The Raspberry Pi is one of the smallest computers to date. It has the potential for such a large number of things. One of its uses comes with the Retropie gaming emulation system. You can also run it off of your system if it meets the requirements. But playing on the Retropie would only be fitting using one of these Retropie Controllers that we reviewed.
The reason we say that is because retro games need retro-style controllers. But using retro controllers on a modern system is impossible, that is why there are so many imitations. Of course, you are not limited to using these retro-styled controllers.
Raspberry Pi has come a long way from its conception. If you have any idea about what Raspberry Pi is capable of, you will not regret investing time into Retropie. The latest Raspberry Pi, which is Raspberry Pi 4 is much more efficient as well.
You can use one of the modern console or PC controllers for the purpose. But it takes away all the fun from the retro games if you play them on modern controllers. To be honest, 2-D games or even 3-D ones in older consoles did not require sensitive thumbsticks. They do not even require sensitive triggers either.
So using a modern console controller is fine, but it is not the best experience. And when we are talking about retro games, like Super Mario, you need the compact button layout of an NES or SNES controller.
Although, if you do need thumbsticks, these retro-style controllers are your fix. Because not only do they have the stiff d-pad and buttons from the older console days, but flexible and sensitive thumbsticks too. So these controllers are for more than just your Retropie, they can be used for multiple platforms.
Buyer’s Guide for Best Retropie Controllers
So a lot of people out there who are enthusiasts would like to buy retro-themed controllers. But what people do not know is that they do not have limited usage. They are not only for playing retro games but can also be used to play modern titles. They are compatible with Steam, consoles, and Android devices.
So people often dislike wired controllers, the reason is that wires limit movement. It is a valid point, we do not want to be bound by wires, that is why wireless technology has advanced so much. You have big name brands working on wireless mice and keyboards that have as minimal latency as wired ones.
So with that in mind, people would prefer a wired controller over a wireless one. But there might be a very negligible but almost noticeable latency in wireless controllers. Especially if you use them on something like the built-in Bluetooth of a Raspberry Pi.
There are adapters that can solve that problem. But as we said, it is almost negligible and only slightly noticeable in some titles. But if you want an authentic retro experience, you can go for a wired one. Better yet, but one that is connectable wireless and wired, both ways.
Controllers have a long battery life, they do not need frequent charges. But you will need to charge them nonetheless. In that aspect, wired controllers are ever ready, that you just plug and play with them without having to worry about charge.
But then again being limited by wires is too old school even if you are playing old school games. Rather than that, you should find a controller that has decent battery life. Something like the 8Bitdo SF30 has 16-hour plus battery life. You rarely need to change this unless you are someone who spends most of their time in front of a screen, gaming.
There are no controllers specifically designed for the Retropie in mind. But the emulator can pretty much emulate anything that is below the PS2. We are talking about some very old consoles here. So they have a very limited number of button configurations.
Playing something like Castlevania: Simon’s Quest 3 on a modern PS4 controller seems odd. If you really are a retro gaming enthusiast, you should totally opt for something like the 8Bitdo controllers.
They are in a familiar retro-style layout, plus the experience matters as well. When playing games, the experience takes you the extra mile in enjoying.
But long story-short most controllers that can work on the PC and other consoles can work on the Retropie. Of course, you might require some technical assistance to connect something like the PS4 controller. Like installing DS4 or a toolkit similar to that in your Raspberry Pi.
You can pick any of the controllers on our list though without worrying about compatibility as we checked them all.
Controller Size and Ergonomics
Size matters in controllers. This is something you cannot change. Something like the 8Bitdo SF30 is neat and all, but it is small in size. If you are playing it for the experience, it’s all well and good.
But the controller is too small for bigger hands and you might feel uncomfortable after a while. If you can make a switch to the 8Bitdo Sn30 Pro+, which has handles, you are all set.
It makes it easier to press the trigger buttons on the top, which otherwise require you to squeeze your hand in an awkward position for too long. After an hour or so of not having a proper hand position, your hand will tire out and in the worst-case scenario start to hurt.
So rather than putting yourself through a painstaking experience just for the experience, opt for a bigger controller. But if you are someone with smaller hands or medium-sized hands, you might not feel that pain or fatigue in your hands.
Best Retropie Controllers in 2021 Reviewed
Many people were complaining about the 8Bitdo SF30 and other controllers being too small. But seems like the company heard their pleas and launched the SN30+ controller for bigger hands.
You cannot do anything about smaller hands or bigger hands. You have to work your way around by buying things that are comfortable for your hands. That is why there is a variety of products by brands for people with all sizes of hands.
Some products even have what we call adjustability for hand sizes. But having a totally personalized product goes well in the long run. The 8Bitdo seems to understand that and introduced the SN30+ a controller with handles.
The handles on the controller feel comfortable and they are actually great for playing longer sessions. The SF30 on the other hand can be severely uncomfortable if you have large hands. This is specifically the case if you have mapped triggers to something important.
While playing on the Retropie might not require you to map buttons to your triggers. But having that added functionality is always a benefit when you are using one controller for multiple purposes.
The handles under the SN30+ just make the controller that more comfortable while retaining somewhat of the retro-theme that enthusiasts love. However, you are not going to have a completely authentic experience because of that.
So it all depends on you in the end, whether ergonomics matter to you more than experience or vice versa. So the controller has a total of 14 mappable buttons. With the included software you can adjust things like the thumbstick sensitivity as well.
It also has rumble packs for vibration functionality, which can also be adjusted in the 8Bitdo software. The thumbsticks also have an anti-slip outer rim on outer edges to avoid slippage while intense gameplay.
The 8Bitdo is a Bluetooth controller, so you can connect it wirelessly and wired using the included Type-C cable. The controller is also charged using the Type-C cable which is included with the controller at the time of purchase.
Also, the best thing about this controller is its huge battery life. You can actually run this controller without charge for 16-hours with ease. This means this will require charging twice a week or so.
It works with the Raspberry Pi out of the box, so there will be no compatibility issues with this controller. At least, we did not face any compatibility issues and it was plug and play for us mostly.
The DS4 works excellently with the Retropie, so those of you who already own a PS4 are in luck. You might not want to buy another controller and can use your traditional DS4 for the job.
Now when Sony announced the PS4, the controller was a huge highlight. We saw it ourselves, people were amazed and frantic over the PS4’s controller. The controller has been chosen as one of the best by gamers all over.
Some might argue that title belongs to the Xbox 360 controller, but that is preference-based. So let us keep the Playstation vs. Xbox arguments out of this review here.
If you have a DS4 lying around, it’s a great opportunity to make good use of it on your Retropie. Specifically, if you are someone who wants to play Playstation 1 titles.
Since the Retropie can emulate PS1 games no problem, the DS4 controller is a perfect pair. People have found it difficult to pair their DS4 with Retropie for some reason.
But for most people, it connects seamlessly. There are ways to detect Bluetooth devices from options. You can connect your DS4 after it detects it wirelessly.
We do not need to tell people who own a PS4 the benefits or configuration of a DS4 controller. But for those who are up for taking up the controller for the first time, the DS4 is a remarkable controller.
It is durable and has stood the test of time for a lot of people. It has a great battery life, you can connect it to your Retropie wirelessly after it detects it.
We found the Dual Shock 4 controller to be one of the best Retropie controllers in the market. But if you are someone who has played games on the PS4 for a long time, you will know what we mean by that.
The downside is the price, the DS4 is kind of expensive right now, priced at $60 to $65. You can find better prices depending on where you buy it from or if there is a sale on the site.
The 8Bitdo SF30 is a great choice for those who require a classic style controller. But if you are on a tight budget, the Retroflag Classic Wired USB controller is also a great choice.
So some people are real classicists and want something that is a perfect imitation of the classic controller. You will find people buying or 3D printing classic cases for their Retropie to install it in as well.
The 8Bitdo is a perfect controller for those people, as not only does it have a classic layout, but is also compatible with modern-day games. But it does have thumbsticks and triggers on it, so it is not an exact imitation either.
Compared to that the Retroflag Classic Wired USB controller not only gives a classic look but stays true to it. There are no thumbsticks on this controller or even shoulder triggers.
It pairs easily with the Raspberry Pi and Retropie as well. So there are no compatibility issues whatsoever with the controller. It can work with PC as well, so it is multiplatform compatible.
The controller is connected through a USB-A wire that can be inserted into the Raspberry Pi USB port. The Pi will detect it without any issues whatsoever, at least ours did without creating any problems.
The controller sticks to the original SNES controller when it comes to the button layout. You can find a purple and grey color scheme as well. The controller is plastic and feels pretty light in the hands.
The controller will cost you around $14 on Amazon, that is where we suggest you buy it from. We added another link just for the sake of convenience.
Best Fighting Stick
Being a fan of retro games, you must have had spent quite some time in an arcade. If you want to relive the experience of being in arcades then nothing better than the Hori Fighting Stick Mini.
The Hori Fighting Stick Mini has been officially licensed by Nintendo for the Switch Console. The fight stick is compatible with the Raspberry Pi and Retropie without any troubles.
If you are someone who is a retro game fan, you have definitely hung out at arcades. We really loved playing Tekken at the arcade back in the day.
Reliving the days would mean either getting a whole arcade machine and fitting it with a Pi or just purchasing a fight stick. While it is not a complete arcade experience, it is still a great one.
Hori has budget options for all consoles. All of them or most of them are licensed by the console manufacturer making it compatible with it. This fight stick by HORI worked without any hassles by just plugging it in the Raspberry Pi.
We tried playing some of the titles on the fight stick and were actually surprised at how it improved our gameplay on certain fighting games. Playing retro Tekken and Street Fighter titles felt great on the Hori Fight Stick Mini.
Since it is officially licensed by Nintendo, it means the fight stick has great quality. However, we would not want you to pound on it after losing a game since it is still not an arcade machine. Those arcade machines could take quite the abuse, we doubt this would be able to take it.
It is priced at $50-$55 depending on the source you buy it from. You might even find them renewed for a lower price. You can also purchase the fight stick with some really beautiful skins for added personalization. It will cost extra though, so keep that in mind.
This used to be our favorite before we started taking a liking towards the SN30+. The SF30 Pro Controller by 8Bitdo is not a bad controller in the least though. It is light, compact, and works really well wirelessly.
Just that its size is a bit too small to fit in large hands and some of the people here had trouble playing on it. Pressing the triggers requires you to scrunch your hands in an uncomfortable position due to gripping issues.
If you do not map any controls to the triggers though, you might not dislike this controller in the least. The SF30 Pro controller works almost 16-hours plus wirelessly and can also be used wired as well.
It uses a Type-C wire for charging that is included with the controller. You can charge it and play using the wire as well. The controller sticks true to the classic layout but with the addition of thumbsticks and triggers.
You can also find this in the classic purple and grey layout as well. It is the SN30 model, it costs the same as the SF30. The thumbsticks are pretty good, comparable to some high-end controllers.
There is also rumble vibration on these controllers as well for when you are playing games on PC or Switch. It is compatible with the Retropie and works without even the slightest of issues.
The controller is a tad bit expensive, as it costs around $45 on Amazon.
If you are really old school, you might remember the NES controller. The Hyperkin Cadet Premium NES-Style controllers basically copy that layout. They are premium NES style controllers that come in a pair of 2 and go perfectly with NES emulations on Retropie.
The benefit of having true to the classic controller layout is not having to worry about mapping all these buttons. The downside is that you only are able to play emulators that only need that limited number of buttons.
Unless you have money to throw around for the perfect NES experience, we prefer something like the 8Bitdo SF30. But if you are in for it for the perfect experience, nothing beats the old-school retro-style controller.
The Hyperkin is pretty simple and a plain copy of the NES controller with 4 buttons in total and a d-pad. Out of the 4 buttons, two are for start and select, the other two are for playing games.
So you are severely limited to the console emulation selection while playing with this controller. As we said, if you are a diehard enthusiast, go for it.
The pair costs about $35 on Amazon, which is kind of expensive, but at least they come in pair. They use a wired connection using USB-A ports.