Nearly six years into the Nintendo Switch’s life, the market for third-party controllers continues to go from strength to strength, and 8BitDo is one of the best companies leading the charge. If you love retro gaming and want a reliable d-pad for games like Tetris, or the Capcom Fighting Collection, then previously, the 8BitDo Pro 2 was your best bet, a gorgeous retro-styled controller that’s a big hit with enthusiasts thanks to that lovely d-pad.
Well, it seems that 8BitDo is now aiming to corner the pro controller market as well with its latest release, but has the company succeeded? Our 8BitDo Ultimate Controller review is here with everything you need to know, but first of all, yes, it does feature the same d-pad. Priced at $62.99/£59.99, this clearly aims for the same market as the first-party Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, and it even features a very similar thick but sleek design.
However, there are several fantastic features that help the 8BitDo Ultimate Bluetooth controller to set itself apart from the official competition, including the ability to work with Nintendo Switch, Windows PC, iOS, and Android games. It’s very easy to swap between the compatibility thanks to a switch on the back of the controller, and out of the box, it even comes with a 2.4ghz dongle if you prefer to avoid Bluetooth. It’s super easy to set up with Nintendo Switch just by placing the USB dongle in the Switch’s port, allowing for a superior connection speed with less lag for all the competitive players out there.
The actual controller comes in black or white, though we were given the black version for review. It feels comparable in weight to the Switch Pro Controller, but it has a rough texture on the back that aims to help with your grip, though thankfully, it also feels nice to rest against. The 8BitDo Ultimate Controller also features programmable back paddles, but more on those later. If you mainly use it for Switch, there’s support for vibration and motion controls, but no NFC connection here, sadly.
The buttons pop out in a convex way, and the back triggers especially stick out nicely. The D-pad is also the same one as mentioned in the 8BitDo Pro 2, meaning it feels nice to press in, with a great pop backup. It also seems to work more consistently and accurately than the Switch Pro controller d-pad, which has always been a bit of a nightmare for me personally.
In general, the Ultimate feels fantastic in the hands and has probably just the right weight to feel like it’s made solidly, but still comfortable for longer play sessions. It does feel very similar to the Switch Pro Controller and I’m sure that’s by design, but that textured back and the difference in the d-pad make a big difference, not to mention the addition of the back paddle buttons. The analogue sticks also feel great, sitting a little deep into the controller, but they have a nice texture that prevents too much movement.
One of the main selling points here though is that the 8BitDo Ultimate controller also comes with a handy USB-C charging dock. The charging pins are on the bottom of the controller, making it very easy to place it in the dock when you finish playing. I plugged it into the USB slot on my Switch dock, and just popped it back when I was finished. While I didn’t truly test the battery life, 8BitDo mentions that it features a rechargeable 1000mAh li-on battery, with around 22 hours of play after just two or three hours of charging. This certainly felt right in my time with it, even after switching between devices.
Another thing that sets the 8BitDo Ultimate Controller apart is 8BitDo’s Ultimate software. If you connect your controller to a Windows device, you can open the suite and program up to three different profiles for the controller. Here you can set the functions of the back paddles, assign turbo inputs (great if you just want to mash A in Pokémon or Animal Crossing), or program macro inputs if you wish to assign more complicated shortcuts.
For instance, if you wanted to assign a full button combination for a fighting game to a single press of a button, you could. This can only be done within the Ultimate Software though, so while some controllers let you record the button combination on the gamepad itself, you can’t do that here.
Within the Ultimate Software, you can also change the intensity of vibration, the trigger tension (how far back you need to push the trigger to register an input), full button mapping, and the analogue stick precision. If you jump between playing games on your Switch to shooters on your mobile, it could be super handy to have all of your settings waiting for you on the controller, especially since each profile is found with a press of a button on the face of the controller itself.
It’s up to every individual how much they will get out of this, but with the great feel of the device itself, this could be a great option for competitive play, or even for people just looking to make their gaming a bit easier. However, for those who only use Switch as well, the actual layout of the home and photo buttons isn’t quite where you would like it, with the home button on top and in the middle of the face of the controller and the photo button below. Obviously, you can’t move the buttons, but it’s very easy to change the mapping to something else if that suits you better.
Importantly, in my time actually playing with the controller, it felt great. I reviewed the GuliKit King Kong Pro 2 device recently, and that’s a very comparable third-party controller. I would say that the 8BitDo Ultimate Controller feels a bit nicer to hold, thanks mostly to the nice texture of the controller and the materials used feeling solid. It doesn’t feature the NFC support of the GuliKit, but I don’t think that’s a deal breaker for most people.
The Ultimate also uses a very similar hall effect technology in the analogue sticks to the Gulikit King Kong Pro 2, which promises to eliminate drift thanks to the magnet-based tech. It certainly feels responsive, though it’s hard to test for drift after only a few weeks. I tried out the Ultimate with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (those new tracks are great), Super Smash Bros Ultimate, Monster Hunter Rise on Switch, Vampire Survivors on iPhone and iPad, and Genshin Impact on iPad as well.
In each case, response time felt great, and the controller itself never missed an input. The d-pad certainly feels more reliable than a Switch Pro Controller, and anyone who uses the 8BitDo Pro 2 will be pleased that this carries over. It really is probably the best d-pad on the market for Switch, so anyone who really cares about their retro games should be happy with this. Couple that with a device that now feels markedly more premium than the 8BitDo Pro 2, as well as the many other functions on the controller, the dock, and the included 2.4ghz USB dongle, and this is easily the best controller 8BitDo have ever released.
If you already own the 8BitDo Pro 2, the Ultimate is a bit of a harder sell, but for anyone just looking to get a decent controller for Nintendo Switch that also works with Windows, iOS, or Android, the 8BitDo Ultimate is now one of the best third-party devices on the market. It looks and feels great to hold, it’s responsive, comes with a handy (and sleek) dock, and for anyone who wants to get into the weeds of control input, the Ultimate Software is a dream come true.
The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller ultimately still feels the tiniest bit more premium, but if you care at all about the d-pad, back paddle inputs, turbo or macro controls, or getting to use the 2.4ghz connection with other devices, this is absolutely no-brainer. The 8BitDo Ultimate is the best controller in a long line of great controllers, and at the price point, it’s a very viable option for any gaming enthusiast out there.
A gorgeous, solid, and responsive controller with the best d-pad in the business. Paired with the handy dock, and a suite of customisation options; the 8BitDo Ultimate is now one of the best third-party controller options for Switch and mobile, so should be on the radar of every gaming enthusiast.