8BitDo has made a name for themselves in recent years, bucking the accepted 'truth' that third party controllers have to be low quality junk.
Initially making what were essentially just very good, updated clones of classic Nintendo designs, they've continued to improve, with recent controllers like the SN30Pro+ and M30 standing out as excellent in their own right.
The new 8BitDo Arcade Stick is a continuation of that evolution, with a design that echoes cues from the NES era, implemented in a modern, minimalistic way. Its aesthetics aren't too far off from what you might expect from Teenage Engineering products.
Design and Hardware Overview
The packaging the Arcade Stick comes in feels fairly high quality - the printing is clear and colorful, and the foam that secures the Stick is very robust - it feels like it could take a lot of abuse.
Instructions stickers are present out of the box.
When you first take the stick out of the box, a couple of vinyl stickers are attached, explaining the basic functions of several knobs, switches and buttons. This sticker comes off cleanly, leaving no residue, via an easy tab on the left.
The first of the knobs at the top left allow you to turn the stick on in either Switch or XInput mode. The second selects which input the actual joystick will map to - the d-pad, left or right thumbstick.
You also have a pairing button and a home button, along with a button that defaults to Turbo or Share, depending on mode.
The rear cubby and the 2.4ghz dongle hiding inside.
The bottom has four large rubber pads in the corners, which keep the stick solidly on a surface and prevent it from sliding around.
There's also a small hatch in the rear, which stores the 2.4ghz dongle. This is where the USB-C port is located. The hatch latch is notched so it can close even when the controller is plugged in via USB.
Dynamic button labels - in this case for Xbox-style controls.
One novel feature here is that the legends for the buttons are dynamic and will change depending on mode.
The labels are LED illuminated, but the brightness has been chosen perfectly so that it seems to match the intensity of the buttons in a well lit room; It doesn't look like a light unless you have the room lights low.
The stick also features two macro buttons - P1 and P2 in the upper right - which can be set via 8BitDo's Ultimate software. I'll explore this in its own section below.
The arcade stick as a whole feels very well built - it's hefty, weighing over 2kg, and feels solid in your hands. The buttons and joystick do feel like actual arcade components, and the other function buttons all have a nice, tactile response.
8BitDo advertises the stick as being compatible with the Switch and PC. That "PC" mode, though, actually exposes it as a XInput controller - essentially the same as a wired Xbox 360 controller - so it should work everywhere an Xbox controller would.
On PC, I plugged in the included 2.4ghz receiver, turned the controller on, and started testing it with some games: Street Fighter V, Micro Mages, Shovel Knight, and a few others. It performed beautifully in all of these - the standard super moves in Street Fighter were fine, wall jumping in Micro Mages was flawless, etc.
I then moved over to my MiSTer setup and loaded up some Capcom arcade games - Street Fighter II Turbo and X-Men - before moving over to the NeoGeo and a run through all of the first Metal Slug. Again, the stick worked exactly as it should, with no perceptible lag at all over the 2.4ghz wireless connection.
For the Switch, the controller needs to be in Bluetooth mode. I set that and turned it on, with first knob in the 'S' position.
Then, using the Switch's Controller Order screen I pressed the L+R buttons to pair it. This all worked flawlessly, just like a first party controller, and it synced right back up when I returned to the console later. The controller sadly cannot actually power on the system the way an official Pro controller can.
On Switch, I happened to be replaying Hollow Knight and had just arrived at the White Palace. This is a complex platforming challenge, and was a perfect place to test the controller. I definitely didn't do it on my first try, but I was able to get through the whole palace in about 15 minutes. (for those familiar with Hollow Knight, no, I did not do the Path of Pain - I've already beaten it once, and that's enough for me)
The arcade stick was responsive and accurate the whole time, and I didn't perceive any input lag - I'm sure there is some, given the nature of bluetooth, but the experience was comparable to what I felt with an official Nintendo Pro Controller.
Remapping and Macros
8BitDo also advertises the controller's macro functions and remappable controls, and these are both accessed through their "Ultimate" software, a free download off 8BitDo's website.
Given how bad most software from PC accessory makers is, I was initially concerned this would be a bit of low-quality junk, but that turned out to be completely unfounded.
The software is intuitive to use and very straightforward. After starting the software, you'll be asked to plug in the controller via USB. Once you've done that, an image of the controller will be displayed with a map of all current inputs.
Remapping inputs is as simple as selecting one and choosing the new function.
You can store different profiles for the different modes, so remapping your Switch buttons, for example, will not affect the XInput mode.
The controller macros are also simple - to add one, you press the '+' button, then press the sequence of buttons to press (and how long to press them), then select which button to bind it to.
Once you're done, a press of the 'Sync to Controller' button will complete the process. Like remapping, you can have different macros in the different controller modes.
Versus Other Arcade Controllers
There are plenty of options for arcade sticks, with reliable offerings from Hori and Madcatz and other that have been around for years. It's also one area where people regularly build their own.
I'll be comparing the 8BitDo to a Madcatz Tournament Edition S fightstick I've been using for years, along with a homebuilt stick I made almost a decade ago. The Madcatz uses Sanwa parts, while my own homemade controller uses parts from Happ Controls - if you played Mortal Kombat or Killer Instinct back in the 90s, Happ buttons and joysticks will feel immediately familiar to you.
The 8BitDo is notably smaller than the other sticks in basically every dimension. It's still very solid and stable, but it's immediately clear that it's also the lightest of the three.
Comparing to the Madcatz, the joystick on the 8BitDo is virtually identical. They both use a square gate, and the sticks have very similar throw. The buttons on the Madcatz are very similar to the 8BitDo, but feel slightly better, and are just a tad quieter when pressed hard - they rattle ever so slightly less.
The Happ controls in the homebuilt stick are very different. The joystick has more throw - it moves further before stopping - and is considerably taller. Both feel well built, but as a matter of taste, I prefer the sticks in the 8BitDo and Madcatz. The buttons are also very different - both are good quality, but again, this will likely come down more to preference than anything else. If you grew up playing western arcade cabinets, the Happ buttons might be more familiar, while people who've played more recent Capcom fighters will probably prefer the Sanwa style.
Ultimately, I was satisfied with the performance of the 8BitDo compared to the others - it's hitting a level of quality very comparable to the established players in the space.
While modding console accessories is normally fairly uncommon, it's a big thing with arcade controllers, and particularly in the fighting game community, where many players have very particular tastes in joystick travel and button feel.
8BitDo actively marketed this controller as being easily moddable, so I ordered a set of buttons and a joystick from Sanwa, generally regarded as one of the better makers of arcade equipment.
A Sanwa joystick and 8 Sanwa 30mm buttons.
I've been happy with how the joystick and buttons of the controller performed - I'm swapping these new parts in mostly to test whether 8BitDo's claims of being easily moddable are legit.
The controller is held together with six clearly accessible screws on the bottom. These are hex-head screws and my 2mm driver fit them well. After removing these screws, the top and bottom separated easily. A single ribbon cable with an easily released connector is all that connects the two halves.
Right off the bat you can see that much of the stick's weight come from a stack of steel plates tightly fit into the bottom half of the controller. This is is a common solution in arcade controllers to provide stability during use, and is well implemented here.
Looking at the buttons from the rear, the wires are all individually labelled, and you can see that the buttons use the standard Sanwa panel mount, and should be easily removable.
The Joystick is also a very standard design with a square gate, and most sticks you might choose to replace it with should fit fine. One promising option might be the Mag-Stick Plus from Ultimarc, a joystick which can switch between 4-way and 8-way operation simply by lifting and rotating the stick - that could be a major improvement for fans of games like Pac-Man that really benefit from a true 4-way joystick.
Moving back to the buttons, I proceded to disconnect and pop out the top rightmost button. Comparing it directly to a Sanwa button, it is very similar indeed, though the mold lines on the 8BitDo button aren't quite as well defined as those on the Sanwa part.
A Sanwa and 8Bitdo button. Can you tell which is which?
The Sanwa button went in with no issue, and the connectors fit right back on. I went ahead and swapped out the rest of the buttons in about ten minutes - there was no real trouble at any point; some of the connectors were a little tight and required working back and forth a bit to remove, but that's the worst I encountered.
I then moved to the stick, and this is the first point where I encountered some resistance. The stick itself can be removed with just four screws, but the cables have been soldered to the microswitch tabs, with a separate ground for each switch. This is common, but it does mean you'll either need to desolder the microswitches to re-use the connector or get an 8-pin connector and prepare your stick's wiring ahead of time. My Sanwa stick came equipped with a 5-pin connector with a common ground, and it only took about 20 minutes to splice the cables and get it installed.
The PCB with the joystick and buttons connectors.
I went ahead and pulled the black collar off the 8BitDo joystick and put it on the new one so it maintained the same look.
With the buttons and the joystick swapped, it was a simple matter of reconnecting the ribbon cable to the bottom of the case and screwing in the six screws and... the mod was done.
So how did it turn out? To be honest, I feel no real improvement in the joystick - 8BitDo did a great job with the stock one, and it has the same square gate and similar range of movement to the Sanwa stick - the stock joystick might have just slightly more throw, but its very comparable.
I don't really see a need to replace the stick unless you have very specific tastes or are going to put in a 4-way stick, as mentioned above.
The buttons, though... those are a real improvement. I was happy with the stock buttons - they feel good and performed well. But the Sanwa buttons just feel a teensy bit better and they definitely rattle less than the 8BitDo ones do.
Given how cheap good arcade buttons are - $20 for a set of 8 - and that it only takes around 15 minutes, I could definitely recommend swapping in new buttons for those that feel comfortable opening up their controller.
It turns out 8BitDo makes a solid arcade stick - probably not a surprise to anyone who's used their recent controllers like the SN30Pro+ or M30.
It worked great on the Switch, PC and my MiSTer setup, and lived up to the claims of being easily moddable.
If you're in the market for an arcade style controller, this is definitely one you should consider. Currently listed at $89.99 on Amazon, it's a solid value for the price.