Retro USB Controller Roundup, Part 2

Retro USB controllers allow you to play games on your computer with controllers from a bygone age, replicas of NES, SNES, Genesis, Saturn, and N64 controllers can all be purchased nowadays. So in part 1, I bought three retro USB controllers for a total of $25, and I was somewhat satisfied with my purchase. The NES controller was kinda crap, but the Saturn controller was okay, and the SNES controller was excellent.

So I thought, “why not do it again?” I bought three more controllers, it was a teeny bit more pricey this time, $35 for all three, and they were all made by a company called Tomee. So was it worth it?

No. Absolutely not. No. Not a complete disaster, but close. Let’s get to the details.

First up is the NES USB Controller by Tomee. The box, again, is unimpressive, rather generic. The controller itself feels sturdy, the d-pad and buttons feel right, for the most part, but the Select and Start buttons are hard plastic instead of the soft, rubbery buttons of an authentic NES controller. Also, weirdly, it has that same indent the last NES USB controller had, but this time without the words “MADE IN CHINA” jutting out of it.

But enough about how it feels, let’s talk about how it plays. After the first NES USB controller, I hoped it would turn out better this time, but those hopes were crushed faster than a fly under a fat, sweaty ass.

It installed fine, I set it up in FCEUX, and loaded up Contra. And oh, my. I could barely control Bill at all. I could somewhat control my horizontal movement, but aiming was impossible. Bill was completely flailing around, he looked like he was having some sort of epileptic fit. Pointing directly up or down failed to work properly as well. Calibrating proved to be useless, the problem persisted. The buttons worked great, but without a functioning d-pad, they might as well have been decorations.

Unlike the previous NES controller, which could’ve feasibly been used for some games, I can’t think of anything this controller would be useful for. Except perhaps as a skeet shooting target. 0 out of 10.

Next up is the SNES Retro USB Super Nintendo Controller, again, by Tomee. Considering how the last Tomee product did, and how it would have to be compared to the excellent SNES USB controller from last time, I steeled myself for disappointment. The box is nothing special, and while the controller itself feels okay, the cord is bizarrely thin. Every other cord has so far been thick and durable, just like the original controllers, but this one makes me worry that it could be easily torn.

It installs okay, and I set it up in ZSNES. Sticking to the Contra theme, I loaded up Contra III: The Alien Wars, and to my surprise, it actually controls okay – at first. It didn’t take too long to notice that Bill would occasionally misinterpret my left or right controls as diagonals, which got irritating after a while. Up and down worked just fine, but Bill got killed at least once in Stage 2 thanks to him walking up and right when I just wanted him to go right. The buttons were all nice and responsive, though.

Again, this is a deal-breaker, but at least it’s not AS big a crusty turd as the Tomee NES controller was. Everything about the controller feels sturdy and durable except for the cable. In fact, I suspect that I could feasibly use this controller on some RPG’s or puzzle games. 5 out of 10.

Last up is the ridiculous Tomee N64 USB Moonlight Glow Controller. I could have got one without the glow, but where’s the fun in that? Instead of a box, this comes in one of those plastic casings I used to hate with a passion, but using the Swiss Army knife I got for Christmas takes some of the frustration out of getting it open.

And the controller itself lives up to its ridiculous moniker – it’s weirdly shaped kind of like a toy axe. Holding it by the D-pad side and the button side is strange, you don’t quite feel like you’ve got a proper grip, it takes a little getting used to. Holding it by the analog stick and the buttons feels more natural. The D-pad and buttons feel responsive, and the analog stick doesn’t quite feel right, but it springs back to center quite nicely when I let it go, so maybe it’ll work out, though after the last two Tomee experiences I’m not holding my breath.

I plugged it in, and it immediately lit up in five places. As gimmicks go, it’s pretty cheap, and I can’t imagine it would provide much function even in darkness, but maybe it’ll keep you from tripping over it, and it did give me a smile. It installed slowly, for some reason, but it did install, and I set it up in Project64. I loaded up Super Mario 64, and prepared myself for imperfect controls and awkward Mario flailing. And I was thoroughly disappointed.

This controller worked like a charm. The analog didn’t seem perfect at first, but once I got used to it, I had no trouble getting Mario to go where I wanted him to go, and the buttons worked flawlessly as well. But I was sure the D-pad would be a nightmare, so I loaded up Mortal Kombat Trilogy, and I was wrong again! The D-pad was perfect, and I had Scorpion kicking some serious ass in no time.

Overall, I was seriously surprised by this controller, especially after the disasters of the previous two and the goofy light gimmick. Solidly made, standard cord, turbo and auto-fire features (that I’ll never use), and happily, great controls. Not as awesome as the Gtron SNES USB controller, but damn close. 8.5 out of 10.

Finally, one last bonus. Frustrated that I still hadn’t gotten a decent NES USB controller out of all this, I bought one last item, the RetroBit Retro Adapter: NES Controller to USB Port Adapter. I dusted off one of my old working NES controllers, plugged it into the adapter, and plugged the adapter into the computer. It installed fine, and I set it up. I loaded The Guardian Legend in FCEUX, and how about that? It’s working just like it would on an NES – smooth as silk, fantastic control.

Just for a goof, I pulled my NES Advantage out of the closet and gave that a whirl. Took me a while to figure out which plug was player 1 – for those who don’t know, the Advantage has two plugs, meant to plug into both Player 1’s side AND Player 2’s side. I can’t imagine what good that would be, except for some cheat codes requiring the 2nd controller. Anyway, I plugged her in, set her up, loaded Super C, and I was sticking it to Red Falcon’s foot soldiers in no time.

So, in conclusion, only 2 out of 6 Retro USB controllers worked as intended – so I can’t really give a recommendation, but if you do want to try one, I suggest sticking to either the Gtron SNES USB controller or the Tomee Moonlight Glow N64 USB controller, those were excellent. Or, buy an adapter instead.

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  1. arocks

    Thanks a lot for the two part reviews of game controllers. I am a big fan of emulated games esp SNES. Since you mentioned that you used to play with an XBOX 360 controllers before you tried these controllers, how would you compare these controllers with an XBOX one?
    I have read a lot of reviews and the only criticisms I hear are that XBOX controller D-pad can sometimes misfire for 2D games and there is no software based calibration. In fact some emulation fans suggests Logitech F510. I am not too familiar with the original SNES controller so I am just looking for a good modern controller for emulated games.
    Would you recommend XBOX 360 controller?

    • PantslessAaron

      arocks Well, it’s true – the 360 controller has a crappy d-pad that doesn’t feel accurate, no matter how much tweaking you do, so I only use my 360 wired controller on my PC for modern games. Comparing these controllers to an Xbox 360 controller, some of them are better, like the SNES controller in part 1 and the N64 controller in part 2. The others were largely terrible, don’t waste your money.

      If you’re using an emulator, you’d be better off using a PS2 controller or a clone – I actually have a PS2 controller with a USB adapter, and I use that for all of my emulation needs, and the occasional modern game with 2D controls, like Cave Story. I hear it’s possible to get PS3 controllers to work on PC, but last I checked, that required some work, and I couldn’t manage it on my old Vista laptop.

      I haven’t checked out the Logitech F510, but I may do more controller reviews in the future, so I’ll definitely add that to the list of possibilities. My advice would be to do some research. Just googling the picture of the F510 shows me that it has a very similar d-pad to the 360, so I’d be wary if I were you.

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