It’s 2019 and Nintendo is once again selling spare Super Nintendo Entertainment System controllers, albeit not in the way that many of us dinosaurs remember. They’re $30 for starters, which is about twice as much as one would have run you in 1996 (not adjusted for inflation). They’re also exclusively available to subscribers of Nintendo’s Switch Online service, which recently added a library of SNES games to its slate of benefits. How convenient! Operators are standing by on Nintendo’s official website, limit four per Switch Online account.
As can be seen below, Nintendo’s new bluetooth SNES controller sports a set of teeny tiny ZL and ZR buttons, nested between the standard L and R shoulder buttons that we all know and love. The SNES controller originated shoulder buttons after all, so Nintendo can cram as many on there as it dang well likes, I suppose. While they do help ensure a bit more compatibility with non-SNES Switch games, these new shoulder buttons are mostly there for menu stuff — ZL and ZR are used to access the system menu inside of the Switch’s SNES emulator.
Speaking of other Switch games, don’t expect to be able to roll into Splatoon 2 or Daemon X Machina with this thing. Other than the obvious lack of analogue sticks, the Switch’s SNES controller lacks the gyroscopic guts, amiibo sensing power and other fancy accoutrements of its Pro Controller sibling. Still, it looks perfect for the enormous number of retro-inspired indie games on the eShop, such as Kero Blaster and Shovel Knight. Or heck, you’ve already got a Switch Online subscription, maybe one of these will finally net you that Tetris 99 Invictus win you’ve been after.
The controller comes with a USB-C cable for recharging, and that’s it. Nintendo doesn’t specify expected battery life on its shop page, but we know from the FCC filing that it uses the same battery as a standard joy-con, so it should last about as long. Maybe a little longer even, since there’s no HD rumble doodads or motion-sensing whatchamacallits to suck up energy.
Meanwhile, last year’s bluetooth-powered NES controllers are still available to Switch Online subscribers, though Nintendo will only sell them to you in $60 pairs. These controllers aren’t as perfectly modeled after the originals as the new SNES controllers are, since they have joy-con rails stuck to the top so you can do this, which is as hilarious as it is unnecessary.
If you want a retro-style controller for your Switch, but don’t want/need to chuck $20 at Nintendo for a year of Switch Online, 8BitDo will gladly sell you its bluetooth-enabled SNES style controller, the SN30 GP, for about the same price. The SN30 GP is also compatible with PC, Mac, and Android devices, but lacks ZL/ZR buttons and charges over micro-USB, rather than USB-C. This means that you’d have to use the ZL/ZR buttons on your joy-cons to access the Switch’s emulation menu when playing SNES games, which isn’t convenient but isn’t unlivable either.
8BitDo’s pricier model, the SN30 Pro G Classic, solves this problem by having four shoulder buttons, but it also adds analogue sticks and an additional $15 to the price tag.