Review: PowerA Wireless GameCube Style Controller for Switch (Hardware)
PowerA announced their lineup of Switch-compatible Gamecube style controllers back in September, and they're finally out in the wild. I have two first-party Gamecube controllers, but the prospect of going wireless without having to shell out for a Wavebird is appealing. Combined with the extra buttons and improved D-Pad, PowerA's controller looks great on the surface.
Based just on the grip, it feels identical to the originals. If you're partial to the feel of the Gamecube controller, rest assured—they got this right. Even the weight seems remarkably similar. I also find it quite attractive, with a sharp Nintendo Switch logo printed where the 'Gamecube' logo used to go, and a similar, but not identical matte finish. The analogue sticks don't seem nearly as rubberised as the official version, which could be a problem if you're used to that. Finally, the left analogue stick and shoulder buttons are a darker grey, which irks me on an aesthetic level.
PowerA's Wireless controller vs Nintendo's first-party controllers
PowerA's controller feels almost identical to the original in the hand, but the buttons are another story. The most obvious difference here is the number of added buttons; home, screenshot, select, stick-clicks, and a left Z bumper. These are welcome, and make playing modern games like Super Mario Odyssey or Breath of the Wild feasible. Under the hood, the wireless variant also includes motion controls, which are obviously absent from the aging Gamecube controllers. The only thing missing from PowerA's controller is rumble, which isn't necessary by any means, but it's a shame it's not here nonetheless.
Face buttons feel very similar to the Gamecube controller, but require a little extra force. Conversely, the analogue sticks feel a lot looser, and the triggers of the controller have a small amount of travel—whilst it does make it feel authentic, it's puzzling given the lack of analogue. Along with the triggers, the controller has two mushy Z buttons, which forego the 'click' for a more traditional feeling button. The D-Pad is a huge improvement over the Gamecube's, but the placement for it is still a problem area, and this makes it less than ideal for 2D games. The extra buttons on the center of the controller, allowing you to use this as your primary controller, but I'm not sure I would recommend that.
PowerA's controller is quite similar to Nintendo's very own Wavebird wireless controller. They both use AA batteries instead of a rechargeable one, and they don't have rumble. Maybe this made more sense in 2002, but in 2018, I'm used to the convenience of rechargeable batteries, and the lack of one just makes it harder to recommend.
Nintendo Switch games: To use or not to use?
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the reason this controller exists. That said, this is a fully-fledged controller, and it's important to test across a range of games. All in all, it's a mixed bag, with the games ranging from 'awful' to 'excellent', largely dependent on how buttons are mapped. For example, it's hard to go wrong in a game that needs only needs 4 buttons, like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. This game feels at home, and doesn't need the luxury of shoulder buttons and clicky sticks. Hell, you could have a decent Mario Kart experience using a SNES controller.
Super Mario Odyssey, on the other hand, makes this controller feel terrible. Even after playing for an hour, I couldn't get the hang of the button layout. Given that Odyssey is a joy to control using more modern controllers (ignoring the pesky motion controls), this is a big problem. The unique arrangement of the buttons here makes for an frustrating and borderline unplayable experience.
Playing Splatoon 2 gave me quite the surprise. Luckily, it was a pleasant one, as it works wonderfully. I didn't think that 'Gamecube Controller' and 'Splatoon' belonged in the same sentence, but it's a perfectly fine experience. The motion controls were smooth and accurate, and the button placements feel almost at home.
Use on PC
PowerA does not advertise any PC compatibility for any of their controllers, but I feel like I should talk about it regardless. For emulators, this thing is great. Dolphin in particular was a joy, and after binding the buttons, I had a smashing time. Both Brawl and Smash 4 played fine, but not as good as they do with original hardware. The controller has no built-in deadzones for the sticks, which can make certain emulators painful to set up, but the biggest flaw is the lack of Steam support. Unlike PowerA's traditional wired gamepad, this does not integrate with Steam at all. This makes playing most PC games with the controller tedious, requiring third-party software such as x360ce. You can still use it if you're desperate, just be prepared to spend a portion of your life in the x360ce configuration tool.
If you want to use this thing for Super Smash Bros, and you really want to play with a wireless Gamecube controller, I could recommend it. The biggest caveat here is the price. PowerA sent us this unit, but at a retail price of £40/$50, you really have to consider the alternatives. It's cheaper than the Pro Controller, sure, but for most Switch games it falls short. For half the price, you could grab the similar wired version, which only omits the motion controls, and saves a lot of battery-related hassle. Even after considering this, for serious Smash players, there's no way it can rival the quality of the official Gamecube controller.
+ Grip feels almost identical to the Gamecube controller
+ Better D-Pad than the original
+ Motion controls
- Uses AA batteries instead of rechargeable ones
- No rumble feature
- Doesn't feel as good as the original
- Uncomfortable in most modern games
out of 10
PowerA's wireless Gamecube controller isn't bad by any means— it's just expensive. I love the controller, but I have to admit that the £40 asking price just isn't worth it. If you want a Gamecube controller for Smash, either get a first-party one, or pick up PowerA's wired version for £20. For £40, it just doesn't deliver when you consider that modern games can feel impossible to play.