I love the color purple, even if Nintendo thinks the color I love is actually called “Indigo”.
From the first time that I saw a GameBoy Color I was obsessed with the ridiculous color plastic they made for that shell. When the next generation let me have both a GameBoy Advance and a GameCube to match it, I was ecstatic.
Then, for some reason, they just abandoned purple. Red and Blue are nice, but I’ve always wished I could give my Switch a brighter palette.
Enter Retroflag and their Handheld Controller for Switch. It’s a boring product name, but the photos show off a big, meaty grip for the original or OLED models of the Switch styled after Nintendo’s iconic ‘Cube.
So Much Style
Like a lot of niche video game hardware, Retroflag is selling its GameCube-inspired Switch grip on its look, first and foremost. And let me tell you, that look sells. The bright color shown off in the promo images hits you so hard that your wallet is probably halfway out of your pocket before you notice the classic gray color used on the analog stick, D-Pad and several buttons, the perfectly weird-shaped C-stick, or the bright green and red of the A and B respectively. It’s visually striking, and that’s enough to get a lot of folks interested.
Unfortunately, when I actually received a sample product to review I was really let down by the style. The grip just doesn’t look as nice when you’re actually holding it.
The biggest issue is that this thing just isn’t purple enough. I mean, yes, it’s got a bit of color to it, but it doesn’t seem nearly as bright or as translucent as it does in the photos. I’m not calling it fraud here, because I think the unit I have would look fantastic under photograph studio lights. I just wish that the way it looks in normal room lighting or even broad daylight was closer to what is in the pictures. Instead, it’s a bit darker, a bit duller, and just in general a bit less exciting to look at.
It’s not bad by any means, just don’t show it off by comparing it to the publicity photos.
Comfort and Features
On a practical level, this Retroflag controller is great. For context, the three main ways I play Switch games normally are, from most common to least, on a Switch Lite with a Genki folio case, using either a Pro Controller or an 8bitdo Pro 2 to play on a TV or playing my original Switch in handheld with a set of Hori Split Pad Pro controllers.
I completely abandoned the Joy-Cons the moment I got the Hori controllers because they made the original Switch feel so much better to hold. The Retroflag manages to feel just as good to hold as those controllers, despite a slightly smaller overall shape. The ergonomic bulges on the back and slight wings on the bottom are just the right sizes to really nestle into my hands, and I played several long sessions without feeling a lot of stress.
On the downside, the Switch in the Retroflag feels substantially heavier than it does with the Hori Split Pad Pro. This makes sense since the plastic plate across the back means more raw material, plus it’s got some features the Split Pad Pro is missing. Motion sensors are included in the Retroflag controller, which means games like Splatoon 3 play perfectly with it. It’s also got a rumble built in, which is nowhere near as nice as the HD rumble you get with the Joy-Cons, but it works. Like most third-party controller solutions, it also has a turbo-mode (which I tested just long enough to verify it works before shutting it off), and it has a button-swap mode for reassigning buttons that I… well I just couldn’t find any reason to use it.
A Few Flaws
The only core feature that the Retroflag is missing compared to a standard Nintendo Controller is NFC, so you won’t be scanning any Amiibos with it. The only other thing that feels “missing” to me is back buttons. Sure, these aren’t standard on any official controllers, but having them on both my 8bitdo Pro 2 and on the Hori Split Pad Pro set has gotten me used to the flexibility of programmable back buttons, and they would have been nice here.
Other than that, this controller works really well. The buttons all have a very satisfying click, the d-pad feels “right” to me (which doesn’t mean much as a person who doesn’t play fighting games), and the triggers especially feel great to pull. I have had issues with my left trigger getting stuck down if I put lateral pressure on it, but I’m hoping that’s a one-off defect and not a widespread manufacturing issue.
Playing around with the Retroflag Handheld Controller for Switch has been great because it brought me back to playing on my original Switch’s slightly bigger screen. The Hori Split Pad Pros are great, but I find they make the whole package just a bit too wide for me to play comfortably for an extended period of time, especially after getting used to the Switch Lite. With this, though, I find playing on the original Switch and the Lite to be basically equal in comfort, unless I’m trying to literally lay on my back holding the Switch over my face, in which case this thing is heavy enough I’d be worried about dropping it and smashing my glasses.
Unfortunately, there’s one big drawback that is keeping the Retroflag unit from becoming my Switch’s new standard attire. The Hori Split Pad Pro controllers are two individual units that slot into the Joy-Con rails on each side of the Switch, while this product has the Switch drop into it, using the USB-C for data and power. Of course, what that means is that while in the Retroflag unit, the Switch can’t be hooked into the Dock. It’s easy to put the Switch in and out of this, but that one extra step (along with then having to find a home for the controller when it’s not in use) is just enough of an extra hurdle to make this product a little tough to recommend for folks who frequently swap between handheld and TV mode as I do.
If, however, you were a Nintendo kid in the 2000s who plays mostly in the handheld mode now and you’re still using Joy-Cons, GO BUY THIS THING! Your thumbs will thank you.