Hori D-Pad Joy-Con Controller Review

As much as we all love the Nintendo Switch, there has always been one glaring flaw with the little hybrid console — the lack of a d-pad on the left Joy-Con controller. While it makes sense that Nintendo would design them to work similarly to the right Joy-Con for multiplayer purposes, it’s still a huge pain to use those four tiny face buttons for classic side-scrolling games. While the directional buttons are do-able (I finished the entirety of Sonic Mania with them), they’re less than ideal and the short nubby analog stick isn’t much of a substitute.

Even with Nintendo’s own pricey Pro Controller including a tiny d-pad, it’s still reported to suffer from ghost inputs even today. This issue has always made indie titles and side-scrollers feel gimped on Nintendo Switch compared to their Playstation 4 and Xbox One counterparts. We even reported on our podcast (Episode 22) that Mega Man 11 was barely playable in portable form as a result of this.

A Joy-Con with a real d-pad is something Switch fans have been begging Nintendo for since the release of the Switch, but the only solution was to mod your current Joy-Con with pricey components and tricky install procedures. In comes Hori, the popular third party peripheral manufacturer made famous by their high quality arcade sticks, to save us from our perilous directional button existence.

Hori just released two design variations of their D-Pad Joy-Con states side this month and I have personally been playing my Nintendo Switch with it for a week now. While it certainly fixes one of the biggest complaints I have with the Nintendo Switch, it doesn’t come without its faults either. Whether or not you should buy one relies on how you feel about a few flaws it contains.

Upon first glance, the Hori Joy-Con looks almost identical to it’s Nintendo counterpart both in shape and included buttons. The major change here is that d-pad included in replace of the four directional face buttons — the one thing people will want to own this for. The biggest question here is how is the d-pad? Is it a solid pad? Does it work well with side-scrolling games? Does it feel good? The answer to all of those questions is YES!

The d-pad on the Hori Joy-Con is large enough for my adult thumbs, includes good travel and just enough mushiness to it without feeling too stiff or too loose. I tested the d-pad out on Dead Cells, Mega Man 11, the NES games app for Nintendo Online and Lumines Remastered and instantly felt like I was playing significantly better than I was with Nintendo’s left Joy-Con. The issues I originally had with Mega Man 11 were long gone and I noticed I tend to survive much longer in Dead Cells. Hori hit the nail on the head here and met my expectations greatly.

Here’s where the issues come in. The Hori D-Pad Joy-Con certainly looks the part, but it has a few glaring omissions that may turn many Switch owners off despite the cheap $25 price tag. Given, Hori opted to make this accessory as inexpensive as possible in order to attract more gamers, so it was inevitable that some features were going to be dropped. Unfortunately, they’re big features.

First off, the Joy-Con lacks any HD rumble features. In fact, it lacks rumble entirely. Gamers who rely on vibrating feedback or some of the cool HD rumble features found in certain Switch titles may find this Hori Joy-Con a deal killer. I personally do not mind the lack of rumble features since I hardly even realize it’s there unless the game in question utilizes some gimmick, like Lumines Remastered’s beat vibration feature. I guess I’m just so used to controllers having vibrating feedback that I’m sort of conditioned to it.

Second, the Hori D-Pad Joy-Con also lacks any wireless functionality. This means that you are forced to use the Joy-Con in portable mode attached to the Switch console itself. It will not work when taken off of the Switch to use wirelessly and it cannot be used as a second controller in multiplayer titles. Inserting it into a Joy-Con grip does nothing, even in the charging grips. Hori designed this Joy-Con for portable play only and that’s where we needed it the most. Again, I’m okay with this since I primarily play in portable mode anyway and that’s the reason I wanted one of these.

Have I scared you away on this product yet? If not, then you’re probably still going to like this peripheral. However, there are a few tiny nitpicks I have about this product as well. The minus button at the top of the Joy-Con isn’t made of the hard plastic material found on first party Joy-Cons. Instead, it has a little rubbery minus button that feels like the rubber membrane found under the buttons when you pop open a video game controller. It’s loose, its wiggly and it’s awkward, but it does its job well enough.

Also, the L button (not the trigger) is raised a little higher than the right button on Nintendo’s Joy-Con. It includes a stronger click too. I found this to be a little awkward at first, especially combined with a right Nintendo Joy-Con in my other hand, but I adjusted quickly and it didn’t affect gameplay at all. Thankfully, the ZL button feels pretty much identical to Nintendo’s Joy-Con and the analog stick looks and feels pretty much the same.

Hori made the D-Pad Joy-Con in two different styles; a red Super Mario variant and a very dark green (almost black) Legend of Zelda variant. A lightning Pikachu version is coming in November for the launch of Pokemon Let’s Go as well. The problem here is that all three of them are butt-ugly. I opted for the Zelda one since it was the only version I could get my hands on. Japan got solid red and blue variants and I have no idea why we didn’t get those either. If I had to choose, I would go with the Super Mario one, but either way your Switch will look stupid with one snapped on.

I also want to note that Switch owners will definitely want to upgrade their consoles to the 6.00 firmware update prior to using the Hori D-Pad Joy-Con. Firmware 6.00 fixes an issue with the product that forces the Switch to consume more battery power in sleep mode than usual since the console cannot power down the Joy-Con like it can do with their own Joy-Cons. Nintendo corrected this in the 6.00 firmware though so I highly recommend you make the upgrade to prevent your Switch from dying quicker while its attached. You may also want to de-sync your current left Joy-Con before using the Hori Joy-Con too since you’ll find the old one will start vibrating in-game since the console still thinks it’s being used.

So what’s my take on the Hori D-Pad Joy-Con? I’m rather impressed with it. The d-pad is the reason why we’re all here and it works great. I noticed a huge improvement in my gameplay skills using this thing. It feels great in my hand and most of the buttons feel identical to Nintendo’s own Joy-Con. While I would have personally liked a stiffer minus button, an L button that matched the height of Nintendo’s R button, and some more attractive looking colors, I’m still pretty happy with what Hori has built. If I had to choose between the lack of rumble and the lack of wireless, I would have taken the rumble and would gladly paid more for it, the lack of both really isn’t that big of a deal.

At an attractive $25 price point, the Hori D-Pad Joy-Con is a great tool to have in your Nintendo Switch travel case. Hori could have probably shed another $5 off of the price, but the boost in performance I get in 2D titles is worth it to me. I definitely recommend it if you want more precision and don’t mind the missing features.

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