Ultra N64 Controller Review - MiSTer Addons

Noticias

Ultra N64 Controller Review

Previous

Ultra N64 Controller Review

Introduction

Ahh yes, the most innovative controller of the 90s. Nintendo 64 launched during an era of transition from 2D gaming to expansive 3D utopia. The mid-90's were arguably the most exciting time in gaming. The sky was no longer the limit. Nothing was guaranteed in terms of performance, but a treasure trove of game ideas had just been unlocked. Developers, no doubt, spent many sleepless nights wrestling with the new platforms: Sega Saturn, Sony Playstation, and the Nintendo 64. 

Sony, the new kid on the block, followed in Sega's footsteps and centered their platform around optical media. Massive 650MB CDs were more than 10 times the capacity of Nintendo 64's cartridges.

Nintendo, known for lagging behind their peers in terms of hardware performance, was the first console to launch with an analog joystick on their controller. Sure, Sony and Sega also launched 3D controllers in 1996 but their platforms didn't launch with analog controls as a main feature.

If you haven't noticed by now, I care A LOT about controls. I've now spent hundreds of hours measuring latency on USB controllers and converters. Why does latency matter? Well, it gets in between the player and the action. But latency is just one characteristic of game controllers. Innovative controls allow developers to think outside the box. It gives them permission to try new gameplay mechanics and styles.

You can tell someone's age based on whether they know how to hold an N64 controller. If they're older than mid-40s, or younger than late 20's, they likely missed out on my favorite era of gaming. They'll hit you with this image before making the obligatory joke about smearing vaseline on their TV.

There are of course two valid ways to hold the N64 controller: one with the left hand one the left handle and the thumb resting on the d-pad

Image credit: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:N64-Controller-in-Hand.jpg

and the other with the center handle with the thumb resting on the analog stick. 

Image credit: https://www.nintendo.com/us/store/products/nintendo-64-controller/

I’m sure there are some games that encourage the left thumb on the d-pad and the right thumb on the analog stick (maybe first person shooters?) but I'm a 1.2 control style player in 007 GoldenEye so I wouldn't know :)

Like it or not, the N64 controller is actually pretty ahead of its time. Remember the Wiimote nunchuck? That's basically just the center section of the N64 controller! (Credit to Discord user MiSTerDolch for pointing this out to me.) 

​​

The L and Z buttons are programmed to be interchangeable if the game allows for multiple control styles but the vast majority of the games use the analog stick, Z, and the action buttons.

Enthusiastic rom hackers have patched in d-pad support into several games that required analog, like Yoshi’s Story. But never fear! We live in the era of MiSTer FPGA and the immensely talented Robert Peip is developing the N64 core at breakneck speed! When I asked Robert about adding a feature that allowed you to move the analog controls to the d-pad, he did one better and added an option to swap the d-pad and analog stick in the N64 core! Now I can play Mario Kart 64 on my Astro City cabinet just as Sega intended!

Choosing the Best Controller for You

When evaluating the sea of N64 controller options, there are a few forks in the path to the perfect controller for you.

  1. Original or modern (USB) hardware?
  2. If original, are you willing to refurbish an original controller?
  3. Wired or wireless controls (keeping in mind that wireless ALMOST always adds latency)
  4. Original controller shape, Hori Minipad shape, or modern Xbox shape controller
  5. N64-style stick or GameCube-style stick

My Picks

Classic N64 Wired Controllers

  • If you can source an OEM N64 or Hori MiniPad controller with a tight stick, do it! This is my #1 pick of all the solutions.
  • If you want a Hori-shaped controller, the two best aftermarket options are the Retro-Bit Tribute 64 Wired (GameCube-stick), or the dark horse Hyperkin Fleet Admiral (N64-style stick). I haven’t played both of these long enough

Classic N64 Wireless Controller

  • Out of the three options here, I have to give the nod to the RetroFighters Brawler64. It has a nice joystick pattern, and a modern controller shape. If I’m not mistaken it was also the first modern, wireless N64 controller

Modern USB/BT Controllers

This one is a bit tricky to delineate since some controllers work wired only while others work wired and wireless. Another caveat is that MiSTer’s N64 core applies an awesome correction to the analog range which results in similar accuracy for USB/BT controllers. I’m mostly evaluating these based on latency and ergonomics.

  • To my own surprise, the Saffun N64 Wireless controller is quite possibly my favorite. An incredible value at $33.99, my only complaint is that the analog stick makes contact at the base instead of the top so you don’t get the feel of the octagonal gate.
  • Retro Fighters Brawler64 Wireless (wired or wireless) has a great 4.51ms latency and a modern shape many gamers love.
  • Similarly great, the Retro-Bit Tribute 64 wired USB has that classic Hori MiniPad shape with 4.96ms of latency over wired USB.
  • If you're willing to mod your controller, the 8BitDo controller mod kit is great, with accurate joystick pattern and respectable latency (7.31ms wired, 9.03ms wireless).
  • If you're a Nintendo die hard, want the best build quality and don't mind higher latency (13.79ms wireless, 19.66ms wired), the NSO controller is the way to go. Note that driver support outside of MiSTer may be a challenge for all Nintendo Switch Online controllers. Correct me if this is wrong.

Controller Adapters

An OEM controller, paired with a great controller adapter is the least convenient but the best performing solution for modern emulation (MiSTer, or PC). 

  • SNAX / SNAX64 works exclusively with MiSTer. It connects the controller directly to the FPGA, bypassing USB and any other overhead. MiSTer’s N64 core supports cool peripherals like the Hey You, Pikachu! Microphone. With absolutely 0ms of latency, this is the one to get for MiSTer usage. (Note that this is my product so take into account inherent bias.)
  • There are three wired USB adapters that have incredible performance, while all being open source
    • Reflex Adapt (1.06ms) is a multi-mode adapter that uses HDMI-style controller adapters and supports two players in the N64 mode. There are many more modes than N64, and Adapt has a fun OLED that shows real-time controller input. Each Adapt mode gets a separate mapping on MiSTer. No conflicts or remapping when switching modes within the same core. (Note that this is my product so take into account inherent bias.)
    • Raph-net N64 V3 (1.6ms) This is a great, classic solution for N64 USB that supports two players and special peripherals when used with certain PC emulators. The only downside is availability. Make sure you use the PC utility to set the USB polling to 1ms.
    • Timville 4Dapter (1.7ms) The Timville 4Dapter is a great solution for those who want a single native N64 port along with a NES, SNES, and Genesis port. The only downside is the shared mappings for N64, meaning if you map for one controller, then switch to a different controller, the same mapping is used for a given core.
  • Standing proudly as not only the only wireless N64 adapter evaluated, but also boasting an incredible 1.6ms of latency, the Retro-fi 2.4GHz is a really unique solution. I haven’t tested this myself but boosector is a friend of mine and developed the MiSTercade control firmware, which is the fastest JAMMA2USB encoder tested! The only caveat is that the Retro-fi needs to be powered by an external battery, as there’s no internal battery charging circuitry.

Note: assume all links are affiliate

Detailed Results

There are so many aspects of a controller to evaluate but the three that matter most to me are latency, analog stick, and ergonomics. Warning: the stock N64 controller is one of my favorites, so keep that in mind.

Test Methodology

I used the MiSTer FPGA for the USB latency testing and the joystick tests. The analog stick test rom is this one: https://github.com/wermipls/mimi. I performed three tests (full revolutions) with each controller and the blue octagonal shape is the median of the three tests. You can see the 2 outlier test results as the faint gray outline. Note that these results may vary between the exact same models of controller depending on the manufacturer variance, wear, and tear.

Classic N64 Wired Controllers

These controllers are wired for use on original hardware. While it’s hard to beat the original, imho, several companies have stepped up to the plate. 

Summary

Make

Model

Controller Shape

Joystick Style

Joystick Gate

Joystick Error

Nintendo

N64

N64 OEM

N64

Nintendo

4.54% (reference  when mint)

Hori

N64 MiniPad

Hori N64 MiniPad

GameCube

Hori MiniPad N64

10.56% (reference when mint)

Hyperkin

Captain

N64 OEM

GameCube

Hori MiniPad N64

9.17%

Hyperkin

Fleet Admiral

Hori N64 MiniPad

Unique

Nintendo

6.27%

Kiwitata

Classic N64

Nintendo

N64

Nintendo

20.04%

MODESLAB

“Chori” N64

Hori N64 MiniPad

GameCube

Hori MiniPad N64

20.5%

Performance

Superpad 64

Unique

Unique

Nintendo

Performance

Superpad64 Plus

Unique

Unique

Nintendo

14.51%

Retro-Bit

Tribute 64 Wired N64

Unique

Unique

Hori MiniPad N64

13.19%

Retro Fighters

Brawler 64 Wired N64

Hori N64 MiniPad

Unique

Nintendo

7.94%

ZeroStory

Classic N64

Nintendo

N64

Custom

37.69%

Nintendo 64 OEM

What more can you say about this divisive controller? You love it or hate it but the N64 games were designed around this exact controller. The analog stick and gears wear out over time, resulting in loose. Consider replacing the stick if you experience this issue, and add a tiny bit of lubricating grease “while you’re in there” (Permatex 22058 Dielectric, Super Lube 92003, etc.) 

Hori N64 Mini Pad

Beloved peripheral manufacturer, Hori, created a fun and playful controller that swaps the location of the analog stick and DPad, removing the middle handle, and relocating the Z button to each shoulder (ZL and ZR) in the process. Both The analog stick is larger as is the gate (+/-100 vs +/-85 range). This makes the stick more sensitive. Anecdotally, the first one I bought had a totally loose stick like the one in the picture. The second one worked well, though.

Hyperkin Captain

A slightly stylized, GameCube stick version of N64's OG masterpiece. Decent build quality and fairly accurate to the Hori MiniPad analog stick. 

Hyperkin Fleet Admiral

I gotta admit, I really like this one. The stick is one of the only unique designs I've seen, and it's pretty good. The Dpad placement is better than Hori's MiniPad. Need to put more time on it but this one stands out.

Intec Gaming Warrior 64

One of the first, Hori N64 MiniPad clones. The joystick accuracy leaves a bit to be desired but the form factor is fun. Not bad for $17.99 

Kiwitata Classic N64

This is the same controller as the Saffun. The analog joystick shaft is too wide at the base, making contact with the gate nearly imperceivable. If you like feeling the gate, keep this in mind. Joystick accuracy isn’t great. The Saffun USB versions correct this behavior (on MiSTer), mapping everything neatly to a +/-85 analog range, with minimal outer deadzone.

iNNEXT “Chori” N64

Nicknamed "Chori" and sold under various brands, this Hori MiniPad-inspired controller has improved Dpad placement. Odd lower right and upper right stick results. I hear Smash players like Choris for their price and availability.

Performance SuperPad 64 

The definitive N64 "second player" controller. THICC controller with large center handle. Surprisingly accurate-to-oem analog stick but that's the only positive thing I have to say.

Performance SuperPad 64 Plus

The definitive “second player controller” part 2! I remember playing Jeremy McGrath Supercross using this at my friend's house. Wildest analog stick on any N64 controller I've used. It almost reminds me of the Vectrex stick. Despite my feelings about this pad, many users enjoy this one for specific games. The PC version is called the “MakoPad” PC by Interact.

POLYMEGA RC05

Overall a nice controller and maybe the best Hori N64 MiniPad clone of them all. The analog range is higher than the Hori but otherwise the build quality is pretty nice, featuring a nice nylon braided cable. The DPad could use some improvement: down accidentally triggers left or right directions fairly often. Polymega added Select and Menu buttons that work as follows:

Select = Down + Start

Polymega (menu) button = Up + Start

Retro Fighters Brawler64 Wired

A wired version of RF's modern N64 controller shape for use with N64s. The stick pattern looks like a reduced range Hori MiniPad, with noticeable issues in the upper-right and right positions of the analog stick.

Retro-Bit Tribute 64 Wired N64

A pretty faithful clone of the Hori N64 MiniPad from Retro-Bit. If you can't find a good Hori MiniPad, consider purchasing one of these. The analog range is slightly greater than the Hori but otherwise should perform well.

ZeroStory Classic N64

One of the controllers in the two-pack has a hexagonal gate. Wish I was joking. The other controller is OK. Don't go out of your way to get one. You can see the bad gate shape on the Amazon product listing.

Classic N64 Wireless Controllers

Are you bothered by wires? Have no fear, I’ve tested the most popular wireless N64 controllers for original hardware.

Make

Model

Controller Shape

Joystick Style

Joystick Gate

Joystick Error

Latency

Retro Fighters

Brawler64 Wireless

Modern

GameCube

Hori MiniPad N64

12.61%

Hyperkin

Admiral

Hori N64 MiniPad

GameCube

Hori MiniPad N64

5.65%

VR-Especial

The N64 Bit Controller

Unique

GameCube

Hori MiniPad N64

61.28%

Hyperkin Admiral

A wireless Hori MiniPad-inspired controller for the N64. This one has a GameCube style stick with a range similar to the N64 OEM stick. If you can't tell by now, it's really hard to match the gate shape of the OG N64 pad.

Retro Fighters Brawler64 Wireless

Very similar to the wired version of this controller, but this example didn't have an overextended right stick edge. By now you probably know whether you love this controller. It features a nice feeling joystick with a good gate feel and improved accuracy compared to the wired version. Some users complain of high latency but I haven’t tested it yet.

https://x.com/tigheklory/status/1761387604170137794

Retro-Bit Tribute 64 Wireless N64+USB

Duplicate inputs detected on SNAX. I haven't tried to verify the issue but it was repeatable at the time.

VR-ESPECIAL The N64 Bit Controller

Wow. Just wow. If you've seen this beast, you know what to expect. Look at that stick range! In case you think it's a fluke, that's the average of 3 passes. I even repeated the test. Same results. Instant classic!

Modern USB/BT N64 Controllers

Make

Model

Controller Shape

Joystick Style

Joystick Gate

Joystick Error

Mode

Compatibility

Latency

Retro-Bit

Tribute 64

Hori N64 MiniPad

GameCube

8BitDo

N64 Mod Kit

-

GameCube

Nintendo

1.07%

Dinput via BT

Dinput / Switch

9.03ms

8BitDo

N64 Mod Kit

-

GameCube

Nintendo

1.07%

Dinput via USB

Dinput / Switch

7.31ms

Hyperkin

Admiral

Hori N64 MiniPad

GameCube

GameCube

Joystick Error

Connection

Nintendo

N64 Switch Online

N64

N64

Nintendo

2.79%

BT

Switch

13.79ms

Nintendo

N64 Switch Online

N64

N64

Nintendo

2.79%

USB

Switch

19.66ms

Retro Fighters

Brawler64 Wireless

Modern

GameCube

Nintendo

4.88%

Dinput BT

Dinput

4.51ms

Retro Fighters

Brawler64 Wireless

Modern

GameCube

Nintendo

4.88%

Dinput USB

Dinput

4.51ms

Retro-Bit

Tribut 64 Wired USB

Hori N64 MiniPad

GameCube

Nintendo

Xinput

4.96ms

Retro-Bit

Tribut 64 Wireless

Hori N64 MiniPad

GameCube

Nintendo

8.45%

N64 via Reflex Adapt

6.76ms

Retro-Bit

Tribut 64 Wireless

Hori N64 MiniPad

GameCube

Nintendo

N64 via Reflex Adapt

Saffun

N64 Wired USB

N64 OEM

N64

Nintendo

5.95%

USB

6.25ms

Saffun

N64 Wireless

N64 OEM

N64

Nintendo

5.95%

2.4GHz USB

4.97ms

8BitDo N64 Mod Kit

Stellar joystick accuracy (on MiSTer), and respectable latency. The joystick uses Hall effect sensors but also has a clickable button that doesn't do anything. Great for retrofitting controllers. User feedback has been very positive for this one.

Nintendo Switch Online N64

The best build quality on this list. Nintendo does controllers right. My only complaints are that I can’t quite hit the right gate on my unit, and the latency could be a little better.

Retro Fighters Brawler64 Wireless Bluetooth

One of the first, modern-style N64 controllers. Nice MiSTer N64 core joystick accuracy and very good latency.

Retro-Bit Tribute64 Wired USB

A faithful MiniPad 64 clone (note the original Dpad placement for better or worse) with decent latency. The joystick feels nice but the accuracy is poor.

Retro-Bit Tribute64 Wireless USB

 

Retro-bit made a versatile Hori clone for use with original and modern hardware. The offset DPad differs from the wired N64 version of the Tribute 64. Similar analog stick range. Decent latency.

Saffun N64 Wired

A rare case of the wireless version being better than the wired version. Get the wireless version instead!

Saffun N64 Wireless

This controller is incredible. There, I said it. No one expects much from these generic controllers but Saffun really knocked this one out of the park. My only complaint is that the gate is slightly too large which makes it difficult for the joystick to contact it. You don’t feel the octagonal shape. Some of the diagonals were difficult to reach in the controller test. This is unlikely to affect gameplay.

Controller Adapters

Make

Model

Compatibility

Latency

MiSTer Addons

SNAX / SNAX64

MiSTer (SNAC)

0.0ms

Reflex

Adapt

Dinput (Xinput and Switch soon)

1.06ms

bootsector

RetroFi 2.4GHz

Dinput

1.63ms

Timville

4dapter

Dinput

1.7ms

Hyperkin

N64 USB Adapter

Switch

-

Mayflash

N64 USB Adapter

Dinput / Xinput

5.24 (Dinput)

Raph-net

N64 V3

Dinput

1.6ms

Hyperkin N64 Controller Adapter

This device is made for Switch and does not work with MiSTer. As such, no joystick nor latency testing was completed.

Mayflash N64 Controller Adapter

Mayflash's high availability adapters have aided gamers for nearly two decades. The latency isn't as low as other adapters and it's not open source, but it's not bad :) 

MiSTer Addons SNAX

SNAC is a feature of several MiSTer cores. It connects the controllers directly to the FPGA for absolute 0 latency (beyond the delay from level shifters.) Bottom line:  if you're on MiSTer and want to use original N64 peripherals, use SNAC! The core has been designed to work with rumble,Transfer Pak, Rumble Pak, Pikachu mic, and more! 0 latency.

No added latency. SNAX supports 2 players for N64 core. Native controller signals to MiSTer core without any overhead. Peripherals only work on their correct core. Plugs into IO board’s User Port (USB 3). 

MiSTer Addons SNAX64

SNAC is a feature of several MiSTer cores. It connects the controllers directly to the FPGA for absolute 0 latency (beyond the delay from level shifters.) Bottom line:  if you're on MiSTer and want to use original N64 peripherals, use SNAC! The core has been designed to work with rumble,Transfer Pak, Rumble Pak, Pikachu mic, and more! 0 latency. SNAX64 ETA = late March 2024.

No added latency. SNAX64 supports 4 players for N64 core. Native controller signals to MiSTer core without any overhead. Peripherals only work on their correct core. Plugs into IO board’s User Port (USB 3).

Raph-net N64 V3

Raph-net makes high quality, open source, controller adapters and has a great reputation. This N64 adapter is no different. With very low latency, the biggest challenge is to find these in stock. Some accessories are supported in certain PC emulators.

Reflex Adapt

More than a year in the making, the Adapt is one of many great USB converters for original N64 controllers. At 1.06ms, it's the fastest way to use N64 controllers on USB devices. Open source, too! Firmware can be customized to output original joystick range (+/-85) or expanded/modern range (+/-127).

RetroFi 2.4GHz adapter

This awesome controller adapter from Bootsector has extremely-low wireless latency. It has been updated to also output wired USB but idk the latency. Powered by a USB battery pack and built to be toddler-proof.

Timville 4dapter

A multi-purpose NES, SNES, Genesis, and N64 controller adapter based on DaemonBite, but updated and expanded functionality. It has the benefits of native ports. One con is that the mappings on MiSTer are shared between all inputs - no per-mode mappings for cores.Great latency and a cool creator!

Joystick Parts

Make

Model

Joystick Style

Joystick Gate

Joystick Error

Kitsch-Bent

N64

N64

N/A

4.71%

Retro-Bit

Hall Effect Analog Stick

GameCube

Hori MiniPad N64

13.53%

Generic

GameCube Replacement w/ Rubber coating

GameCube

Hori MiniPad N64

25.99%

Kitsch-Bent

n64 joystick thumbstick

Kitsch-Bent makes affordable joystick replacement parts for N64. Some users complain of a rough feeling to these while other say they're fine as is. Keep expectations low and plan on sanding to preference if you go this route.

RetroBit Hall Effect Analog stick

Image Credit: Amazon.com

These sticks have a very nice analog range, however users report poor latency with these Retro-Bit analog sticks. Smash players in particular say these are unusable. I don't have an objective way to measure the latency so I'll leave it at that.

8BitDo Hall Effect Analog stick

Image Credit: https://shop.8bitdo.com/products/8bitdo-mod-kit-for-original-n64-controller

If you’re in the market for a replacement stick and you like the GameCube style, just get this. It’s great. My only complaint is that the joystick has a clickable button. It’s not connected to anything but it’s still able to be clicked.

Aftermarket GameCube-style analog stick replacements

I’m not sure where I got this rubber-coated GameCube-style stick but just beware that this is the kind of performance you might expect from these.

Premium analog stick replacements

I don’t have any experience with these but here are links to top-tier stick solutions from various creators. Prices are high and inventory is scarce so proceed with caution.

SteelSticks64: https://steelsticks64.com/

Oudini: https://oudini-shop.com/

TaoStyx64: https://taostyx64.com/

For a great history of premium stick replacements, watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzq1IXt79SQ

Accuracy

Modern analog joysticks have a range of +/-127 for both axes. N64 used an octagonal gate to restrict the joystick movement to +/-85.

Rather than bore you with details, let me provide with an excellent video for you to check out regarding N64 stick replacements

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQVPmj1v1lA&list=WL&index=8&t=1228s&pp=gAQBiAQB

      Conclusion

      The N64 controller was revolutionary. It dragged gamers into the 3D era. Its legacy includes the GameCube controller which ditches one of the three handles, replaces the C buttons with a C analog stick, adds X and Y buttons, while making the A button cartoonishly large and allowing the user to use both Z and L at the same time. (Speaking of GameCube shoulder buttons, did you know that L and R are both analog and digital? There are digital buttons at the bottom of the trigger pull.) Gamecube’s controller was the last experiment in a long line of gamepads. From then on, we got slight variations of dual analog + dual shoulder + 4 face-button controllers,. though, I admit that Sony’s DualSense adaptive triggers are pretty incredible.

      Bonus Content

      Want to dive deeper? Check out this amazing writeup: https://nickthename.github.io/guides/controllers.html

      Check out this video for more joystick testing:



      By Mister Addons
      0 Comments

      Leave a comment