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CRKD Nitro deck review – pleasing portable that makes for happy hands

We went hands-on with CRKD’s Nitro deck for Nintendo Switch, their latest offering into the alternative controller market for the handheld console.

The CRKD Nitro deck against a white wall

Our Verdict

CRKD’s Nitro deck provides an ergonomic way of playing your Switch, thanks to its lightweight and comfortable design, and is a must-have for those wanting a bit more support around their console.

I’ve had a Switch since almost day one. Since then, I’ve had to buy two sets of Joy-Cons to make up for drifting. Yeah, sure, I could attempt to fix them myself, but let’s be honest, that would cause more issues than it would ever solve. But now, I have my hands on an alternative: the CRKD Nitro deck.

You can tell as soon as you pick it up that CRKD’s Nitro deck takes comfort into consideration with its ergonomic design. It also promises zero stick drift and speedy response times, thanks to the industry-leading innovation of this handheld tech. To test it out, I participated in Splatoon turf wars, roamed Hyrule’s fields, and farmed some crops in Fae Farm. I also quickly tested the dock with my old release-day Switch before my OLED, and both work just fine.

It’s worth noting that I consistently get RSI pains in my wrists and, as I age, it becomes more prevalent – love that for me – so the hand-hating design of the Joy-Cons with their flat back and lack of grip really doesn’t cut it for me anymore. The Nitro deck, I’m glad to say, treats my hands a lot better and is so much comfier to hold.

Upon using the deck up for the first time, I was surprised to find it’s actually quite light, which bodes well for my aching wrists. I really enjoy playing with this deck as it’s comfy, lightweight, and the material isn’t too slippy. It has some texture on the back to help grip it during those sweaty Smash matches.

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It’s super easy to set up, even for me, a borderline luddite. First, you need to head into your Switch settings and enable the pro controller wired connection, then unpack the bad boy. There’s no muss, no fuss – just slide your Switch console (without the Joy-Cons, obviously) straight into the dock. Then, boot up your game of choice and get going!

The deck I got is the retro-themed purple one with a GameCube controller-like color scheme, adding a nice retro vibe. The Nitro itself is a little chunky, but it doesn’t affect how you play once you get into a game, and it barely adds to the weight of the console on its own.

I really like the buttons, actually – they’re clicky but not loud – I believe if this was a keyboard, the term would be ‘creamy.’ The D-pad is also a massive step up from the four-button arrangement on Joy-Cons, making it much easier and nicer to use. On the back, there are programmable buttons, though they’re quite low down and can be hard to hit as it’s not where my fingers naturally rest. These automatically register as counterparts to the ZL and ZR buttons but can be remapped.

I’ve never used a controller with this option before (on Switch), so I’m not used to it – if anything, I hit them by accident a few times, but I’m sure I could come to love the option, and if you’re a fan of this, then it’s an extra plus. Using them as a dodge, roll, or shoot button is actually a good idea for titles that require a little extra precision.

The thumbsticks on the Nitro deck are taller than the teeny-weeny ones on Joy-Cons and provide a nice and responsive experience. The only drawback – and I get this with any Switch controller – is trying to hit the tiny ‘-’ button often means I knock the joystick. Unfortunately, despite the decks being bigger, CKRD didn’t rectify the issue which means it happens more often, but I blame Nintendo for its initial button placement idea.

A back view of the CRKD Nitro deck in purple

Something I discovered as I swam through Splatoon’s stages is that the deck has some pretty extreme rumble. I, for one, am not a fan of controller rumble as it sets my teeth on edge, and having it start vibrating strongly whenever I immerse myself in ink or any attacks hit the ground took me out of the moment and distracted me from the game. After the round, I turned off the controller vibration in the Switch’s main settings and didn’t look back.

My only real issue with the Nitro deck, though, is getting the Switch out of the dock. There’s a switch on the back of the dock that you push up to release the console, but you have to really grab the screen to pull it out, leaving fingerprints all over it. For some, this may be a non-issue or a minor issue but for me, this is quite inconvenient.

We all know that the biggest issue with Joy-Cons is the drift. CRKD claims that you’ll never experience drift with its Hall effect thumbsticks. As drift appears with use, this can only be tested in time, but I really hope it’s true, given the track record of Switch controllers. I do trust the deck as any other 3rd party controllers I’ve used for a long time didn’t drift, only ever the Joy-Cons.

You can also… let me check my notes, here… you can register your deck with the CRKD official app and use the True Collection System. This proves your ownership of the item, which is helpful if it goes missing, but then it also shows a rarity rank of the product, which is nice, I guess?

The CRKD Nitro deck's portable carrying case

The deck costs either $60 or $90, depending on whether you want the carrying case with it. You can get a white, grey, or black option for $60, but the snazzy GameCube-esque color scheme is only available with the case, as are two other limited edition colorways – a mint green with the GameCube button colors, or a light grey with purple buttons.

If you’re not fussed about the case, then the price is a steal for such a solid piece of kit – but I do recommend grabbing it if you can as it’s reliable and will keep everything very safe and sound, and even has an adjustable strap to carry it anywhere you please.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that the deck doesn’t offer amiibo support, so if you’re looking to invite Animal Crossing villagers to your island while using it, you’re out of luck.

Overall, I really like this deck, and I can see myself using it more often than not. I didn’t find myself needing to take a break at any point to rest my hands, which is the most important thing I look for when choosing a controller.

Now that your Switch is nice and fancy, it’s time to prepare for the Nintendo Switch 2 release date – or perhaps you could grab one of the best retro handhelds to flesh out your library.