Best Console-Specific Emulation Controllers

Retro Controllers Feature

Emulating your old-school favorites has never been easier, but if you want a truly authentic experience, you’ll want to get your hands on a controller that looks and feels like the real thing. Thankfully, there are several USB console-specific emulation controllers designed to transport your hands back to the 80s and 90s.

1. Atari 2600 – Hyperkin Trooper 2

You’ll be helping Pitfall Harry navigate the many obstacles in his path with the Hyperkin Trooper 2. This stick seeks to emulate the Atari CX40 gamepad, the original controller for the 2600, but with a few modern upgrades. The Trooper 2 boasts a total of six buttons, which is five more than the original. These include a Start and Select button, two shoulder buttons on the back of the unit, and two buttons on the top. Additionally, these buttons are all assignable by the user. This means that things like turbo functions could be added or a hotkey that escapes to the main menu, which is essential for emulation. Finally, the USB cable measures 10 feet long, double that of the original gamepad.

Retro Controllers Hyperkintrooper2


  • 6 buttons total
  • 10-foot USB cable


  • Control stick can feel stiff
  • Limited compatibility with other consoles

FYI: Learn how you can build a retro gaming system out of any PC with Batocera Linux.

2. Nintendo Entertainment System – 8Bitdo N30

Over the past few years, 8Bitdo has been synonymous with quality. The N30 NS, an updated take on the original NES controller, is no exception. You won’t find any rounded corners here, 8Bitdo has delivered a controller that not only looks but feels like you’re back in front of your parents’ tube television exploring Hyrule for the first time. There are some modern flourishes, including the addition of two extra face and shoulder buttons. This makes the controller suitable for other consoles, including the SNES and Sega Genesis. We find it curious that they didn’t include the second set of shoulder buttons (L2 & R2).

Retro Controllers Nes


  • Looks and feels like the original NES controller
  • Shoulder buttons and four face buttons


  • No L2 or R2 shoulder buttons

3. TurboGrafx 16 (PC Engine) – 8Bitdo TG16

The TurboGrafx 16 (also known as the PC Engine outside of the U.S.) was never a true contender in the so-called “bit wars” of the 1990s, and that’s a shame. However, with the popularity of mini consoles, the TurboGrafx 16 is getting a second look, which is why 8Bitdo has seen it fit to resurrect the unsung classic TurboGrafx 16 controller. The updated version features two additional face buttons and has retained the turbo functionality. There are no shoulder buttons, which limits its compatibility with other systems. Furthermore, since the controller was designed to work with the TG16/PCE mini consoles, the controller connects via a 2.4 GHz USB dongle instead of Bluetooth.

Retro Controllers Tg16


  • Works with the PC Engine/Core Grafx/TurboGrafx 16 mini consoles
  • Works with Nintendo Switch (games that only require A & B buttons)
  • Comes in Turbo Grafx 16 and PC Engine color schemes


  • 2.4 GHz Wireless (no Bluetooth)
  • No shoulder buttons

Tip: you can buy several modern retro gaming consoles to play all your favorite old-school games.

4. Super Nintendo – 8Bitdo SN30 Pro

When it comes to the Super Nintendo controller, many gamers would say that it’s near perfect. 8Bitdo’s take on the revolutionary SNES controller stays true to the original while providing some welcome additions. This comes with L2 and R2 shoulder buttons and dual analog sticks, making the SN30 Pro an excellent all-rounder option, as you can play all of the classics and more modern titles. To top it all off, the SN30 Pro connects via Bluetooth, so you won’t have to relive the trauma of being tethered to a console.

Retro Controllers Snes


  • Same form factor as the original SNES controller
  • L2 & R2 shoulder buttons
  • Dual analog sticks


  • Button layout can feel cramped, especially after extended periods of use

5. Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) – Retro-Bit Sega Genesis USB Controller

The Sega Genesis controller from Retro-Bit is officially licensed from Sega, allowing the exact specifications of the original controller to be retained, resulting in a genuinely indistinguishable feel to the real deal. Furthermore, Retro-Bit has also opted to recreate the six-button iteration of the Genesis controller, lauded by fighting game fans as one of the best. You’ll also get your choice of colors, ranging from the stock standard black to the more eye-catching translucent blue and red. The controller is available in both wired and wireless versions; however, be aware that the wireless version uses a USB dongle and not Bluetooth.

Retro Controller Retrobit6button


  • Officially licensed
  • Both wired and wireless versions are available
  • Different color options


  • Wireless version utilizes a 2.4 GHz USB dongle instead of Bluetooth
  • Fans of the original 3-button controller will need to look elsewhere

Tip: you can also enjoy handheld gaming consoles that support emulation.

6. Nintendo 64 – Retro-Bit Tribute 64 Controller

The Nintendo 64 has the distinction of being one of the most bizarre controllers ever released. Many of the games that were released on the platform are bona fide classics. However, playing these games with more modern controllers doesn’t feel right. There’s something unnatural guiding Mario around in a 3D space using a second analog stick. You need to be able to change camera angles with the C-buttons awkwardly! Thankfully, Retro-Bit has made it possible with the Tribute 64. The only major complaint is that the controller doesn’t look exactly like the original. Yet, the Tribute 64 gets excellent reviews and even includes an adapter that allows you to use it with your Nintendo 64 console!

Retro Controllers N64


  • One of the few controllers that retains the N64 weirdness
  • Analog stick is an improvement over the original
  • Adapter to work with the N64 console


  • Doesn’t look exactly like the original N64 controller
  • No trigger-style Z button

7. Sony Playstation – Logitech F310

It could be argued that the original PlayStation controller, specifically the DualShock version with two analog sticks, provided the template for almost every controller that came after it. So, while the Logitech F310 isn’t modeled after the classic PlayStation controller, like many others, it takes inspiration from it. The F310 has a similar feel to the PlayStation original and the same button placement. There are several replica controllers that more accurately mimic the PSOne’s controller; however, they can be hit or miss. The Logitech F310 may not look the same, but it’s solidly built and reliable.

Retro Controller Logitechf310


  • Controller design suits both retro and modern games
  • Inexpensive


FYI: you can play PS1 games on your PC with Retroarch.

8. Sega Saturn – Retro-Bit Sega Saturn USB Controller

The Sega Saturn never really took off in America, which is mainly because of a botched launch and programming games’ difficulty. As a result, the much more popular PlayStation and Nintendo 64 caused many gamers to give Saturn a pass. Among enthusiasts, it is considered to be a unique system that has a decent game library, particularly in Japan. Thanks to the Retro-Bit Sega Saturn Controller, we can all experience Saturn as it was initially meant to be played with its officially licensed controller. Like the Retro-Bit’s Genesis controller, this one boasts the exact specifications of the original. It even comes in different colors!

Retro Controller Saturn


  • Officially licensed
  • Different color options


  • Wired USB (There is a wireless version, but it is significantly more expensive.)

9. Nintendo Gamecube – PowerA Wired Controller

Super Smash Brothers fanatics rejoice, the beloved Gamecube controller has found a second life thanks to PowerA. This officially licensed PowerA Gamecube controller has been made specifically for Smash Brothers players on the Nintendo Switch. However, thanks to a standard USB-A wired connection, users can plug the controller straight into their PC or Raspberry Pi. In addition, the PowerA Gamecube controller is available in various colors, so you’re bound to find one that looks just like the one you used to own.

Retro Controller Gamecube


  • Officially licensed
  • Wide variety of colors


  • Wired
  • Reports of dreaded joystick drift when used with the Nintendo Switch

Tip: use these recommendations to optimize your Windows 11 gaming performance.

10. Xbox – Hyperkin Duke

The original Xbox controller was divisive, to say the least. Many argued it was a hulking mass of plastic that was too large. That said, “The Duke,” as it came to be known, had a small die-hard fanbase. As a result, Hyperkin has released an officially licensed updated version of the Hyperkin Duke that boasts a few tweaks. First, the Black and White buttons have been mapped to two new shoulder buttons, making them more accessible. Don’t worry, though, as the black and white buttons are still where you remember them in case you want a more authentic experience. In addition, the controller comes in many colors that harken back to an age when limited edition consoles were the rage. Furthermore, it features a built-in screen that plays the original Xbox animation!

Retro Controllers Xbox


  • Officially licensed
  • Comes in a variety of colors


  • The large size may prove to be unwieldly for some
  • No wireless option

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a controller that copies the original?

This mostly boils down to personal preference. Some people opt for a replica controller solely due to the look or feel of the hands. Others may argue that getting your hands on a replica controller is essential. It’s important to remember that the games you are emulating were designed for specific hardware, which includes the controller. For some consoles, this isn’t such a big deal as long as the controller being used has the same amount of buttons. However, for consoles that utilize more unique controllers (e.g., Nintendo 64), the gameplay experience when using a different controller isn’t the same.

Are all of these emulation controllers plug-and-play, or will they need to be configured?

All emulation controllers on this list claim to be compatible with various hardware (e.g., PC, Raspberry Pi). The extent to which these controllers must be configured will depend on the emulators you are using to run the games. It would be best if you didn’t encounter any problems with the controllers being recognized within the emulation software. However, you may have to map the buttons manually.

What is emulation and how do I get started?

Emulation essentially means to make something behave like something else. In video games, an emulator is software that runs on a computer, like a PC or Raspberry Pi, that mimics a video game console. The emulators themselves are useless without ROMs. ROM, or read-only memory, is a digital copy of a game. An emulator can run ROMs, allowing you to play the game on modern hardware. Many emulators are open source and free to download. ROMs, on the other hand, are a different story. Game ROMs, ancient ones, are still protected by copyright, making them illegal to download, but there are legitimate ways to get your hands on ROMs.

Image credit: Unsplash

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