Best retro controllers in 2023: Retro Fighters, 8BitDo & more

Rebecca Hills-Duty

If you have a bit of nostalgia for the old days and want to play some retro games, you have a wide choice of controllers available. This guide helps you pick the one that’s right for you.

There are a truly staggering number of controllers on the current market, ranging from high-tech modern examples like the PlayStation DualSense to retro-styled examples like the 8BitDo Ultimate Controller. If you are in the mood to do some gaming and want to embrace the retro style, which controller do you pick?

This guide aims to run through some of the best options available to help you select the controller that suits your needs and personal style.

Retro style for modern gaming

You might enjoy your modern games, but miss the look and feel of some of those classic controllers of yesteryear. This is especially true for fans of the fighting game scene, as fighting game fans tend to zero in on one particular controller that fits all their requirements.

There are even adapters that allow old controllers to work with modern set-ups such as the Brook Gaming adapters.

Many modern games require twin analog sticks and four shoulder buttons, however, which rules out many original classic controllers. Thankfully companies like 8BitDo, Retro Fighter, and Retro-Bit make controllers that replicate the retro look, but with modern features.

Retro Fighter Gamecube controller

Retro Fighter BladeGC controller

If you are playing any version of Super Smash Bros from Melee onwards, then a Gamecube-style controller is practically a must. The Retro Fighter controller is solidly built and has dongles to connect it to USB so it can work with PC and Raspberry Pi, or using a different dongle it can be hooked up to the Switch and Gamecube. Since it had replaced the weird yellow C-stick with a normal analog stick, it can be used for modern gaming as well, and handle anything from the Gamecube era or earlier.

8BitDo Pro2 Controller

8BitDo Pro2 controller

It looks like an SNES controller with legs, but it sports modern functionality, plus additional programmable rear buttons. 8BitDo produces superb controllers, and for this one, they paid particular attention to the D-pad to ensure it is just as precise and responsive as the controllers of yesteryear.

Retro-Bit SEGA Saturn 2.4GHz wireless controller

Retro-Bit Saturn controller

The SEGA Saturn controller was an evolution of the Mega Drive controller, with a similar curvy shape that fit nicely in your hands, but six buttons face buttons instead of just three.

This made it ideal for genres such as Fighting Games. Retro-Bit has brought this iconic controller into the 21st Century by adding two Hall Effect analog sticks and four shoulder buttons while keeping classic features such as the snappy round D-pad. This improved functionality, along with the wireless capability means it should be suitable for most modern gaming.

Controllers for retro and emulation

There are many controllers out there that reproduce the look of retro controllers but fail to capture the feel. One of the main weaknesses with many of these cheap third-party offerings is that the D-pad tends to be mushy and imprecise, precisely what you don’t want in a 2D game where your twitch reflexes are everything. These controllers are our pick for getting the best from emulation or even original hardware.

Gamecube Wavebird

wavebird wireless retro ocntroller

A wireless controller for Gamecube produced by Nintendo themselves. The WaveBird controller was coveted by pretty much every Gamecube owner, as it meant you didn’t have to fuss with long cables, which was a revelation at the time. The WaveBird was so solidly built that they still hold up fantastically to this day, especially for games such as Mario Kart Double Dash or Super Smash Bros Melee. If you want one, however, be prepared to pay a premium as they are in big demand amongst retro fans.

8BitDo NeoGeo controller

8BitDo NeoGeo controller King of the Fighters 97 edition

Microswitches have seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years. This is usually associated with keyboards, but 8BitDo decided to replicate the clicky feel of the old NeoGeo eight-way D-pad by utilizing microswitches in this controller. The result is a lovely controller that can tackle anything from the 8-bit age right up to the early PS1 era. As long as it doesn’t need analog sticks, this controller will serve you well.

Retro Fighters StrikerDC

Retro Fighter StrikeDC controller

Many retro fans are very fond of the Dreamcast, a console ahead of its time that died far too soon. You will find less praise for the controller, which only fits comfortably in the hands of giants (see also the original Xbox ‘Duke’ controller). It did, however, have Hall Effect sensors on the analog stick, and the use of the VMU memory cards in the controller was revolutionary.

Retro Fighters took all the advantages of the classic Dreamcast controller and compacted them into a controller that is much easier to hold, yet can still support all the classic accessories such as VMU, Vibration packs, and even the microphone. Best of all, it works wireless with Dreamcast or on PC or Raspberry Pi thanks to the included dongles.

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