Review: Retro Fighters Brawler64 Controller (Hardware)
A modern classic
The Nintendo 64 is over 20 years old, having been released in 1996, during a time where controllers for 3D games were still in their infancy. Through the years, gamepad designs would evolve and revolutionize future creations, such as the GameCube, Dualshock, and Xbox 360 controllers, which many third party companies have tried to mimic, refine, or re-create tirelessly to this day. Some consider the N64 controller the best way to experience games such as Super Mario 64, or Ocarina of Time, while others detest the awkward three-pronged design and stiff analogue stick. This lead to the company Retro Fighters deciding to create a Kickstarter to help them fund what they believe is a perfected take on the classic Nintendo 64 controller. Raking in over $166,000 dollars in funding, and reaching a successful release is the Brawler64. the "next-gen" Nintendo 64 gamepad.
As a preface to this review, it should be noted that the original release of the Brawler64 had a flaw where if you pressed the left bumper while tilting the analogue stick upwards, the buttons would stick, causing for issues while playing certain games. As of the time of writing, Retro Fighters have fixed this, and this review unit, as well as all future releases will be free from problems involving the left shoulder button.
Immediately upon picking up the Brawler64, it felt far more pleasant to hold than the traditional N64 controller. It's shockingly lightweight and easy to hold, but doesn't feel cheaply made. As opposed to the original, there are now two Z triggers behind the shoulder buttons, and they have the added bonus of being pressure sensitive. This is a rather odd inclusion, however, as no Nintendo 64 game makes use of such an input. The face buttons all feel how they should, and have a nice click to them when pressed. The most drastic change is in regards to the analogue stick, which has moved to the top left of the gamepad, making it it far more easier to access and use than the original. Gone is the thin, grindy joystick, now replaced by a much smoother and precise one, reminiscent of the GameCube's. This is the main draw of this controller; the improved design, more ergonomic feel, and an analogue stick that won't break after a few rounds of intense Mario Party minigames. Retro Fighters has excelled on what they've set out to do here.
Another change that has been made is that the C-buttons are slightly larger than its old-school counterpart, to better suit fighting games. Since the majority will likely be playing "fighting" games like Smash Bros., this is a fine choice. What isn't, however, is the quality of the D-pad. This is the controller's biggest, and really only major flaw. While the Nintendo 64 was never a beacon of 2D titles, if you encounter anything that requires the D-pad to be used, you'll quickly notice just how mushy it is. There's hardly any feedback when pressing different directions, making for an awkward experience when playing Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, a game that exclusively uses the D-pad. Luckily, there's a very slight handful of releases that ever required the D-pad, so it's an issue that can be mostly ignored when it comes to regular use.
Support for the N64's Rumble and Memory Paks have also been included, though the Transfer Pak, used with Pokemon Stadium, is not compatible. You can get the Brawler64 in a wide variety of colors, such as the traditional matte gray, while a red, orange, blue, green, and purple might better suit those looking for a nostalgic 90's option with the transparent shell. Coming in at a price point of $29.99, this controller is an attractive buy for anyone who enjoys playing their Nintendo 64 games authentically, but finds the original controller to be too cumbersome to use. After testing it out with some of the N64's biggest hits, I can say that I'd definitely recommend the Brawler64 for usage with games like Banjo Kazooie, Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, and especially Mario Party.
+ Quality design
+ Supports the Rumble-Pak and Memory Card
+ Comfortable to hold
- D-pad is very mushy
- No Transfer Pak support
out of 10
If you've been looking for the best way to experience classic N64 titles, look no further than the Brawler64.