I’ve had a very nice working relationship with Xgaming for well over a decade. These guys make high quality arcade controllers and arcade cabinets for arcade emulators like MAME. They’ve been around a long time and I have praised them over and over through the years on my popular RetroGaming Radio podcast.
Recently they sent me a very retro looking controller with very modern capabilities – the NES Wireless Gamepad. How could any lover of retro gaming NOT want one of these? Let’s check it out together.
The controller comes in remarkably nice packaging. The container comes with an attractive slide off sleeve (one that would look great at any retail location) and opening the box reveals the controller protectively wedged in custom cut high density foam. Lifting the controller foam reveals a little box filled with a microUSB cable, a collectible keychain, some sort of ring (no idea what it is for) and instructions.
The unit itself is quite lightweight and had rounded corners (thank you – the NES controller’s boxy corners never appealed to me). Compared to modern controllers, this guy is small. I have bigger hands and smaller controllers tend to limit the length of game play I can take. If the NES controller doesn’t bother you, then you’ll be fine with this one.
On the front face, you’ll find a D-Pad, ABXY buttons, start, select and two analog thumb sticks (each clicks in for an addition L and R button). The ABXY buttons are top notch. Responsive, adequately click without being obnoxious.
The D-Pad is top notch. It is hard to find good D-Pads these days. It is responsive, comfortable and not squishy. For classic gaming, a quality D-Pad is a must.
The analog sticks require more analysis – we’ll get back to those.
Along the top, you’ll find 4 buttons (L1, L2, R1, R2) as well as the microUSB connector plug. On the bottom are two extra recessed buttons. More on those later. Like the ABXY buttons, the L/R buttons are of ample “clickiness”.
The outer edges on the left and right are multicolored lights for indicating mode, charging, etc.
I wanted to point out how nice the microUSB cable is that came with it. It’s grey to match the controller and is flat, tangle-free type material. Classy.
Modes of Operation
Breaking out the instructions to learn about the modes may require the use of a magnifying glass (or strong reading glasses). The print is extremely small but at least it is in English.
There are five modes of operation – supporting different devices and complete different behaviors.
Mode One: Bluetooth Joystick
This is the default mode the controller comes in out of the box. This pairs up to an Android tablet or phone just like any other Bluetooth device. If a game supports controllers, this mode will be compatible with it. This will work with GearVR and other AndroidOS based software.
If your Windows PC has Bluetooth support built-in or you have a Bluetooth dongle, this is also the mode you want to use.
Mode Two: Bluetooth Keyboard
This mode works on Android, iOS and Windows. It makes all the buttons simulate a button press on a keyboard. This is useful for games that support a keyboard, but not a controller native. Great for older emulators that let you map keys. You pair it up just like any other Bluetooth device.
Mode Three: iCade
iCade is a controller standard created years ago for Apple devices (read more). It is really just a Bluetooth keyboard where each button sends a keyboard stroke when pressed – and a different one when released. It gained a lot of popularity and many games have “iCade” support out of the box, but not “Bluetooth Controller” support out of the box (see Android games with iCade support). If you have an iOS device – this might offer you a good amount of compatibility.
Mode Four: Emulate Touchscreen
This is a controller->touch screen emulator feature. You’ll download their app here, install it and allow it to have ROOT access. Then, bring up your favorite touch screen only game and hit START+SELECT.
A screen overlay will appear with all the buttons represented on the NES controller. Drag and drop them to the touch points to associate them with. Pinch to zoom. Couldn’t be easier.
Unlike NVidia Shield and other premium touch screen mappers, this will not store the configuration on a per game basis (aka profiles).
Still, it is amazing to have this feature available.
Mode Five: USB Joystick
This is a wired USB controller mode. You can plug the NES controller into a PC and it will show up on your computer as a fully fledged USB controller. As a bonus, the battery will change while you’re using it on the PC.
If you’re willing to install special firmware, this controller can emulate a Wii controller, RETRON5 controller and even a PS3 controller. See this page for more info.
The real mettle of a controller is how it performs in the field.
For emulation testing, I took the PSP emulator PPSSPP Gold for a ride. It’s been awhile since I gave Kratos some love. For some reason, playing the God of War with a NES style controller seems wrong. But, the controller came through. The analog sticks worked well, too. I found the L + R alternating “grab break” a bit harder to pull off, but that is just getting used to the thing.
Twin Stick Shooter
Geometry Wars Dimensions was my choice for giving the analogs a good solid work out. The throw on the sticks is a little far, but I’ve used far worse – and just putting some time into it made it a lot more comfortable. Again, twin sticks on an NES pad feel weird, but you acclimate.
To test a solid FPS on Android, I grabbed the zombie killing vehicle Unkilled. Some manual configuration was required to change some buttons around – but overall it performed well.
At $50, this isn’t a cheap controller. But it is feature packed, comfortable and looks great. It is even a better deal if you have a rooted Android and can take advantage of the touch screen emulation. A recommended buy.
Buy It: X-Arcade