Founded in 2020, it’s impressive that PB Tails, based in China, has already managed to produce two controllers. The original CHOC did quite well, it seems, and so here I am reviewing its follow-up, the CHOC2. “We want to explore the limits of design and innovation,” states the PB Tails website, and the CHOC2 certainly lives up to that statement. But just because something is unique does not mean it’s good. Let’s take a look at this intriguing little controller and see if its unique flair ends up being a strength or a weakness.
First, let’s talk about connections. You can hook up the CHOC2 to a PC using a USB-C cable or even via a Bluetooth adapter, and it’ll work on Android, IOS (13 and above) too, but its real home does seem to be the Switch. It even has a built-in gyro in case you like to play Mario Kart by tilting your controller. Xbox and Playstation compatibility is non-existent, however, unless you can work some kind of sorcery that probably wouldn’t be worth the effort. On the more niche side of things, you can connect the CHOC2 to a Smart TV (like one of those new Samsung that is coming with a Game Pass app built-in) or a Raspberry Pi.
Obviously, the thing that stands out most about the CHOC2 is its bold design, both in the bright colours and in its angular shape. It comes in quite a few different paint jobs and at first glance, it looks like someone took a Space Invader, flipped it upside down and stuck a bunch of buttons on it. it also looks like it should be an uncomfortable controller to fondle, and yet it’s surprisingly not as bad as it looks. It’s not great, either, though: the 135-degree angles on the side do push gently into my delicate little fingers. It’s not enough to actually hurt or be uncomfortable as such, but it is enough to stop the controller from melding itself nicely into your hands like the Xbox controller can. As striking as the CHOC2’s design is, I’m not sure it’s worth trading comfort for. Visuals are nice but it’s more important that a controller be ergonomic above all else.
For those longer sessions where you get a little too caught up in the action and forget what food or bathroom breaks are, I do think the CHOC2 gets a bit cramped. It measures 4.72 x 3.15 x 0.91 inches and even for my small hands it’s on the petite side. A loose grip helps a lot, but even then I found that any game which demanded heavy use of the B button or the left direction button led to a thumb cramp. For child-size hands, though, it seems to be spot-on, as my 8-year niece can attest to. I gave it to her to play Mario Odyssey, at which point she declared it was hers and ran off. I haven’t seen it since. Part of PB Tails design philosophy does aim more at younger gamers, so perhaps my aging, deteriorating body just doesn’t fit their target audience.
Since it isn’t even an inch thick and weighs a paltry 86g the CHOC2 is naturally portable. In fact, you can pop this thing into your pockets, and in a desperate situation could even hurl it like a Batarang at an attacker’s face. It makes an even better weapon since the CHOC2 has a metal body compared to the plastic of its predecessor, giving it a nice, sturdy feel.
One of the best features is the powerful rumble. This thing can vibrate harder than the toys your mum keeps locked up beside the bed, and the intensity can be tuned by holding down the Turbo button along with the plus or minus symbol. I actually ended up turning it off entirely in certain games because I could feel my hands slowly going numb. It’s not HD rumble, though, which is hardly surprising given the relatively low price tag of the CHOC2. The strength of the rumble does also come with a downside – it’s loud! It’s also quite a high-pitch, so if you’re playing around other people they might feel the urge to strangle you.
Of course, we do need to talk about the buttons and sticks on the CHOC2. The D-pad of the original CHOC has been swapped out and instead, each direction button is separate which can be more precise but it also isn’t quite as good for certain games that require diagonal inputs. All the face buttons feel good to press with a little bit of spring and a nice level of resistance. The left and right bumpers feature an interesting design in that they start at the top of the controller and follow the side downwards. My fingers naturally rest along the length of the button but that also meant when pressing them I’d find myself pushing the angled piece. It feels a little strange. Their unusual design also means that the lowest part of the button has quite a bit of springy travel before you hit the activation point. Meanwhile, what would normally be the rear triggers/buttons are actually two small, regular buttons that also sit on the top of the CHOC2. Their size and positioning don’t feel very natural, although that could be because I’m primarily an Xbox and Playstation gamer so my fingers automatically wanted to use the two largest buttons as the triggers.
I found the sticks to be quite well positioned on the CHOC2, and while their small stature means they don’t give quite the same level of finesse as a larger controller they were nevertheless accurate and more than capable of handling some Mario Kart 8 or Hot Wheels: Unleashed action. Both are clickable, too, something that is sometimes forgotten about on other third-party controllers, and both clicks feel and sound excellent.
The final little trick of the CHOC2 is the Turbo button, a handy little thing that, once activated, means you can hold down a button and it’ll repeatedly activate. In other words, if you’re using a semi-automatic gun, instead of having to tap the fire button you can turn on Turbo and just hold the button down.
All in all, I found using the CHOC2 to be pretty reasonable. It’s far from one of the most comfortable controllers but the face buttons feel very nice. I think this little controller would excel at 2D platformers and brawlers that make the most of them. And longer sessions were a bit of an issue due to the size, something which my niece did not have a problem with.
It takes around 1-2 hours to charge the Lithium battery in the CHOC2 using a standard USB-C cable and in return, PB Tails claims it’ll deliver 16 hours of playtime. I’ve got no reason to dispute those claims. Naturally, having the vibration to max will tax the battery but even then I was still getting around 13-16 hours out of it consistently.
The advantages of the CHOC2 are two-fold: it’s nice and portable for gaming on the go, and it has a distinctive look. Other than that, it’s a fairly bog-standard controller with cramped ergonomics for all but the smallest of hands. If given the choice I’d still much rather use the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, but I would put it above the Joycons with the little grip thingy. But if you want something a little flashier as a spare controller or even maybe the main controller for a child then the CHOC2 is at least worth considering, and for use with the various game streaming services on the go its portability is great. I’d be happy to bust this thing out with a Nintendo Switch on a train or something.