8BitDo Arcade Stick Review – IGN

8BitDo has made a name for itself by offering quality game controls with stylish, retro designs. That holds true with the new 8BitDo Arcade Stick for gaming PCs and the Nintendo Switch. This piece of retro gear is built for modern arcade games with the old school buttons and controls of the NES era it represents. At $89, it’s even offering a surprising value for an arcade stick, undercutting many competing fight sticks. But let’s see if it can offer quality to match.

8BitDo Arcade Stick Review

8BitDo Arcade Stick – Design and Features

The 8BitDo arcade stick is a Nintendo fan’s dream. From the gray plastic construction to the gray, black, and red color scheme, it oozes that original NES design ethos. But where its looks may be from a bygone era, its features are not.

This stick dives right into gaming setups with multiple connection options. For those that demand fool-proof performance, there’s a direct USB-C connection that can handle both charging and inputs. 8BitDo includes an incredibly long USB-C cable that fits snuggly into a small enclosure, which locks the cable in place, keeping it safely plugged into and ready for competitive play.And, yes, I said charging, because this arcade stick also supports wireless connection. That includes both Bluetooth and 2.4GHz wireless over a chunky little USB-A dongle with some Super Mario Bros. brick block stylings. That dongle also fits into the small enclosure for a wired connection, allowing for safe storage.

The box is built out of a robust-feeling plastic. Four rubber squares on the bottom can keep the unit from sliding around, but long rectangles would serve better for lap use.

The layout of the 8BitDo Arcade Stick is fairly conventional for a fight stick. The joystick is on the left with a staggered set of eight 30mm buttons on the right in a Taito Vewlix-like arrangement. Two customizable macro buttons live in the top right, which are slightly smaller than the primary buttons at 24mm. A very nifty feature of the 8BitDo arcade stick is that, instead of having printed control labels, it uses illuminated control labels under a semi-transparent plate. Depending on whether the arcade stick is running in Nintendo Switch or PC mode, it will illuminate a different set of controls for easier use on different platforms.

The controller uses toggles for switching between Bluetooth and 2.4GHz wireless, for switching control schemes and power, and for switching whether the joystick will operate as a left stick, D-pad, or right stick. The controller also includes Start, Select, Wireless Pairing, Turbo, and Home buttons. However, there’s no button or switch to disable controls that aren’t allowed in tournament play.

8BitDo doesn’t mention the actual components used in its model, but like many arcade sticks, it is customizable, and uses a universal joystick mounting plate. However, it isn’t the easiest to mod, as it requires removing several screws on the underside of the case to open, as opposed to an easy-open compartment like on the Razer Panthera or Victrix Pro FS.

8BitDo Arcade Stick – Software

The 8BitDo Arcade Stick supports some straightforward customization using the 8BitDo Ultimate Software. With it, you can swap controls, set up macros, and create profiles. That said, changing the control scheme won’t alter what the button indicators on the controller itself display, so it will take some memorization. Aligning nicely with its simplicity, the software is fortunately very lightweight, not requiring an install and taking up just 23MB.

8BitDo Arcade Stick – Gaming and performance

The 8BitDo Arcade Stick may be fairly expensive as far as controllers go, but it’s on the cheap side for fight sticks. Fortunately, it doesn’t show too many signs of being a lower-class product.

On top of its build and style, it offers fairly dependable capabilities. Gaming on the Nintendo Switch and PC over the 2.4GHz wireless connection proved as responsive and reliable as I’ve come to expect from every wireless gaming peripheral I use. On that 2.4GHz wireless connection, 8BitDo offers a 40-hour battery life that I haven’t butted up against yet. Surprisingly, Bluetooth drops the battery life down to 30-hours (usually Bluetooth connections drain less power).

The controls themselves are generally dependable. The arcade buttons feel a tad hollow, but I’ve felt that way about even the buttons on the Victrix Pro FS, which costs far more and includes Sanwa parts. I was pleased to see that the buttons depressed smoothly, even if I didn’t always mash the middle of them. This was a problem I’ve made sure to look out for after some friction and sticking on Razer buttons.

The joystick is a four-way switch with a square gate. Generally, I’ve felt accurate moving around with it, though I occasionally found myself not quite finding that line between a diagonal input and a single direction. I took it through a bit of Dragon Ball FighterZ, and each button press was snappy and responsive. I had no trouble dashing over to enemies, laying out a quick smackdown, and then flashing around to their back to kick them through an unsuspecting plateau. I also took it through a bit of Katana Zero where it was up to the task of frantic slashing against enemies who would kill me in one hit.

Over Bluetooth, the 8BitDo Arcade Stick continued to feel fairly responsive while playing Sonic the Hedgehog on my phone.

Throughout that testing, the controller showed an extra benefit in the ease of setup. While the Victrix Pro FS is phenomenal, it was an utter pain to get set up to work with Steam when I reviewed it. Meanwhile, I didn’t have to intervene at all to run the 8BitDo Arcade Stick on Steam.

One area the arcade stick fails is somewhere it was perhaps never truly meant to be: Smash Bros. Ultimate.

Smash is far and away one of the best fighting games for Switch, and it makes sense that an arcade stick that specializes in fighting games should work. And, though the 8BitDo joystick can act as a left stick, it doesn’t emulate an analog stick in any way. That means no tilt, no gently curving maneuvers, and no delineating between slamming the stick in a direction and lightly pushing it in that direction. It was responsive, sure. I even managed to beat a few Level 5 bots in a free-for-all match while I figured out the controls. But, the second I took it into an online match, it was immediately apparent there were some serious shortcomings to binary inputs and only being able to orient myself in eight directions.

This isn’t a shortcoming of the controller, as almost no other fight stick would offer better performance in this regard unless it had an analog joystick. But, to anyone who saw all the Nintendo stylings and thought it would be a fit for all Nintendo games, don’t get your hopes up.

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