There’s no shortage of third-party controllers on the market from a wide variety of companies, some of which are reputable and some of which are just pushing out cheap tat. 8BitDo has managed to build a solid reputation, developing and releasing a variety of controllers across multiple platforms, including an arcade fight stick and some awesome retro-themed controllers. Today, I’m reviewing their so-called Ultimate controller, a reasonably priced piece of tech that punches well above its price bracket.
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This controller comes in a couple of different flavours, depending on exactly what you want. There’s an official wired Xbox version that also works on Android and Windows as well, or if you want to snip the wire, there are two wireless versions: 2.4ghz for the best connection, and Bluetooth if you want a little more flexibility in terms of what it can be used with. Both of those versions come with a charging dock, too, but sadly neither works with Xbox or Playstation. Do keep in mind, however, that there are a decent number of reviews and Reddit posts that mention having connectivity issues with the wireless Ultimate controllers, so make sure you do some research before you pull the trigger.
I’ve just got the most basic of the models here: the wired 8BitDo Ultimate, compatible with PC and the Switch. It feels weird to be tethered to a machine these days, but that keeps the cost down at around £30 whereas the wireless versions are about £10 more. It’s certainly more affordable than something like the the new controller by Sony, the DualSense Edge. The other bummer is that the wireless variants get fancy new Hall Effect joysticks that claim to have much better durability and be far less prone to drift issues. I think 8BitDo missed the mark a little by not upgrading the wired version with the Hall Effect sticks as well, but hopefully, that’ll be something they remedy in the future.
Let’s talk design and build quality, shall we? There’s a lot of the Switch’s Pro Controller in the 8BitDo’s shape, noticeably in the grips which come almost straight down rather than flaring outwards like an Xbox controller. There’s a very rough texture on the handles that is designed to improve your grip. It’s so rough, in fact, that I could almost equate it to fine-grit sandpaper. It’s easily the roughest I’ve felt on a controller. But it does do the job quite well and isn’t uncomfortable to hold. The pad fits nicely into your hands and I actually prefer the more curved rear of the Ultimate over the Pro Controller, although I think the Xbox controller still wins in terms of overall ergonomics.
The whole thing feels well-made. There’s no creaking or cracking when you squeeze the shell, and there’s a reassuring weight (268g, roughly) that gives the controller a premium feel unlike things such as the really cheap PowerA Switch controllers which feel hollow. My only complaint in terms of quality is the wire itself: it’s Xft long so there’s plenty to work with but it’s a thick rubber rather than a nice, flexible braided cable. It means the wire tends to get into weird shapes or drags across the table. The only good thing is that it should be durable. I’d still rather have something light and flexible, though.
Hooked up to a computer, Windows will automatically recognize it as an Xbox controller. That’s not a hugely important detail except for one thing: the in-built gyro won’t work. That’s likely not going to bother the majority of people, but for some of you out there, it might be important.
Compared to something like the official Xbox controllers, both of the top bumper buttons have some wobble if you stick your fingers on them and move them around. Not in a sexual way, mind you. Or maybe in a sexual way. Do whatever works for you, I guess. There’s also squishiness to them that feels a little cheap when compared to the competition However, these are the only weak buttons on the whole controller.
While this is ostensibly a Switch controller, the triggers are actually analogue, unlike the official Pro controller. That’s perfect for hooking up to a PC and having full-throttle control, important if you’re sliding around bends in Need for Speed: Unbound. When you hop over to the Switch the triggers will lose that analogue functionality and become simple switches, with the downside being that you now have excess travel compared to the Joycons or the Pro controller. That’s not a huge problem unless you’re highly competitive and need every little edge, in which case you could use the 8BitDo software (more on that later) to change the activation point. That doesn’t alter how much travel the triggers have but it does mean they’ll activate a lot quicker.
The tension on the triggers is quite soft, sitting somewhere between a Pro controller and an Xbox controller. Personally, I’d like a touch more tension simply because I find it easier to have precise control, especially helpful when tackling those bloody tricky extreme tracks in Trials: Rising. They remind me of Dualsense controller in the sense that the trigger extends outwards a decent amount and doesn’t have the angled edges of the Xbox controller. Again, I prefer the Xbox design for pure comfort as the angled edges feel nicer to curl your finger over, but that doesn’t mean the Ultimate’s triggers are in any way uncomfortable. The triggers feel great to squeeze slowly, to find that point where they click and….ah shit, I shot the dog. Hold on.
I love the two extra buttons that 8BitDo have built into the shell on the back of the controller. They sit exactly where your fingers naturally grip the rear and are nearly flush with the rest of the plastic, so they are comfortable. They need just enough pressure to activate that I never pressed them accidentally, and they can be programmed to do whatever you want. I liked using them as gear shifts for racing games, but they are also excellent for stuff like reloading, crouching or replacing any button so that you don’t have to take your thumb off the right stick. These buttons alone are a compelling reason to purchase the 8BitDo Ultimate. Plus, they have a nice little click that speaks to my soul.
The face buttons are pretty standard rubber membrane and feel terrific to use. They have a satisfying, tactile feel. The same can be said for the rubber membrane D-pad which has a slightly curved depression. Each of the four cardinal directions is nicely defined, and there’s no sense of mushiness like you get in other d-pads. There’s a really crisp feel to it, a nice click when pressed, and inputting diagonals is a breeze. This is a superb d-pad for fighting games or 2D platformers, like TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge. In fact, I found it to be far superior to the Dualsense, the Xbox controller and the Pro controller.
While the sticks might not be the fancy-pants Hall sensors on this wired version they’re still great to use. They are a little on the heavier end of the spectrum, feel smooth and I didn’t notice any issues with accuracy. Both of them can be clicked, and both feel excellent to do so. With that said, using Game Pad Tester I did notice both sticks have a roughly 14% average error rate on the circularity test. I can’t say I noticed any problems in-game, but those results are worse than the Dualsense and the Pro controller. Again, I didn’t feel there were any issues while playing, but it’s never bad to have extra information.
The centre of the Ultimate controller is home to a cluster of buttons; there’s a home button (and the Switch can be woken up by shaking the controller) that’s encircled by a pleasing glowing ring, plus the standard buttons for start, menu etc. There’s also the profile button, and a star which activates turbo mode. By holding down any button on the controller and pressing turbo, the controller will repeatedly activate your chosen button as long as you hold it down. Activate turbo on a trigger, for example, and you can rapidly fire a semi-automatic rifle just by keeping the trigger pulled. Neat! The only issue I found is that the centre buttons are too tightly clumped together which can cause some accidental button presses. I did get used to it, though, so it’s not a huge problem.
8BitDo has its own software you can download from their website that allows you to completely remap the controller, create macros for the rear buttons and even adjusts things like the activation point on the triggers, dead zones and sensitivity. And that all carries over to the Switch as well, which is fantastic for any game that doesn’t give you the flexibility you’re looking for. The controller can hold up to three saved profiles and those can be swapped between using a button in the middle cluster, with three little lights indicating your current profile. Again, freaking fantastic feature and perfect for swapping between a PC and the Switch like I was doing. The wireless versions of the Ultimate can hook up to the official 8BitDo App, perfect for quickly tinkering with a variety of options on the fly. Since I don’t have the wireless version for testing, I can’t comment on the app and its functionality. But the PC software feels easy to use and is decently intuitive, even if it is fairly basic in its interface. To be honest, though, I’d rather have a basic, functional piece of software rather than some overdesigned nonsense.
The biggest potential problem with any third-party product is its longevity. After a few months of abuse and heavy use is it going to start developing issues? I can’t answer that right now. I won’t know until months down the line. All I can say is that based on customer reviews, Reddit posts and the like, it seems as though the controller holds up well. But if anything happens, I’ll let you know.
Overall, I really love the 8BitDo Ultimate. Over the years I’ve owned quite a few third-party controllers and most of them have fallen far short of the official options for a variety of reasons. The Ultimate, though, comes pretty damn close in many scenarios and even surpasses the official controllers in certain areas. It’s competitively priced, comfy to hold, well built and the extra buttons on the rear are superb. Being able to remap the whole thing and save three onboard profiles is the icing on the cake. In fact, I think I’d rather take the 8BitDo over the Switch Pro Controller, even with a wire sticking out the back, and it may even become my de facto PC controller as well, replacing the Xbox controller. While I still think the Xbox controller wins in terms of comfort, the extra functionality of the 8BitDo is hard to ignore.
No wonder 8BitDo has built itself a good reputation. If this is the kind of quality they can offer at reasonable prices, then I have no trouble recommending the Ultimate.
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