As soon as the Nintendo Switch was revealed, the lack of a d-pad on the left Joy-Con struck me as an immediate issue. While I understand the appeal of having buttons in that space instead so that it could act as a quasi-second controller, the lack of a d-pad has greatly impacted the games I play portably. From fighting games, to puzzle games, to the myriad of indie games that the Switch has been blessed with, a sizable portion of my library were played with less-than-ideal controls.
Many DIY mods exist to solve this problem, but Hori and Nintendo have an official solution as well. The D-Pad Controller (L) replaces the four face buttons with a proper d-pad and is sold at a fairly reasonable price. The two different versions of this controller in North America include one that’s The Legend of Zelda themed, and another that’s Super Mario themed. But does it lose more than it gains in the process?
Before you jump in, you should know that as part of its low price, there are some serious limitations to this product. For one, the controller doesn’t feature any rumble functionality. It doesn’t have any gyroscopes for motion controls. It also doesn’t have its own battery, making it unusable with a standard Joy-Con grip. The controller feels much lighter than a regular Joy-Con, but the weight difference is moot when you can only use it in portable mode. If you want a d-pad for docked play, you’ll still need a Pro Controller or other alternative.
The d-pad feels great. Platformers and fighting games feel much better with this than they ever did with the buttons. The only other point of contention is the positioning of the d-pad itself. In games where 2D controls are the primary focus, I really wish this d-pad’s position was swapped with the analog stick. If you’re going to make the effort to rip out functionality and have this operate primarily as a d-pad controller anyway, why not place it in the most prominent position?
When the product first came out in Japan and in North America, there was an issue where these particular Joy-Con would continue to drain battery even when the console was in sleep mode. Thankfully, this was fixed as part of a firmware update. Should you decide to pick one up, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Even with its laundry list of limitations, the Hori D-Pad Controller (L) has proven to be a worthwhile purchase for me. I wish the d-pad had the uppermost position, but for the benefits you get from replacing those buttons with a d-pad at a price that won’t break the bank, I’m satisfied with what it offers and what it doesn’t. Depending on what types of games you play portably though, you could probably stick with your regular Joy-Cons without much issue. If the thought of replacing those buttons with a d-pad has never crossed your mind, you probably don’t need this. As for me, I’ll be enjoying way more fighting games and indie games on my commute.
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