Review: PowerA Wireless Controller for Nintendo Switch — GameCube Style

It’s-a me, nostalgia.

It’s odd now to think that the GameCube was a failure. Video game aficionados have reappraised Nintendo’s idiosyncratic little box in the intervening years, but the narrative of the day was how far Nintendo had fallen since the Nintendo 64 days, itself a massive step down from the dominance it maintained from the NES and Super NES eras. History has been kind to Ninty’s petite block, with many of the most well-remembered games of all time residing on its miniDVDs (one reason for its poor sales, as it was the only system of the time unable to tap into the burgeoning DVD market), like Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Luigi’s Mansion, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Metroid Prime, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, Resident Evil 4 and more.

Today, Nintendo’s fortunes have changed, with the Switch being a smashing success. Noted third-party accessory maker PowerA has jumped into the lucrative Switch market with cases, accessories and controllers of all types (mostly wired gamepads angled at people wanting a second controller that’s cheaper than Nintendo’s official Pro Controller), but with the impending launch of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the venerable manufacturer is offering wireless controllers in the iconic shape of the GameCube’s input devices (considered to be the finest way to play the Mario Kart of fighting games).

Let’s get this out of the way first: I regard the first-party Pro Controller from Nintendo as the finest gamepad ever made, so the only true draw of this device is its nostalgic form factor. But nostalgia is a helluva drug, so I did indeed take the plunge.

The first thing you’ll note when you pick up the Wireless GameCube Controller (hereafter the WGC, just to save myself from carpal tunnel syndrome) is its lightness. Three major features of the Joy-Con and Pro Controllers are missing: the HD rumble motors (hence the lessened weight), NFC reader (i.e. no amiibo will be scanned on this), and IR functionality. Their absences aren’t dealbreakers, but they should be noted.

Rather than focus on what the controller lacks, however, let’s look at what’s there. The D-pad is blessedly larger than the one on the original GameCube’s controller, which was notoriously tiny. Otherwise, the feel of the controller is almost identical to the original device, with the addition of a slim ZL button to mirror the original Z buttom above the normal shoulder triggers. This fidelity is something of a mixed bag. As well-regarded as the GameCube controller is, we’ve made substantial strides in ergonomic design, and the parallel hand grips, along with the triggers not being slanted along the natural lay of the fingers, can be a little trying over long gaming periods. The Bluetooth connectivity seems solid, at least in my experience. I’ve not tried any fighting games that would require split-second timing, but I’ve not had any issue in Diablo III or the more demanding platform challenges of Super Mario Odyssey. The kidney-shaped X and Y button have always been an oddity to me, and while they work well enough, mentally adjusting from the now-standard diamond-shaped arrangement isn’t terribly natural (the games designed specifically for the GameCube utilized this unique layout as an inviting learning experience for non-gamers, subtly conveying their general usage through size, color and placement). Another plus to me is the return of the joysticks’ hexagonal gates, though I recognize they’re an acquired taste. And once connected, the WGC has the ability to wake and sleep the Switch, in case you are (like me) lazy and don’t want to get up every time.

The fit and finish of the device isn’t bad, though it does feel lighter and cheaper than the original GameCube. It runs on two AA batteries (a pair of which are included), and it’s reported to hit 30 hours of use-time, though I haven’t pushed that yet. And it comes in a nice variety of colors, from the GameCube’s classic Indigo (the one I got for my wife to play the upcoming Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles) to Black, Gold (a GameStop exclusive), Gray, and Silver (similar to the Gray but with a metallic finish).

If you’re looking for a second controller and don’t need the more premium features of the official Pro Controller, or if you’re just wanting a blast of nostalgia, PowerA’s Wireless Controller — GameCube Style is a solid purchase, particularly if you can find it for under its MSRP of $49.99 USD. It’s not perfect, but nostalgia goggles have thick enough lenses that it’s easy to overlook the shortcomings.

Note: For those who want to give it a shot but not drop $50, there are also wired alternatives that run half the price of the wireless options: $24.99. I can’t imagine buying a wireless controller in this, the year 2018, but to each their own.