8bitdo Pro 2 controller review: Excellence refined

Eric Abent - Apr 5, 2021, 10:37am CDT
8bitdo Pro 2 controller review: Excellence refined
Editors' Rating: 9/10
Pros
  • Excellent construction that feels sturdy
  • A must-have D-pad for retro gamers
  • Refines the already excellent SN30 Pro+ in useful ways
  • 8bitdo Ultimate Software comes to mobile for easier customization
Cons
  • Still isn't a fully-featured Pro Controller replacement for the Switch

I’ve used a handful of 8bitdo controllers throughout the years, and the SN30 Pro+ always stood out as one of the best to me. 8bitdo itself has described the SN30 Pro+ as the most advanced controller it has ever made, but now it’s got a successor: the 8bitdo Pro 2. You’d be forgiven for thinking the Pro 2 is the SN30 Pro+ at first blush, because the two controllers look very similar. However, there are a few key differences that the Pro 2 brings to the table, and it’s clear that it’s going to be 8bitdo’s new flagship controller.

Indeed, if one were to compare the faces of both controllers side-by-side, they’d certainly be right to question if it was really necessary to launch an entirely new controller with an entirely new. After all, both controllers look almost the same, save for a button that has taken up residence in between the Pro 2’s thumbsticks. This is the profile button, and at long last, it allows you to change between three profiles you can define in 8bitdo’s Ultimate Software.

This is a pretty big deal for those who like to have granular control over their controller layouts or prefer to have specific layouts for different platforms. While you could customize layouts on the SN30 Pro+, there wasn’t a way to store multiple profiles onboard. For those of you who like to switch it, that meant that you’d have to connect to the Ultimate Software every time you wanted to change your button mapping, which could be time-consuming and annoying depending on how often you wanted to change things.

With the Pro 2, however, you can just define three profiles once through the Ultimate Software app, sync them to the controller, and then swap through them whenever you want using that button. If the goal is to have a controller that you can use between platforms with ease, the presence of that button definitely gets us closer to that goal being realized.

The introduction of the profile button is great, but there are more changes when we turn our attention to the back of the controller, where there are two new rear-facing buttons, an input switch, and the battery compartment (which comes housing a rechargeable battery pack).

The rear-facing buttons are pretty self-explanatory – they’re two extra buttons you can map however you please – but I do want to note that I’ve accidentally hit these buttons a shockingly low number of times. Usually with rear-facing buttons, I find that I’m hitting them when I don’t actually intend to, perhaps as a result of gripping the controller during tense gameplay segments and forgetting they’re there. The Pro 2’s rear buttons are placed pretty far up the grip, so they aren’t in the way and don’t get inadvertently activated as a result. With both hands on the controller and both index fingers on the triggers, my middle fingers fall perfectly on the rear buttons, so I’d say they’re definitely placed well.

While the profile button is super useful and the rear buttons seem to be not only well made but well placed, it’s that input switch I’m most interested in. Like the SN30 Pro+, the Pro 2 comes with four different input modes: Switch, macOS, X-input (Windows), and D-input (Android). On the SN30 Pro+, starting into one of these modes requires you to hold the start button in addition to a specific face button.

I’ve started the SN30 Pro+ into the wrong input mode enough times for this to be frustrating, but in the Pro 2, it’s as simple as setting the switch to the mode you want, pressing start, and then popping the controller into pairing mode (which is only needed the first time you’re connecting to a new device). The addition of that little switch makes pairing more consistent, so it’s good to have it along for the ride.

8bitdo quotes 20 hours of battery life on a full charge, and that’s in line with what I’ve experienced in my testing. That’s the same amount of battery life we’re told to expect from the SN30 Pro+, so if you’ve used one of those controllers before, you’ve already got a good idea of how long the Pro 2 will last. In fact, it looks like 8bitdo includes the same 1,000mAh battery pack with both controllers, so there aren’t really any surprises in the battery department.

It is worth pointing out that the battery pack is removable, and popping it out of the battery compartment allows you to use two AA batteries in its place. Admittedly, the scenarios where you’d rather use AA batteries instead of the battery pack are probably pretty limited, but that flexibility is useful for times where you don’t expect to be able to charge the battery pack consistently. Years from now, when that battery pack starts losing capacity after a ton of recharge cycles, it’ll be nice that the controller supports AA batteries as well.

One other big change that’s shipping along with the Pro 2 is new functionality for 8bitdo’s Ultimate Software, which is now available on iOS and Android. The iOS and Android versions of Ultimate Software only work with the Pro 2 (for now at least), but as far as I can tell, the mobile implementations offer all the same functionality as the Ultimate Software on Windows. You can create three profiles with unique button mapping, change the sensitivity of the sticks and the triggers, change the intensity of the Pro 2’s vibration, and even set macros.

We could do most of that with the Ultimate Software and the SN30 Pro+, but this is the first time we’ve been able to do it on a smartphone. When used on mobile, the app connects to your controller over Bluetooth, allowing you to wirelessly sync your changes – whatever those may be.

The mobile app seems to work pretty well, as I had no problem mapping the rear buttons on the controller or tweaking the sensitivity of the triggers and the thumbsticks (which you can also invert or even swap using Ultimate Software). With the SN30 Pro+, I didn’t think there was a whole lot of use for macros since you didn’t really have options for mapping them to buttons that weren’t already spoken for, but those rear-facing buttons on the Pro 2 serve as perfect macro buttons this time around.

I’m not sure exactly what it is, but the Pro 2 feels just a little bit better in my hands than the SN30 Pro+ does. I’m not sure if it’s the added texture on the back of the grips or if 8bitdo changed the curves on those grips ever so slightly, but whatever it is, the Pro 2 is a very comfortable controller with excellent, sturdy construction.

The buttons all feel great, and the D-Pad in particular is probably the best D-Pad I’ve used since the SNES days. If you’re a fan of retro games or 2D games and you need a good D-Pad, the one on the Pro 2 won’t disappoint – I bought the SN30 Pro+ because of its D-Pad and I imagine people will buy the Pro 2 for the same reason. The sticks feel solid too, so don’t think that my praise for the D-Pad means that this is only a good choice for retro gamers.

If I have one complaint about the layout of the controller, it’s that the star and heart buttons are in somewhat awkward positions. I’d prefer them in a more central location, just because as it is they can be a little difficult to hit in the midst of action, but like all controllers out there, the arrangement of these buttons simply takes a little getting used to before all is right with the world again.

8bitdo Pro 2 verdict

Aside from the rear buttons, the input switch, and the profile button, there isn’t a whole lot that’s changed from the SN30 Pro+. That isn’t a bad thing – there didn’t need to be much change because the SN30 Pro+ is a good controller to begin with. The Pro 2 keeps what’s good about the SN30 Pro+ and upgrades it with new functionality that is useful and focused. That is what any good upgrade should do.

I think this is a fine controller for retro and modern gamers alike. It can even potentially be used as a stand-in for the Switch Pro Controller – and at $50, it’s significantly less expensive than the Pro Controller too – but there are a few things to keep in mind if you’re planning to use this primarily for the Switch.

The biggest consideration is the fact that you can’t use the Pro 2 to turn the Switch on like you can with the Pro Controller, which is disappointing. The Pro 2 also doesn’t come with NFC or HD rumble support, which isn’t a surprise since every third-party controller I’ve tested for the Switch doesn’t have those features either. The Pro 2 does support motion controls, though, so if you like using those for aiming in shooters, you’ll be able to keep doing that with the Pro 2.

Is the Pro 2 worth upgrading to if you already own an SN30 Pro+? That is an excellent question and I think it depends on how much you’d use the rear-facing buttons and the support for onboard profiles. For most casual gamers, I’d probably say that if you already own an SN30 Pro+, there’s no reason to rush out and buy a Pro 2, but for those who like to have that granular control over things like button layout and want to use the controller between multiple platforms, the fact that you can store three onboard profiles on the Pro 2 makes a huge difference.

If you don’t already have an SN30 Pro+ and you’re looking for a solid third-party alternative to the expensive first-party gamepads out there, the Pro 2 is it. It is, unquestionably, the best third-party controller I’ve ever used, and the only thing I’m wondering now is where 8bitdo goes from here.


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