Review: 8Bitdo's NES30 Bluetooth Gamepad

Reviews-NES30-Bluetooth-GamepadAnyone playing games on their mobile device today will no doubt be familiar with the trade off between control pads and touchscreen input. Whether you find yourself slipping from the touchscreen’s hit zones, or screaming at a poorly made D-Pad, neither have really done our games justice. But what if a company was to take a well-known, and much loved, existing control pad and create a modern equivalent? This is exactly what 8Bitdo have done with their newly released NES30 and it’s about to change everything for mobile gamers.

Using the timeless design of the Nintendo NES control pad as a blueprint, 8Bitdo have recreated the 1985 accessory as a bluetooth gamepad with additional buttons. Theoretically, if the build quality is the same as that of Nintendo’s, gamers will no longer need to worry about finding a decent gamepad for gaming on the go today - but how exactly does this imitation device hold up?

NES30 Features & Specs

  • Compatible with iOS, Android, Windows & Mac OS
  • Connection: Bluetooth wireless, USB cable wire both support
  • Keys: D-Pad, START, SELECT, A, B, X, Y, L, R
  • Battery: 480mAh Li-on battery
  • Charge: USB port
  • Bluetooth 2.1, CPU and Flash
  • Firmware can be upgraded to support more devices in the future.

NES30 Contents

NES30-Gamepad-Contents

  • NES30 Control Pad
  • USB Connection/Charging Cable
  • FC30 Keyring
  • Xtander
  • Instruction Manual

While the list here is just about everything you’d expect to get from a bluetooth gamepad purchase, there is one addition which needs explanation - the Xtander. This thin plastic cover which is firmly attached and engulfs the back of the NES30 is in fact a small stand that can be used to hold a mobile phone at an angle whilst playing. After use, the stand can be easily reattached to the NES30 and unclipped again easily if needed.

First Impressions with the NES30

NES30-and-Nintendo-NES-Pad

Upon opening the NES30’s packaging, you’ll realise that this isn’t just a device based upon Nintendo’s control pad, but a direct copy. The shape, size, form, weight, and feel of everything on offer here is near identical to the Nintendo NES control pad, and for good measure too. The only real difference on show here is that instead of sticking to the original 2 button layout, the NES30 features four face buttons and two additional shoulder buttons laid out like a Super Nintendo control pad - alongside the standard Start and Select buttons.

While at first this new approach seems somewhat out of place given the control pad’s history, within moments you’ll realise how natural the NES30 feels. If anything, as crazy as it may sound, you may even begin questioning why Nintendo didn’t opt to use this layout when creating the Nintendo NES.

Elsewhere on the control pad, the top side features a centrally positioned USB port - not only allowing you to charge the device, but to also use it as a wired control pad - alongside two notification LEDs. The only thing which appears to missing at first is a power switch for the controller. This is instead hidden behind the start button, with long 3 second presses switching the device on and off.

Gaming with the NES30

Instead of being just your average bluetooth gamepad, the NES30 offers support for iOS, Android, Windows, Ouya, and even the Nintendo Wii. Upon powering on, a combination of keypresses will prepare the device for its many different modes.

  • Hold Start for 3 Seconds - Bluetooth Joystick
  • Hold Start + B for 3 seconds - Bluetooth Keyboard
  • Hold Start + A for 3 seconds - iCade Mode
  • Hold Start + x for 3 seconds - Emu-Touch Screen Mode
  • Connect via USB Cable - USB Joypad

Today we’ll be mainly taking a look at the device’s standard mode, with the priority being retro gaming emulation - the main reason most will purchase the NES30.

Test 1: Samsung Galaxy S4

NES30-and-Samsung-Galaxy-S4

First on the to-do list was syncing the NES30 with a Samsung Galaxy S4. This mobile phone has become a solid choice for gamers over the last year, mainly due to its fantastic compatibility with the various emulators on the Google Play Store. Out of the box the S4 can run just about anything from dated ZX Spectrum classics to more demanding Sega Dreamcast titles.

Upon enabling bluetooth on the S4 a small window pop-ups showing the NES30 in the list of available connections. Once selected, the control pad should sync up to the mobile - however, it may occasionally ask for a pin code which is 0000. From here on out, the D-Pad and buttons can be used on the phone’s default menus, with the D-Pad moving around the on-screen focus, buttons A and B mimicking that of the back button, and the X button being confirm/select.

The first of our many tests started with Robert Broglia’s fantastic suite of emulators. For such a review it only felt right starting with the Nintendo NES emulator, NES.emu. Upon booting, we found that the NES30 had already been listed in the emulator’s gamepad settings menu, requiring only a few more steps before gaming. Within the emulator’s settings for the NES30, we were tasked with mapping each button on the control pad to either a specific keypress or emulator function. As expected we mapped Start, Select, A and B to that of the NES’s, leaving the remaining buttons for more advanced features. The buttons above A and B were chosen for Turbo A and Turbo B, whilst L was given control over the emulator’s Fast Forward mode, and R for taking screenshots. Once done, all that was left was to choose a game.

Starting out with Super Mario Bros 3, the NES30 began responding to each of our keypresses exactly like that of the original control pad. Within seconds we were in familiar territory, squashing Goombas and kicking turtle shells. With what appears to be no lag whatsoever, we felt completely in control of the game and began working our way through the first world.

Next on our testing schedule was Mr Gimmick - a more demanding platformer requiring quick reflexes and well timed jumps, even on the first level. Again, we progressed towards the back end of the first stage with the NES30 in hand and never looked back. At this point we had all but forgotten that there was a replica control pad in our hands. Having said that though, we did find ourselves struggling through with the game’s difficulty, occasionally wondering if it would be a little easier once the D-Pad wears in a little.

At this point in time we were pleasantly surprised. For the first time in a long time, what appeared to be a cheap-knock off of yet another gaming device was actually performing. The responsiveness of the device was surprisingly matching up to its unusually good build quality, even at times giving the official Nintendo accessory a run for its money.

Further tests progressed with other emulators on the market, along with official re-releases of retro games. Sega’s updated ports of Sonic The Hedgehog 1 and 2 worked a charm with no additional setup needed, while games such as the Giana Sisters remake worked once the controls had been configured.

Throughout all of these experiments, the same results kept arriving: the NES30 pad was doing exactly what we wanted it to.

Test 2: Windows 8 and the NES30’s Accuracy

NES30-and-Windows-8

With everything seeming too good to be true, we decided to really push the NES30 to the test with one of the most difficult challenges available to a retro gamer - beating VVVVVV’s Veni Vidi Vici for the bonus trinket. For those unfamiliar with the game, VVVVVV is a retro-styled platformer released in 2010 that swaps the ability to jump with that of reversing gravity. The aforementioned challenge teases gamers with a shiny collectable right before them, only blocked off by a platform several pixels too high to walk over. With jumping not being an option, players must send their protagonist upwards through several screens of chaos, and then repeat the process back down to arrive on the other side of this tiny block. Throughout all of this, not only are incredibly quick reflexes needed, but also a tight and responsive control pad of sorts.

Similar to the syncing process on the S4, we connected the NES30 to Windows 8 through the bluetooth section of control panel. Once paired, VVVVVV was opened and the keys were re-mapped to match that of the game’s. All that was left was to put the NES30 to the test, along with our own skills and sanity.

As we expected from our previous tests, the NES30 felt natural for this game and provided us with the precision we needed. While we may not have been able to beat the challenge that easily, our increasing death count was only due to our lack of ability and not that of the control pad’s build. Around 10 minutes into the challenge we had finally snuck our way through the spike ridden chasms and arrived beside the shiny trinket.

Test 3: Emu-Touch Screen Mode

NES30-Emu-Touch-Screen-Mapping

The only other mode left to test on the NES30 was its promise of compatibility with any touchscreen based game that uses on-screen controls. This advanced mode allows you to drag virtual buttons above the existing on-screen controls, to simulate a press on the touchscreen when a button on the NES30 is pressed. It’s important to note, however, that this features is only accessible to those who have rooted or jailbroken their phones.

After installing the NES30 application from the device’s website, we powered up the game pad by holding Start + X to access Emu-Touch Screen mode. From here, all we needed to do was press Start and Select together whilst in our game of choice to be presented with our touchscreen controls. Here, we were able to drag and drop a selection of graphics resembling each of the NES30’s inputs on top of each hit area we wanted to activate.

In our chosen game, Portable Soccer DX, we covered the A, B and C buttons to match that of Y, B and A on the NES30, along with a the virtual D-Pad being mapped to the control pad’s D-Pad. Once done, pressing Start and Select together hides the mapping process and allows us to get going.

Needless to say this also worked flawlessly. For the first time in forever, we finally felt as if we had control over the touchscreen games which have taunted us for so long. It’s safe to say that we’ll be revisiting this feature in the near future to tackle many more of the modern titles we’ve missed out on due to touchscreen-snobbery.

NES30 Gamepad In Action

Conclusion

They say a workman is only as good as the equipment he uses, and the same could be said here regarding gamepads. For years we’ve heard those in the player two seat complain about the 3rd party accessories we’ve bestowed on them - from cheap Quickshot joysticks to Competition Pro Mega Drive pads - causing their in-game performances to flounder.

The NES30 can also be used in this example too. For years we’ve had to make do with cheap bluetooth control pads, spongy buttons, worrying alternatives to D-Pads and just about everything else preventing us from enjoying gaming on the go. Despite this, not a single gaming giant has stepped forward to address our needs, leaving the task to 8Bitdo.

While the NES30 may be a celebration of the 8-bit console’s thirtieth anniversary, lacking any blessing from Nintendo whatsoever, it’s done the Japanese company proud with what should really be a licensed product. That said, we’re almost expecting the NES30 to be pulled from the shelves at any minute for this reason.

At approximately $33.99 per pad, the NES30 is without a doubt the bluetooth gamepad we’ve been crying out for. Just about everything with this control pad is spot on - one no retro gamer today should be without.

Our review unit was kindly provided by Willgoo who have the NES30 in stock now.

Link: Buy 8Bitdo NES30 Bluetooth Gamepad

Link: Official NES30 Website


Last Updated ( 06 September 2014 )  

Cauterize

Better known as Adam offline, Cauterize is one of RetroCollect's final bosses with an unhealthy addiction to pixels. When he's not out searching the web for the latest retro gaming news or creating content for RetroCollect, he'll will most likely be found working on his Sensible Soccer skills.

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Comments 

(Link to this comment) JBOPatrick 2014-09-07 06:54
I've pretty much had one of these for over a year. They came out with the FC30 a long time ago. Its the same exact controller except it has the Famicom design instead. Its pretty nice to use on the Wii except when co troller gyro is needed.
+1 (Link to this comment) DarakuTenshi 2014-09-08 14:19
Someone one just needs to develop a good bluetooth remote for an actual NES rather than one that mimics the NES controller.
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