HORI’s Joy-Con alternative offers improved comfort and precision for playing some titles on the go.
The Nintendo Switch console has an ever-increasing library of fighting game titles, and while there are a number of control alternatives while your system is docked, the lack of a real directional pad on the left Joy-Con — designed for the mini-controller functionality while disconnected, since those directional buttons become the face buttons when the Joy-Con is held horizontally — seriously impairs the playability of most fighters. Without a solid d-pad, quick diagonal inputs — not to mention special move commands — are uncomfortable and unnecessarily difficult. The Nintendo Pro Controller, the HORI Pokkén pad, and even arcade sticks solve this problem completely when you’re playing at home. But if you want to play some Street Fighter in handheld mode, you are stuck either wrangling those four little buttons or using the finicky analog stick.
HORI has created another option: the “Switch D-Pad Controller (L)” is a substitute for the left Joy-Con that snaps into its place, replacing those directional buttons with a classic d-pad. HORI provided us with a couple to try for ourselves — and put simply, these controllers do exactly what they’re meant for, and quite well.
These Joy-Con substitutes basically provide a working d-pad while in handheld mode — and almost nothing else. There are no extra bells or whistles here, and in fact these controllers sacrifice a number of Joy-Con functions for the sake of getting a good, low-cost d-pad onto your machine. This device can’t be used wirelessly (it has no battery of its own), and drops the HD Rumble function as well. Since it’s not usable as its own disconnected pad, there are no SL/SR buttons, either. There is no motion-control functionality either, of course. Otherwise, aside from replacing the directional button with the d-pad, the other controller functions remain: the L/ZL triggers are kept of course, as well as the “-” button and the screen capture button under the d-pad. The analog stick and its corresponding clickable button are also still here.
It slides on and off the Switch console the same way a standard Joy-Con does, including the use of the release button on the back opposite the “-” button. Due to the lack of its own power supply, this controller cannot be used in place of a Joy-Con externally in something like the Joy-Con grip — it needs to be connected to the console, end of story.
The main feature, the d-pad, is your standard design that follows Nintendo’s solid-cross tradition. In HORI’s own description, it is “designed for d-pad intensive titles where lighting accuracy counts,” and it holds its own just fine. It’s got the right shape, size, and responsiveness to meet the needs of playing fighting games on a pad. Any fighter that calls for command inputs (like Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers and everything in the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, not to mention a large selection of arcade classics from the eShop) or requires quick and accurate diagonals (see: Pocket Rumble) becomes a much more enjoyable experience with this D-Pad add-on. I found it especially suitable for Pokkén Tournament DX, too.
I have very few complaints about this device; it’s such a simple concept, it’s hard to get wrong as long as you don’t try anything strange with it — and HORI has indeed kept it simple. In North America, it’s available in two styles: a translucent red Super Mario version, and a translucent green The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild version. I’m presuming that HORI is working with the licenses they have available — and these are officially licensed from Nintendo — but it seems to be an odd branding when Nintendo’s current-gen Mario and Zelda titles don’t benefit from these controllers. Of course, the fighting game market isn’t HORI’s only target, and this old-school d-pad is ideally suited for the swath of NES classics that will be coming up the pipe along with Nintendo’s new subscription system. So odds are pretty good you’ll be playing a Mario or Zelda game with this at some point. A plain blue one has appeared in overseas markets, but HORI claims there is no plan at this time to make it available in North America. Too bad, because I would like to see some more style options for this.
One point to look out for while using this controller in place of the left Joy-Con: if you don’t deliberately desync the left Joy-Con, it will remain connected to the Switch wirelessly even while you connect and use HORI’s D-Pad add-on, and remain able to control the console. Look out for unexpected inputs or surprise vibration! Reportedly, there was a battery-drain complaint when these devices first rolled out in Japan. This issue appears to still be present in our review units, because in testing we noticed a power loss of about 10% per hour while the HORI controller was left connected to the Switch in sleep mode, much more power loss than compared to leaving the system in sleep mode with fully-charged standard Joy-Cons connected. So, this is a concern to watch out for, considering it impedes the portability of the whole setup — but HORI has promised to ensure this is fixed for the retail NA version.
[UPDATE: With the Switch firmware update version 6.0.0, the power drain issue has been corrected. We have tested and verified this on our review model. – Editor]
Bottom line: if you play fighting games (or any number of older titles) on the Switch and want to improve your control options while in handheld mode, these D-Pad Controllers are a great option. The reduction of other Switch functions keeps their price in the reasonable area of $24.99 USD each. Today is their official release date; you can find these at GameStop (Super Mario version/The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild version) and at Amazon (Super Mario version/The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild version), though Amazon currently lists an October 2 release.
- Very comfortable and responsive d-pad.
- Same size & shape as regular Joy-Con, so compatible with all travel cases.
- Affordable price for what it offers.
- No HD Rumble function.
- Only Super Mario/The Legend of Zelda styles available, no generic or fighting game branding at present.
- Power loss of 10% per hour from the console while connected in sleep mode [should be corrected in retail units].
- Need to be mindful of the actual left Joy-Con’s sync state to prevent multiple inputs.