Joy-Cons get the job done for playing games on the go while maintaining the Nintendo Switch’s portability factor, but they aren’t the most ergonomic controllers. Those looking for something that has more substance and feels closer to a Pro controller, meet the Hori Split Pad Pro. It’s an officially licensed pair of controllers that snap right into where the Joy-Cons normally go, and currently the Daemon X Machina edition is available now. While it might be a bit chunky and missing a few features, the Split Pad Pro transforms the handheld experience, especially for games that warrant precise controls.
First, the Split Pad Pro gives you a substantial controller option with more to hold onto, and those with bigger hands, such as myself, will definitely appreciate it. The wider form factor and subtle handles for gripping the controllers themselves are a natural feel that comes really close to a standard gamepad. What’s more, the Split Pad Pro is lighter than standard Joy-Cons, despite the bulkier look (more on why later) and doesn’t burden the handheld experience.
The size of these controllers does compromise the portability factor. As you can imagine, the Switch with the Split Pad Pro attached isn’t going to fit into form-fitting carrying cases. There’s no doubt that the first glance at and the early hands-on experience with these will feel a bit off due to how wide apart the two ends are compared to Joy-Cons, but it doesn’t take long to get used to and doesn’t cross my mind anymore.
One of the biggest advantages comes from the analog sticks, which are a massive improvement over what the Joy-Cons offer. Like an Xbox One or Pro controller, the Split Pad Pro sticks have full range of motion and a consistent resistance which affords you the ability to make more accurate inputs. The concave dome design and increased surface area of the sticks help keep your thumbs in place, too. These benefits aren’t entirely necessary for certain games, like RPGs or tactical games such as Fire Emblem: Three Houses. But their advantages are undeniable in shooters–a few hours with Wolfenstein: Youngblood and Fortnite in handheld mode made this abundantly clear.
Adding to the overall exceptional feel of the Split Pad Pro are the larger triggers and shoulder buttons that are smooth and effortless to pull. They’re not clicky, and again, come close to how a Switch Pro controller feels. Another improvement is in the traditional-style d-pad–it’s soft to the press and hasn’t caused errant directional inputs in my experience. The A, B, X, Y face buttons may feel a bit loose in place, but they are bigger and ditch the clicky actuation of the normal Joy-Cons.
Programmable backside paddles are a great feature of many high-end controllers, and the Split Pad Pro incorporates two of them wedged in the groves behind the grips (one on each side). Because of their sensible placement and ease of pressing, the paddles feel natural to use. However, they’re limited in their implementation since you can only program them to act as a button that’s on the same side as the corresponding paddle. While you’re likely to prefer mapping a face button to each paddle, you can only do so with the paddle on the right side. This leaves the left paddle to likely be used for an action on the d-pad of left stick click, which is rarely useful in many games.
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This is due to the fact that the two ends of the Split Pad Pro are not in communication with each other. With that in mind, the Split Pad Pro controllers will only work when attached to the Switch’s sides since they do not have wireless capabilities–nor do they have batteries to even do this. They also do not have rumble functionality. Without batteries or rumble modules, the Split Pad Pro is able to stay lightweight and keep costs down, but you’ll miss out on these key features.
With its shortcomings in mind, I still believe the trade-off is worth it if you play the types of games that benefit most from the Split Pad Pro, though handheld would have to be your primary way of playing Switch games. It makes gaming in handheld much more comfortable across the board, and it truly delivers much better control over first- and third-person shooters, or any game that requires precise analog inputs. That may be quite a few caveats, but for those who fit this description, the Split Pad Pro is a wonderful option.