I don’t think I could ever go back to regular Joy-Cons again
I am sure that no one would disagree that the standard controllers for the Nintendo Switch, the Joy-Con, are less than ideal when it comes to form-factor. They definitely achieve what they set out to do, essentially being two halves to one controller that can be shared with a friend so no matter what, two-player is always an option, but for the solo player using their Switch in handheld mode, they aren’t quite as effective.
The Joy-Cons are incredibly small, making all the buttons tiny to match. The triggers barely exist, and there are four directional buttons instead of a D-Pad. Everything feels cramped. Oddly enough, using a 3DS felt more comfortable in a lot of instances.
Last year, HORI set out to solve one of the issues of the standard Joy-Con, specifically the lack of D-Pad, by releasing their HORI D-Pad Controller (L). These controllers essentially removed the four directional buttons and replaced them with a standard D-Pad.
These were great options for people who wanted to play fighting games, arcade games, platformers, or anything else that benefited from the traditional D-Pad, but at the end of the day, it was still a Joy-Con in design, so it still had the same ergonomic issues.
Since the release of the HORI D-Pad Controller (L), there has still been a demand for a more comfortable and functional way to play the Nintendo Switch on the go. On September 13, 2019, HORI released the Split Pad Pro DAEMON X MACHINA Edition for Nintendo Switch and man, I have never had such a great time playing the console in handheld mode.
The HORI Split Pad Pro takes everything great about a modern gaming controller, splits it in half, and puts it on the ends of your Nintendo Switch. Everything is full size. The sticks, the buttons, the D-Pad, every aspect of this controller emulates a more traditional input device. This does make the Switch a little unwieldy at first, it’s not exactly flush with the console either, and some people might not prefer how big the console feels while using the Split Pad Pro. But after just a few minutes of use, it becomes clear that the Split Pad Pro is an overall improvement to the Joy-Cons in almost every way.
The shape of the controller fits nicely to where my pinkies hook around the handles and everything feels just right. The button and stick placement of the Split Pad Pro is excellent. Even with its larger size, you don’t need to overreach to press any of the buttons or triggers. The handles have a nice textured grip added to them which helps make sure your hands don’t slip. If you’ve used HORI’s previous products, its a lot closer to the texture on the Switch Battle Pad than the Wireless HORIPAD. So think rigid.
There are also nice plastic guards on the back that help keep you from twisting or snapping off the controller. These double as guides for inserting your Switch in docked mode. A lot of thought went into this design, and it shows through every element. After using the Split Pad Pro for a while, I hope that HORI releases an updated Wireless HORIPAD that is more in line with this design, with its improved triggers, D-Pad, and sticks.
On top of the standard controller fare, the Split Pad Pro comes with two mappable buttons (FL and FR) on the grips. Thanks to these, your precious time between button presses is maximized. You can keep one thumb on the D-Pad, the other on the face buttons, and use the handle buttons for the bumpers or triggers or whatever other regular function you’d like. As is the tradition with most HORI controllers, you will find a turbo mode which has three speeds and is easily utilized.
Interestingly enough for their debut release, the Split Pad Pro is designed with the mecha combat title, Daemon X Machina in mind. (See the cool stylized X button) The red accents are very much appreciated. I’m a sucker for colored thumbsticks just because they are such a rare occurrence on controllers. There are currently no other versions of the Split Pad Pro announced, but if we only get one design, I’m glad its this one.
Everything works great on the HORI Split Pad Pro. The D-Pad is perfect for fighters and platformers, (to be honest the first thing I did was get past a point I was having trouble with on Mega Man X4, I passed it with ease. I mapped my dash to FL) and the sticks are great for shooters and action titles. You can tell the Split Pad Pro was designed for Daemon X Machina because the game feels perfect to play with this controller.
Inputs are accurate and easy to pull off in Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection (the most input heavy fighter I have on the Switch) thanks to the D-Pad and conveniently placed buttons. Its easier to pull off an all punch or all kick attack thanks to the FL and FR buttons since I can just map one of the punches and kicks to them and have instant access to all three inputs. In Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid, you can map your assists to the FL and FR buttons so you never have to move your hands away from the action.
I’ve held off on getting many games on the Switch because I knew I wouldn’t enjoy them as much because of how the Joy-Cons felt in handheld mode. Fighters are nearly unplayable, platformers are less than ideal, and I wouldn’t have ever considered getting a shooter based on the size of the sticks and buttons. Anything that required precision was out of the question.
The Split Pad Pro changes all of this. I want more games on the console now that I won’t be getting a lesser experience by playing them. Sure, the handheld mode isn’t everything, but it’s half the point of the Switch, and honestly the mode I spend most my time playing the console in.
Now as wonderful as the Split Pad Pro is, it isn’t perfect. The first thing missing is pretty standard among most all third party controllers, and that’s the lack of rumble. I am always bummed to find out a controller won’t have rumble, but it’s not making me enjoy the Split Pad Pro any less.
The controller is also without motion capabilities. Most games don’t require motion controls since with the Switch, those are usually in addition to regular button inputs, so that shouldn’t really be an issue for a majority of the console’s catalog. Especially considering any of the games that require motion control aren’t playable in handheld mode anyway.
I will say I didn’t know you could catch Pokémon in Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee without using the accelerometer, but you can actually use the sticks to aim at the Pokémon. It isn’t as effective as using the motion controls, but it works!
The Split Pad Pro also lacks wireless capabilities due to its lack of a battery, so the only way it can be used is when connected to the console. This might also cause a faster battery drain since the console is having to power the controllers instead of them being self-sustaining. I haven’t found this to be too much an issue though. There is also a lack of amiibo support, but with the number of titles that use amiibo seeming to be very far and few between nowadays, it’s not too much of a loss.
Even without these features, I would take the form factor and overall usability of the Split Pad Pro over the standard Joy-Cons any day. It makes me want to actually play the console more often and invest more in its library with third-party titles I could normally get on another device. Just playing games in handheld mode wasn’t enough of a pull for me, but being able to do so with the full controller experience has definitely made me a believer in the machine. HORI has improved their controllers with each and every iteration and I can’t wait to see what they come out with next.
- Full-size controller on a Switch body including a fantastic D-Pad
- Incredibly comfortable and doesn’t add much weight despite its size
- Mappable back buttons allow for more accessible inputs
- Textured grips add to comfort while making it harder to slip
- No rumble functionality
- No motion controls
- Size and comfort comes at the price of portability – No case will fit them
- No battery means no wireless play, must be used in handheld mode
Bonus Review – HORI Gaming Earbuds Pro
HORI was also kind enough to send SRK their first foray into audio with the HORI Gaming Earbuds Pro. These earbuds are designed for Nintendo Switch Online voice chat and come equipped with a bendable and removable mic, inline audio controls that double as a clip, and a separate audio splitter that is necessary to use the earbuds on the console. The earbuds also come with three separate size inserts to best fit your ears.
I haven’t used earbuds in a long time, I usually stick to my trusty Bose Quiet Comfort 15 over-ear headphones that I’ve had for over a decade that has done the job well. That being said, believe me when I say that the sound quality from these little guys is actually pretty great! I used them while listening to music for an entire day at work and found myself really enjoying the sporty style and audio quality of the Gaming Earbuds Pro.
I was most impressed by the HORI Gaming Earbuds Pro through the quality of the microphone. The audio captured is crystal clear and can be picked up while speaking at low volumes. For such a thin mic, I wasn’t expecting this kind of clarity. This would also make the buds great for phone calls if you want to use them as your daily audio device.
The inline controls work as they should with a switch for muting the microphone and a slider for adjusting the volume. One complaint I have is that the control module is a tad heavier than it should be, causing the earbuds to kind of pull-down. That’s where the clip comes in, which when I decided to take advantage of it, I no longer had the pulling issues. The problem is that the clip only really works with shirts with buttons because it fits best horizontally. No such luck on a regular tee.
While not a fault of the Earbuds but mainly of how Switch voice chat works and modern cell phone design, it is unfortunate you need so many adapters and dongles. The splitter that comes with the Gaming Earbuds Pro is used to connect the audio coming from the game into your earbuds and the audio going into the mic into your phone which then goes to whoever you are talking to. Since most phones don’t have headphone jacks, you will probably need either a lightning to 3.5 mm jack or the USB-C alternative just to get them into your phone. It seems a little excessive just to talk to your friends.
It would be nice if Nintendo had dedicated voice chat through the Nintendo Switch itself, but this isn’t the world we live in. There aren’t a lot of Switch games that support voice chat either with the only fighter on the list being Mortal Kombat 11. All this being said, if you are looking for a solid pair of gaming earbuds or a nice gift for an avid Switch player, it’d be hard for you to go wrong with the Gaming Earbuds Pro.
The HORI Split Pad Pro can be purchased on their official site as well as Amazon for $49.99.
You can also find the HORI Gaming Earbuds Pro at their official site and Amazon for $29.99.
HORI provided Shoryuken with both the Switch Split Pado Pro and the Gaming Earbuds Pro for the purpose of this review.