A retro-inspired design that goes the extra mile
Accessory manufacturer 8BitDo specializes in all sorts of controllers and peripherals that hearken back to yesteryear. More specifically, it calls upon the builds and aesthetics of the Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis for use on both modern and classic devices. While not its first foray into arcade sticks, 8BitDo’s latest offering, simply titled the 8BitDo Arcade Stick, is in a league all of its own in terms of both design and functionality. The 8BitDo Arcade stick is a great starter stick for beginners due to its capabilities and price point. Its unique design and benefits also make it a must-have for collectors and arcade stick aficionados alike.
The 8BitDo Arcade Stick has an overwhelming amount of character. There is no mistaking its retro inspirations either. Based on the color choices alone, it pays homage to the classic Nintendo Entertainment System with the split color casing and the red and black accents. While it may evoke many aspects of the NES, it does so in a fun way that helps it maintain its own identity.
The arcade stick blends modern and industrial design sensibilities incredibly well. Every major input section is defined by an outline which adds to the overall look while being functional too. The case balances its many angles with rounded edges to create a form factor that is both great to look at and comfortable to use.
The arcade stick is a great size as well, following the Goldilocks standard of not being too small to not work well on your lap and not being too big to lose its portability. The Arcade Stick is also incredibly dense, adding to its premium feel. It might feel like a brick in your backpack after a while though if you don’t have anything else to balance weight distribution.
The many functionality inputs are well sized and well placed too. I never thought you could make switching between Nintendo Switch and PC inputs an entertaining experience, but 8BitDo does just that. By using dials instead of simple switches for a few of the functions, it becomes a much more memorable moment. This attention to detail works well with the retro aesthetic without feeling like an obnoxious gimmick.
Since the 8BitDo Arcade Stick isn’t a licensed product, however, a few of the buttons don’t coordinate exactly with either the Nintendo Switch or PC. The green wireless button translates well, but the multifunction Star button and the 8BitDo Heart button that acts as the Home or Guide button don’t immediately mean anything to the user at first glance. For the first few uses, I needed to refer back to the slip of paper that defined what each button did. Start and Select are fine for legacy’s sake, but the Switch uses + and – for these inputs, and PC uses Menu and View, so while these buttons fit the original NES aesthetic, they don’t exactly coordinate with what it is used for.
So far, these are fairly mild inconveniences, the most unfortunate aspect of the Arcade Stick is its lack of cable storage. The 8BitDo Arcade Stick includes a USB-C to USB-A cable to connect to your console or PC for its wired mode or to charge its internal battery. It also includes a 2.4g wireless dongle to use on devices without Bluetooth. While there is a small compartment that houses the USB-C port and the 2.4g wireless dongle, there is nothing built into the stick to house its cable. With how compact the stick is, it would need to be a little larger to include the necessary compartment, which might be the reason 8BitDo decided to omit it. While it isn’t so difficult to carry the cable in a backpack, it makes the stick less portable on its own. I’d recommend getting a cable tie as well to keep things, well, tie-dy.
While the 8BitDo product listing describes this arcade stick as being “Ultra-moddable“, this is only partially true. The arcade stick utilizes traditional 30mm/24mm buttons making it easy to swap out the stock red ones for another set of your choosing. It is also built to be compatible with Sanwa JLF, Sanwa JLW Seimitsu, LS 33, 55, 56, and 58 levers, offering a lot of potential for customization.
The unfortunate thing is it requires a very specific screwdriver to get the case open. The screws are incredibly deep and while I have a star screw tip that fits, the screwdriver itself isn’t thin enough to make contact for removal. I’ve got an insane number of screwdrivers at home, so I thought at least one would do the trick. While I am sure the case was built this was to ensure stability, it definitely doesn’t do you any favors to take advantage of that “ultra-moddablitity”. If you want to take full advantage, definitely pick up a Torx screwdriver.
As unique as the overall design is, there isn’t much you can do to visually change the stick aside from swapping the buttons or stick handle. There isn’t any kind of plexi or removable top panel to replace, so it is kind of an all or nothing situation. You could always take the stick apart and paint it on your own, but that’s a lot of extra work to make it feel more original. Still, with how much this stick, ahem, sticks out amongst other options on the market, you’re bound to start some conversations whenever you bring this out to a friends’ or at your next event.
The joystick and buttons are very reminiscent of Sanwa Denshi parts in terms of overall look and feel. If you have used those parts before, the experience should be familiar, but not exactly the same. The joystick isn’t quite as clicky, and you have to go a bit more out of your way to activate diagonal inputs. For those who aren’t used to riding the gate, there can be a bit of an adjustment period. Once you get used to it though, your quarter circles and z-motions will be just fine. The buttons are easy to press with little resistance and register inputs properly. They feel a bit more hollow than traditional Sanwa parts though. While not the same as the standard, the core components are competent enough to not warrant a replacement unless you’d rather use something you are more familiar with.
Connectivity is king when it comes to this Arcade Stick. It can be used wireless via Bluetooth or wired on both Nintendo Switch and PC. You can also use an included 2.4g wireless dongle to connect it to a PC that doesn’t have Bluetooth or perhaps to a Raspberry Pi. The stick can change connectivity methods instantly just by turning one of its dials or sliding its Bluetooth-2.4g switch. There isn’t any kind of discernable lag either, inputs go in as they should whether you are playing wirelessly or wired, which is usually a big point of concern for folks who are usually interested in buying arcade sticks. With its great wireless functionality, I’ve never had a more convenient time using an Arcade Stick on either Switch or PC. There is one fault when it comes to compatibility though. The stick cannot wake the Switch from sleep. It needs to be woken up first, then it will connect just fine. Not the end of the world, but something licensed controllers don’t have an issue with.
While the 8BitDo Arcade Stick might look retro, you won’t find yourself needing to use AAs. This stick has a built-in rechargeable 1000mAh Li-ion battery lasting up to 40 hours on 2.4 g, 30 hours on Bluetooth. It only takes 4 hours to achieve a complete charge which is definitely convenient. The LED indicator on the top left flashes red to let you know it’s on its way out, stays red while charging, and turns off to let you know the stick is fully charged. The Nintendo Switch shows a battery indicator when you go to view your controller options but it doesn’t seem to be accurate. Even at a full charge, the controller appears about 2/3 full according to the Switch UI. Still, if you charge it between uses or after a couple of days, it shouldn’t really be an issue.
Perhaps the coolest part of this arcade stick is its dynamic button layout. It is such a simple feature, but the payoff is huge. Using a Nintendo Switch stick on a PC can be a little confusing on its own, especially since both controllers use A, B, Y, and X inputs but in different positions. The dynamic button layout solves this problem by having LEDs built into the top panel that changes to match either Nintendo Switch or PC. This feature feels like magic and makes a world of difference, especially whenever you play on both platforms often. The black panel is a bit of a fingerprint magnet though, which isn’t horrible, but something to mention.
The Arcade Stick is compatible with 8BitDo’s Ultimate Software that allows users to customize their user experience. With the Ultimate Software, any of the primary input buttons along with the multifunction Star button can be remapped. The Star button is set to Turbo by default, but it can also be mapped to Hold, Swap, or Capture (on Nintendo Switch only). There are also two dedicated Macro buttons that can execute recorded inputs to make executing moves easier. You can save all of these changes to multiple profiles to switch between through the application.
While it is great to have additional functionality, aside from being able to change what the Star button does, I’m not really sure what the point is in remapping the traditional inputs. Not to mention having buttons that are dedicated to perfectly executing inputs. Every fighter out there lets you customize your controls and most fighting games have different control schemes, so it’s not like you can create some universal layout. Whether you are playing a fighting game or an arcade title, the different modes and macros are essentially cheating and aren’t allowed in any typical tournament. Also, not having a dedicated Capture button is a bit of a shame, if you wanted to use one of the other features, you sacrifice being able to take screenshots or record your gameplay. This isn’t necessarily a knock on the functions, just a curiosity as to why they are there in the first place.
The 8BitDo Arcade Stick is an absolute joy to use. With its unique design, effective components, and abundance of features, there’s no real reason not to consider picking this stick up for either Nintendo Switch or PC. This is even before bringing the price point into the equation. With an MSRP of $89.99, the 8BitDo Arcade Stick is far below other sticks in the market that offer less functionality. While it has a few quirks, none of them are detrimental to the overall experience. With the right screwdriver in hand, you can really make this stick just about however you want it. Even if you have an arcade stick or two at home, there’s definitely room for this little NES-inspired marvel.
You can purchase the 8BitDo Arcade Stick on Amazon.
- Flawless functionality with Nintendo Switch and PC through wired and multiple wireless modes.
- Effective joystick and buttons that are reminiscent of Sanwa Denshi parts.
- Unique design that calls back to retro technology and feels just as durable too.
- Dynamic LED button layout that changes whether connected to Switch or PC.
- Built-in rechargeable 1000mAh Li-ion battery lasting up to 40 hours on 2.4 g, 30 hours on Bluetooth.
- Customization software can change button inputs and set macros with two dedicated buttons and multiple saved profiles.
- Supports alternative levers: Sanwa JLF / Sanwa JLW Seimitsu / LS 33, 55, 56, 58.
- No cable storage compartment.
- Limited customization due to lack of removable top panel, plexi, etc.
- Difficult to access internal components due to requiring a thin, long, star screwdriver.
- No dedicated Capture button, but the Star button can be remapped between Turbo, Hold, Swap, and Capture.
- Very dense which might make it tiresome during travel.
- The glossy action button section attracts fingerprints.
- Non-licensed product.
8BitDo provided Shoryuken with the 8BitDo Arcade Stick for this review.