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Thursday, October 3, 2019

8BitDo’s SN30 Pro+ Controller Handles PC and Switch Games with Equal Dexterity

The SN30 Pro+ controller, surrounded by other controllers
Michael Crider

8Bitdo has made a (weird) name for itself with retro-inspired controllers that work with a bunch of different hardware. But with the SN30 Pro+ (also a weird name), they’re expanding into more “serious” territory.

The SN30 Pro+’s SNES-inspired looks hide some surprisingly complex guts. In addition to Bluetooth wireless that’s compatible with PCs, mobile devices, and the Nintendo Switch, it offers something all too rare: user-accessible button mapping and analog adjustment settings. This compatibility and customization make it ideal for my gaming setup, with time split between my PC and Switch. The design’s comfort and flexibility make it easy to overlook the one big flaw in the controller—it can’t power on my Switch on its own.

This Looks Familiar

The SN30 Pro+ recycles the button layout and looks of the SN30 Pro, which basically bolts a couple of thumbsticks and two extra shoulder buttons on the bone-shaped Super NES layout to make it compatible with modern 3D games. The extra “+” comes in the form of full-sized handgrips, which brings it in line with typical console controllers in heft and comfort.

The SN30 Pro+ from the front, showing shoulder buttons.
The controller has all the buttons necessary for modern games. Michael Crider

And it works. Despite the retro looks, the controller is heavy and chunky enough to be comfortable for hours-long play sessions. I especially like the slight texture of the plastic on the handles, which makes it just “grippy” enough to stick to your palm while still being easy to adjust. It’s not quite as ergonomically perfect as the Xbox One or Switch Pro controller, and I question why 8BitDo feels the need to stick to the SNES cut out when they’re clearly making a much more capable controller, but it’s more than comfy enough to use as your primary gamepad.

As a controller built for the Switch first, it includes start and select buttons that map to “+” and “-” by default, with recessed buttons for the home and screenshot functions. Four LEDs on the bottom will show which position the controller is in for multiplayer, and a single “pair” button on top is used for making tiny panini sandwiches. I mean, Bluetooth pairing.

The Sn30 Pro+ with a phone grip installed.
The phone grip is an optional add-on for playing mobile games. 8BitDo

Note those recessed bits in the plastic on the top and bottom: Like many of its previous controller designs, 8BitDo will sell you an add-on grip if you want to use this controller with your phone.

Da-Da-Da-Da-Da-Da, Charge!

Surprisingly, the SN30 Pro+ includes both rechargeable and disposable battery options: The internal lithium-ion battery pack can be removed and replaced with standard AAs if you need immediate power and you can’t wait to recharge via the USB port. It’s a smart feature, and perhaps one you wouldn’t expect to see on a $50 controller. Kudos.

The SN30 Pro+ with rechargeable battery pack and AA batteries.
You can charge up the included rechargeable pack via USB-C, or use your own AAs. Michael Crider

And I have to give 8BitDo props for including a USB-C recharging port, fast becoming the standard for consoles since Nintendo set it for all first-party Switch accessories. Again, it would have been easy and perhaps even understandable for 8BitDo to cheap out with a MicroUSB port.

Switch It Up

The highlight feature for the SN30 Pro+ is the ability to customize the button layout and analog settings. This isn’t as easy as you might expect: There’s no way to do it on the Switch, or even on mobile. You’ll need to track down a Windows or Mac machine, install the software from 8BitDo, and connect it with a USB-C cable.

Main screenshot of 8BitDo's software tool.
The tool allows two simultaneous layouts: one just for the Switch and one for everything else.

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