The Nintendo Switch is the most versatile gaming system out there due to its ability to swap between handheld, tabletop and docked modes. However, this also means its controller market is the most varied. Some require a specific design to slip it onto the console, while others resemble traditional controllers for at home use. You can even use GameCube controllers on the Nintendo Switch, whereas you might want something smaller if you're bringing it on the go.
Before you invest in a Nintendo Switch controller, there is something you should know: officially licensed Nintendo products are almost always higher quality than third party accessories, but they’re also more expensive. Ask yourself if you’d rather spend a little more for guaranteed quality, or a little less to take a gamble.
Regardless, there’s something out there for everyone. Without further ado, here are the best Nintendo Switch controllers in 2021.
What is the best Nintendo Switch controller?
Due to the Nintendo Switch’s varied functionality, finding the perfect controller is a matter of what you need. You may want multiple gamepads from this list, especially if you frequently jump between handheld, tabletop and docked modes.
The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller is the perfect pick for docked gaming. It’s closest to an Xbox or PlayStation controller, providing the most comfortable grip and sturdy build. But if you’re okay with the basics, Nintendo Joy-Cons are a safe bet. Their high versatility makes them a jack of all trades, as they can clip onto the Switch for handheld play, connect to a Grip for docked play, and slip into a strap for tabletop play.
And how could we forget about GameCube controllers? Unfortunately, finding one officially licensed by Nintendo in the United States isn’t possible, but you can purchase an import from a third party seller. This is a great choice for those Smash nerds who want to harken back to the good old days of Melee.
If you’re desperate for something portable but not as tiny as a Nintendo Joy-Con, the Little Wireless Controller is a good pick. It boasts far more buttons than a Joy-Con does, but it can’t be clipped onto the Switch itself. On the other hand, the HORI Split Pad Pro can be clipped onto the Switch, and it provides a grip more akin to what you’d expect from a standard console controller. And finally, the NES controller: this is a circumstantial pick because it’s barely usable outside of Nintendo’s NES catalogue. If that’s exactly what you need, however, this was made for you.
The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller is the best choice for those in need of a gamepad that can satisfy gamers using the Switch in its docked mode. It closely resembles a PlayStation or Xbox controller, so if you’re sick of using Joy-Cons while gaming in front of your TV, we highly recommend one.
Joy-Cons are frequently criticized for their tiny size, and even if you attach them to the Joy-Con Grip to emulate a standard controller, you might have to deal with pesky drift issues. I had this exact problem, but purchasing a Pro Controller has made platformers a lot more enjoyable, as my character doesn’t accidentally walk off of cliffs anymore.
If you’re planning on taking controllers on the go, we recommend something smaller. But if you need an accessory to make your inputs feel as accurate as possible without worrying about tiny buttons and an inaccurate joystick, this is a worthy purchase.
The Nintendo Joy-Cons are the classic controller choices for the Nintendo Switch. It can slip onto your console for handheld play, be attached to a Grip for at-home play, and can even have a strap slipped on the top to turn each individual Joy-Con into its own controller. These have the most versatility out of any of the choices in this list, but the Joy-Con doesn’t excel in the latter two.
A Joy-Con is uncomfortably small when used as a single controller, and even when both are inside of a Joy-Con Grip, a Pro Controller feels much better to hold and play with. You also have to worry about Joy-Con drift, which has plagued Nintendo Switch users across the world for years now.
Joy-Cons also have the benefit of being the most aesthetically diverse throughout the Nintendo catalogue. There are plenty of color options available, including pink/green, blue/yellow, black, purple/orange and yellow. You can even purchase themed controllers based on Fortnite and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
Nintendo has no officially licensed GameCube controllers on their website for those who live in the United States. However, the Nintendo GameCube Controller Smash Bros. Black is available for purchase in Japan. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with the Nintendo Switch Lite.
Plenty of imports of this controller can be purchased online, although it’s most easily found on Amazon. If you decide to purchase an import, you must understand that you’re not actually getting the product from Nintendo. A third party seller has gotten their hands on the controller and will be shipping it to you.
This means you’ll forgo guarantees of quality assurance, which could result in the third party sending you a cheaper, unofficial GameCube controller. To ensure this isn’t the case, thoroughly inspect it once it’s in your hands. Make sure it looks similar to what’s shown in the photos; there should be a Super Smash Bros. symbol sitting at the top.
If it seems legit, you’re all set! Now you can harken back to the good old days of Super Smash Bros. Melee and kick some butt using that muscle memory from 20 years ago.
If you need a gamepad to take with you on the go, the Little Wireless Controller is a good pick. When compared with a Joy-Con, the Little Wireless Controller is larger and has its shoulder buttons as part of the controller. It’s also not so big that it’ll take up an absurd amount of space when travelling, making it great for those who plan to bring their Switch to parties, hang-outs and outdoor events.
Buying two Little Wireless Controllers will be more expensive than getting a pair of Joy-Cons, but the former is a better choice when playing in tabletop or docked mode. A Little Wireless Controller has far more inputs than a Joy-Con, as it comes with two Joysticks, four face buttons, a D-Pad, home button, screenshot button, plus button, minus button and two shoulder buttons. However, these cannot be attached to the Nintendo Switch console, meaning it’s useless when in handheld mode.
The HORI Split Pad Pro is worth considering as an alternative to Joy-Cons. These controllers can clip onto your Nintendo Switch console while it’s in handheld mode, but these are designed to be larger and provide a grip akin to a standardized controller. This means it’ll make your Switch bulkier, but it could be the perfect accessory for those who’ve always found the console to be too small or uncomfortable when played on handheld mode.
The HORI Split Pad Pro is also licensed by Nintendo, meaning it’s a legit product. It’s not officially manufactured by Nintendo, but this is the next best thing. It also has turbo functionality and assignable rear triggers. However, these controllers do not include Motion Controls, HD Rumble, or NFC. If you’re in need of one of these features for a game, you’ll probably want to stick with the regular Joy-Cons.
Coupled with your Nintendo Switch Online membership is a vast catalogue of NES games that are playable straight from the console. And if you’re interested in emulating the good ol’ days, it might not be the worst idea to invest in a pair of NES controllers. You can even clip the NES gamepads onto the Switch itself, although this admittedly looks very weird. However, it is required that you have a Nintendo Switch Online membership before purchasing the product.
It’s also difficult to play normal Switch games with the NES controllers. There aren’t enough buttons for it to be compatible with them, while other games just won’t recognize its inputs properly. This should only be purchased if you intend to frequently play through the NES catalogue. Otherwise, you won’t get much use out of them, although they certainly look cool.
How to choose the best Nintendo Switch controller
Due to how different Nintendo Switch controllers can be, you need to think carefully about what you’re looking for.
If you need something that’s great for gaming while docked, the Pro Controller is a solid pick. Its larger buttons and comfortable grip will prove useful when playing fast-paced action games or platformers. Standard Joy-Cons are also good for playing while docked when attached to a Grip, and the versatility of these controllers allow them to seamlessly jump from handheld to tabletop mode.
If you’re looking for something exotic, we recommend either the GameCube Smash Bros. controller or the NES controllers. The former is a bit hard to find, so you’ll need to do some digging through third-party sellers. The latter is only useful when playing NES games on the Switch, so its purpose is admittedly quite narrow.
If you want something pocket-sized for travelling, the Little Wireless Controller is a solid bet. It has tons of buttons and a pretty lithe frame, making it a great pick for on-the-go gaming. And finally, the HORI Split Pad Pro is worth it for those who play Switch on its handheld mode and need a more comfortable grip.