There are many wireless controllers for the Super Nintendo, but there’s only two that I’m aware of that use RF (Radio Frequency) and not IR ( Infrared) for the connection. One is the elusive Messiah controller, which also has a weird d-pad that might not attract most people. In addition it usually demands a high price point. The other is the fairly new Retro-Bit 2.4ghz wireless controller, which can be had for cheap across the internet. They come in 1 or 2 controller sets. I purchased a two controller set in late spring or early summer of 2012. This article discusses aesthetics, build quality, connectivity, lag, controller input feedback and my final thoughts.
The first thing worth mentioning is when I was connecting the controller and the receiver, one of the receivers did not work at all. The vendor replaced it quickly and the replacement worked just fine ever since. This will be an in-depth review so grab your favourite drink and enjoy the lengthy read. Hopefully it’s not too tedious! 😆
Ok, lets start with the aesthetics … The colour follows the U.S. SNES grey nuance pretty much identically, and there is a big Retro-Bit logo where the Super Nintendo logo is on the original. It is basically the same size as the original SNES controller, except it has mini handles, and has a curved surface on the back to increase grip. It does the job, but for people who find the SNES controller a bit on the small side, this does not help much. You will still find the Retro-Bit small and a little difficult to hold on to, but the features make up for it. The buttons follow the Super Famicom or PAL Super Nintendo colour scheme, but in shape they follow the U.S. variant, A and B being convex, and Y and X being concave. I never really understood why the U.S. version did this, but some people might feel it helpful to know where their fingers are. They are marked by print just like the original. The Start and Select buttons are rubber just like the original. One exception is they are shaped differently and are not at an angle, but in a straight line. I find this more appealing personally, but others might prefer the angled buttons of the original. They are indicated by molded text, rather than a print. The L and R buttons are a little shorter but thicker than the original controller. It has a red LED to indicate controller connectivity and controller input. It will flicker every time you press a button, and it is rather bright so it can get annoying. I found no resistor to dim the light. It also has a small dip-type switch to turn the controller on and off. All of the buttons, except L and R, are in an indented area for some reason. The battery compartment is neatly done. The receiver is a bit too big for my personal taste, but it looks alright even on the SNS-101 (Mini/Junior/2).
Build quality then, how is it? Well, it is varied. The plastic body of the controller is sturdy and not too thin. It wont flex noticeably, or creak. In comparison, the PS3 Dual Shock 3 will flex and creak more. The A,B,X and Y buttons feel a little cheap, but they do the job and don’t distract. The shoulder buttons feel better and are constructed by the same plastic as the shell. They don’t feel as cheap as the A,B,X and Y buttons. The d-pad feels and looks pretty much identical to the original.
Opening the controller reveals the PCB (Printed Circuit Board). The board itself looks ok, but the soldering is cheaply done, and I don’t recommend messing around with opening the controller unless you need to repair it. The battery connections are connected to the back shell half, and not directly to the board. It is connected to the PCB via very thin, short and not to mention cheap, cables. You need to be careful or you might rip them loose from the soldering points. Compared with the Nintendo PCB, you will see noticeable differences in quality, in favour of the big N of course. But hey, it works, and that’s what matters. 🙂 The membranes feel extremely cheap though and are much thinner than the Nintendo ones. They do seem to be interchangeable however. With some cutting down in size, you should be able to use the Nintendo membranes in the Retro-Bit but I have not tried, so I can’t confirm. The d-pad will also be interchangeable, but the Nintendo brand one will need a notch cut to fit in the Retro-Bit. Buttons however will not be, as they have completely different guide pins. Why you might want to change the membranes I will cover later. The receiver PCB reveals the same build quality as the controller. It is cheap, and if you need to take it apart, be very careful as the tiny screws are extremely easy to strip. I used my broken receiver to take apart, and it stripped all the threads. Also keep in mind that the cables from the port connector are NOT firmly attached at both ends. They are simply pushed into their respective holes in the connector, and you might put them back in wrong if you don’t make a note of which goes where.
CONNECTIVITY, LAG, INPUT RESPONSE TIME
Alright, we are down to what really matters, connectivity and response of the controller. To connect the controller to the receiver, simply insert the receiver into the console, hold the select AND start buttons on the controller until the LED blinks rapidly. Within 10 seconds, press and hold the sync button until they both blink at the same rate. They will then stop blinking and have a solid red light to indicate a successful sync. This should only have to be done once. Both my controllers have kept their individual sync for over 6 months of non-use. They seem to only run on two frequencies, so using more than 2 in a 4-player adapter will probably make two controllers connect to the same receiver. But I don’t know this for sure.
I have no complaints with lag. I have not used professional equipment to measure button response time and the wireless connection, but when I used a Retro-Bit in one hand, and a Nintendo controller in the other, whilst punching and kicking in Street Fighter 2 Turbo, I didn’t find any noticeable lag at all. However, I did find a problem with the d-pad. It is not as good as the Nintendo controller, and I believe this is down to the cheap and flimsy membrane mentioned earlier. I have problems with involuntary diagonal movement with the Retro-Bit in some games. In Street Fighter, I have some problems executing a Dragon Punch, whilst fireballs are no problem. In Sim City I have involuntarily built diagonal roads, power lines and such, because of this issue. It’s like if you press the d-pad left or right, but press it too far up or down with a lazy push, it will make a diagonal connection. This is bad. I don’t have this issue in various sports games, or shooters, so it may be relevant only in some games. I must point out that it only seems to be the left and right movement that may stray occasionally, as I never had the issue pressing up or down. And I’ve been experimenting on where it happens, and I’m far from pressing both directions diagonally, so it’s not my finger that’s the problem. This does not happen all the time, or even most of the time, but it does happen occasionally. It’s not a problem in games such as Super Mario Kart and F-Zero. Nor do I have an issue with RPG’s or platformers. But I have noticed it in SF2T and Sim City. Overall, the d-pad feels much the same as the Nintendo otherwise and is sensitive. Mario has fallen off ledges pretty often!
The shoulder buttons feel nearly if not identical to the Nintendo brand and does not suffer the same membrane problem, as those are closer to the original in thickness and quality. I do still have the same problem pressing on them like the original though, due to finger size/length, and would have preferred the hinge to be on the opposite side to help with operation. This won’t be an issue for people with medium or smaller sized hands.
The A,B,X and Y buttons have a cheap and flimsy membrane. This contributes to a much deeper and softer press of those buttons compared to Nintendo’s brand, and makes it more “clicky”. However there is no real issue in response time through the membranes, it is purely a feel, and one person might prefer it over the Nintendo feel; I don’t know which I prefer, but I do feel the difference and it is worth pointing out.
What about connectivity then? I found no problems whatsoever with my controllers after the initial replacement of a faulty receiver. The controllers have never lost connection, they have a good range and will go through a wall and still play. The Retro-Bit boasts a playing range of 32 feet. I have used them extensively through many games the past month or so, and they have never disconnected or lost connection once, other than running out of battery juice. I can not speak for battery life, as I have used fairly cheap and probably low quality unbranded rechargeable batteries, but they will certainly hold up at least a couple of long evenings even with those. The controller also has an auto shut down function to conserve battery life when not used for some time; I think between 5 or 10 minutes. It will jump back to life at the press of any button. It also has the on and off switch I mentioned earlier.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND SUMMARY
So we are down to the final stretch. What do I think of this controller? How does it compare to the original? Is it better, or is it worse? Well, both. My gaming setup favours wireless controllers of the RF or Bluetooth type, because of how I choose to sit/lay when I play games. IR does not work well for me. So when I found these for such a low price as you can find them online, especially if you don’t require international shipping, I was excited. I found them the cheapest, for me, on Amazon.com, and found myself a vendor who would ship to Sweden. Once received, I installed and connected them, and started playing. I was disappointed with the small (but true to the original) size, but the aforementioned shapes and bumps helped get a better grip than the original. So in that regard it is better. It’s also better in that it has a well functioning and holding RF connection with extremely little lag compared to a wired controller. The buttons feel ok enough to not make the whole experience feel cheap and flimsy, and some might prefer the feel to the original.
What drags the impression down is the issue with the d-pad, but as I can’t confirm it on more than a couple of games, it may never become a problem for someone else, and might be helped by installing Nintendo membranes. For fighting games, I recommend a good arcade stick anyway. Would i recommend it? Yes. It does the job good enough, especially at its price point. For the price it’s a good controller, and better than many other third party controllers I’ve owned or tested in the past. It is not a direct or obvious replacement and I wouldn’t recommend it over the original unless you like the slightly thicker build and the wireless feature. Is it my favorite SNES controller? No it’s not, that would be the MadCatz High Frequency branded controller. Is it something I’d stay away from? No, I’ve used it with overall satisfaction over the past 8 odd months, most extensively the past month or two and I’ve enjoyed them. If you want a wireless option, it’s probably the best option you have, and likely the cheapest too! Go get a pair (unless you have huge monkey proportioned hands)!
IMPORTANT NOTE! These, like most NTSC controllers, will not work on most PAL systems without an easy mod you can find here: http://www.mmmonkey.co.uk/using-import-joypads-on-the-pal-snes/
A ”Thank you” goes out to jrsupermoore and Masamune who donated various games to extensively test these controllers across various genres (as I own mostly J-RPGs). Much appreciated.
Games most used, in no particular order, for this review were:
Street Fighter 2 Turbo
Super Mario Kart
Secret of Mana
Illusion of Gaia
Super Mario world
Super Mario All-Stars