panel (the stick extends another 2.2 inches). It weighs 3.3 pounds, giving it enough heft to sit comfortably on a lap or table without feeling heavy. The bottom of the stick is a sturdy metal plate with four wide rubber feet on the corners to prevent it from sliding across a flat surface. A USB-A port sits on the back for charging with the included cable, which is a generous six feet long.
The NES30 is an eight-button stick with a layout familiar to most arcade stick enthusiasts. The face buttons are arranged in a Vewlix configuration consisting of two rows of four buttons each, where the leftmost pair are slightly lower than the vertically aligned rightmost three pairs. The stick has a black ball grip and a circular shield at the base with no directional gates.
The Start/Power button sits near the top edge of the stick, next to a row of smaller buttons, switches, and an indicator light. The switches let you choose between having the NES30 act as an XInput or DirectInput device when connected to a computer, and between having the stick give directional inputs like a digital pad or X/Y inputs like an analog control (the choice only affects how games read the stick inputs; the stick itself is digital and doesn't provide the fine controls of an analog model). The three buttons toggle Turbo Fire (holding down the face buttons to send rapid taps instead of a constant signal to the system), put the NES30 into pairing mode, and serve as the Select button for games and systems that use it.
Sync the Stick
The NES30 can work with the Nintendo Switch, PCs, Macs, and Android devices. That sort of flexibility is welcome, but requires a bit of tinkering and carefully following the instructions to get the controller connected with your gaming device of choice. Sadly, that selection doesn't include the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One; the stick isn't compatible with them.
For playing on a PC, set the XINPUT/DINPUT switch to XINPUT and power the NES30 on by holding the Start button for a few seconds. This sets the stick to show up as an XInput controller, which you can then pair over Bluetooth. To use it with an Android device, set the switch to DINPUT and turn it on the same way.
Using the NES30 with a Nintendo Switch is slightly more tricky. You need to hold the Y button down before pressing the Start button to set the stick to Nintendo Switch mode. After that, you have to put the controller into pairing mode and sync it as a wireless controller through the Switch's menu system. It took a few tries for my Switch to detect the stick, but once it picked it up as a compatible controller it paired easily.
Using the stick with a Mac requires a similar trick to set it into a Mac-friendly mode. Hold the A button down before pressing Start to power the controller into a mode that a Mac can easily detect.
8bitdo doesn't specify its source for arcade stick parts, and the NES30's $80 price point indicates that its components aren't as beefy as those of serious fight sticks like the Hori Real Arcade Pro. The stick and face buttons do feel a bit spongier than Hori's Hayabusa joystick and buttons, or the Sanwa parts used with the Qanba Q4. Of course, both of those sticks cost nearly twice as much as the 8bitdo NES30, so the trade-off is unsurprising.
I tested the NES30 with my Nintendo Switch. I played Namco Museum and Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers with it.
Namco Museum's older arcade games like Dig Dug and Galaga '88 feel satisfying on the NES30. These games were designed to be played on a cabinet with similar controls, and the NES30's large joystick and buttons emulate that experience very well. For classic arcade games that aren't tournament fighters, like those on Namco Museum and many of the Neo Geo Classic titles available in the Switch eShop, this stick brings some really nostalgic fun.
Fighting games work fairly well, but the less crisp, precise actions on the NES30's buttons and joystick become apparent. I controlled Ken capably through several rounds of Ultra Street Fighter II, but the somewhat soft-feeling stick movements and lack of a directional gate meant many of my hadokens came out as shoryukens, and my tetsumakis often became strong kicks on execution. Part of this certainly comes down to my own lack of skill in fighting games, but I can still feel that the NES30's responses aren't quite as exact as higher-end arcade sticks from Hori and Qanba.
I also paired the NES30 with a Razer Blade Pro laptop to see how well it works with a Windows PC. The system detected the controller and paired without any problem, and functioned perfectly as an X-Input device. I played some Disney Afternoon Collection on it, and both Ducktales and Darkwing Duck worked just fine.
Serious Appeal for Non-Serious Gamers
The 8bitdo NES30 isn't a piece of equipment for serious competitors, but it isn't supposed to be. At $80, it's little over half the price of an enthusiast-level arcade stick, and it works with PCs, Macs, Android devices, and the Nintendo Switch. It feels fun and satisfying to play classic arcade games on it, even if the controls are a little spongy for fighting titles. The stick's flexibility, value, and general build quality make it a compelling pick for anyone who wants to enjoy arcade-style controls without spending the money and dealing with the bulk and wires to get "serious" about it, and earns our Editors' Choice in the process. If you want to seriously compete, the Hori Real Arcade Pro is our pick for enthusiast sticks.
By Will Greenwald Senior Analyst, Consumer Electronics
Will Greenwald has been covering consumer technology for a decade, and has served on the editorial staffs of CNET.com, Sound & Vision, and Maximum PC. His work and analysis has been seen in GamePro, Tested.com, Geek.com, and several other publications. He currently covers consumer electronics in the PC Labs as the in-house home entertainment expert, reviewing TVs, media hubs, speakers, headphones, and gaming accessories. Will is also an ISF Level II-certified TV calibrator, which ensures the thoroughness and accuracy of all PCMag TV reviews…. More »
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