The Retro Fighters Defender is a super comfortable wireless controller you can use with a PlayStation 1, 2, or 3, a PC, or a Nintendo Switch.
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review product.
My name is Troy, and I am a controller junky.
Ever since I was a kid, I have been fascinated by non-standard video game controllers. I grew up with an NES, and the massive NES Advantage arcade-stick-style controller was my favorite way to play games for a long while. When I was old enough to buy controllers of my own, I fell for the gimmicky promises from companies like Nyko and MadCatz, even though those things usually broke on me after a month or two of use.
For a while, I kicked the urge to pick up new controllers, but in the past few years, it's come back in a big way. If you dig around enough in my house you'll find plastic guitars, a wheelless skateboard, a few different SNES-shaped pads, a handful of various-sized 8BitDos, some racing wheels, a HOTAS, and a fight stick.
When I hooked up my Nintendo 64 after we moved at the start of this year, I decided it was finally time to treat that system to a bit of an upgrade, and I ordered myself a Brawler64 from Retro Fighters, and instantly fell in love with it. It's a great wireless option for the N64 that takes that system's gooftastic button layout and reshapes it into something beautiful.
Then, this summer, a package showed up with a new controller to check out. I've been rotating the Retro Fighters Defender into my gaming sessions for the past few weeks. While it is pretty comfortable and a great option for fans of older Sony systems, there are a few places where it falls short in its use on modern devices.
Let's start with talking about the basic features of the Defender. Right off the bat, the controller has an impressive list of compatible systems. It can be used with a PC, PlayStation 1, PlayStation Classic, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, or Nintendo Switch. It features two analog sticks aligned PlayStation-style, with a D-Pad on the left and PlayStation face buttons on the right. It's got a Start and Select button on the face, along with buttons used from programming turbo modes. Dead center on the front is a home button, then there are two triggers on each side of the top with a screenshot and auto-fire button for the turbo between them. On the back is a mode button. The controller works wirelessly over a 2.4Ghz connection and features a rumble motor but no motion controls, NFC, or Bluetooth capabilities.
From a features perspective, I'd say this puts the Defender in the upper-mid tier of controllers. The 2.4Ghz connection is nice, but it does mean you are always dependent on a dongle. The lack of motion controls and NFC are a bummer when you look at this as a Switch controller, but are less of a drawback for folks aiming to use it on PlayStations. I was surprised that it didn't include programable buttons on the back like the Hori Split Pad Pro or the 8Bitdo Pro 2, but I honestly use those so rarely that I don't really miss them.
Compatibility and Connections
There are two different connection dongles that come with the Defender. For hooking up to a PlayStation 2 or original PlayStation there is a controller port shaped receiver, and for PC, PS3, and Switch there's a USB dongle. From all of my testing, this controller is super easy to connect. I'd call it completely plug-and-play, except that on the Nintendo Switch you need to be sure to enable the “Wired Pro Controller” option in the system settings in order to use it. That's not this controller's fault, but until I figured it out I was really worried that I'd received a lemon.
Once it's hooked up, the control simply works. There is some oddity when using it outside of the PlayStation ecosystem, just because of the button icons. Steam thinks this should have an Xbox layout and the Switch, of course, just thinks it's a Pro Controller, but if you are already familiar with the layout of the system you are using that's no issue at all.
Still, the ideal use-case for this is definitely someone who is using it with a PlayStation 2, 3, or both. In fact, having this set up for both would be great, because you could leave a dongle in each system and swap between them with a press of the mode button on the back.
A Few Drawbacks
I've mostly used the Retro Fighters Defender on my Switch, but have also tested it on PS2 and PC. Sadly, both of my PlayStation 3s have ascended to the great cloud server in the sky, so I couldn't test it there. However, I'm sure it'd work there just as well as it does on the other systems. Well, nearly just as well. One of the drawbacks of the Defender is that it doesn't have any sort of motion tracking capabilities, which means that any games that depended on the PlayStation 3's Six-Axis controllers won't be compatible with it.
Do y'all remember that game with the Rubber Duckies in a bathtub? Woah, thinking of the Six-Axis controller just made that memory nostalgia slap me something fierce.
Outside of that issue, there's very little to complain about with the Retro Fighters Defender. It's super comfortable to hold, the D-Pad and Face Buttons are satisfyingly clicky, and the triggers have a great pull… it's really a super nice controller. I am not a huge fan of the rumble feature, because the motor in this thing seems overpowered and loud, but ever since the GameCube WaveBird I've been fine with losing rumble in favor of a great wireless option. As a Switch controller, it's kind of a shame that this doesn't have the power to wake the console from sleep mode, but that seems pretty common for third-party controllers.
The Defender is a neat little controller that feels great to hold and will work with an interesting variety of systems. My strongest recommendation on this would be for anyone who is still playing on a PlayStation 2 and could benefit from a comfortable wireless controller, but it's also a reasonable pickup for PlayStation 3, Switch, and PC gamers. Mostly, using this controller along with the Brawler64 has made me super comfortable in recommending the Retro Fighters brand as a great controller manufacturer.
We grew up being disappointed by Nyko and MadCatz, and now we get to be spoiled by Retro Fighters and 8BitDo.
Oh, and if you are primarily a Switch player like me, I do have a recommendation for you! RetroFighters is running a Kickstarter that ends after this weekend for a Switch version of their Brawler64 controller. This thing has the same general layout as the Brawler64 I've got, but is for use with N64 games on the Nintendo Switch Online service rather than the original hardware. Plus, just like the Defender, it can be used as a Pro Controller for other Switch or PC games. That's even more functionality than the official Nintendo 64 Switch controller!