Hardware Review: Retro Fighters Controllers

I’ve been holding off on these controllers for a while. I’m not quite certain as to why. Maybe because I paid for it with my own money and there was less of a rush to get it done. Either way, these controllers are dope, but that’s not all you need to know. We’re going to take a deep dive into the world of retro controllers in a modern day. Let’s get into it!

 

Unboxing Video:

Brawler64 Description/Features:

‘Back to the Future–Trident Controllers are a Thing of the Past

The Brawler64 Gamepad by Retro Fighters is a completely redesigned N64 controller with Next Generation features and attributes – providing a new and comfortable way to play your favorite classic N64 games.  The Next-Gen styled controller has a completely updated look and feel over the original trident-shaped N64 controller – featuring a two handle design, responsive buttons, D-pad, main and shoulder trigger buttons, and a comfortable analog stick.

  • Next generation N64 controller with an ergonomic and comfortable two-handle design
  • Comfortable and responsive Next-Gen analog stick
  • Dual repositioned Z-triggers on both the left and right side of the controller
  • Ultra fast turbo function – turn it on when you need it, turn it off when you don’t
  • Compatible with both Rumble and Memory Paks
  • Extra long 10 foot cord’

Brawler64 Pros:

  • Thumbstick. You’re going to find out soon enough that I have an affinity for thumbsticks that are similar to thumbsticks Sony has put out. The Brawler64 appears to take inspiration from the thumbsticks from the PS1/PS2/PS3 era. Rounded as all get out on the top with a rubbery cap. Of course, this one isn’t dimpled everywhere, but it doesn’t need to be, honestly.
    Included in the design of the thumbstick is the same type of eight-point groves for the stick to fall into. I’m not certain of the original purpose of this from Nintendo. I’m just glad that Retro Fighters deemed it important enough to keep here. They certainly could’ve removed it for a round ring and moved on with their lives. 
    The thumbstick plays perfectly when in games. I tested the games that I thought would need a perfect thumbstick (Starfox and Perfect Dark) and it was a treat. And the best part is, you can use this thumbstick in games like Mario Party and not have to worry about the stick breaking on you like the old days.
  • D-Pad. Where to start? The D-Pad on the original controller was, without a doubt, the thickest D-Pad to have ever existed. It certainly was also the largest of Nintendo’s up to that point. I’m guessing they were trying to make something comparable to Sega Genesis’ larger D-Pad. Either way, it’s just not something that has aged terribly well. And while it worked fine, it just doesn’t feel great on top of an already bulky controller.
    What I will say is that Retro Fighters have a D-Pad on their Brawler64 that is modern and sensible. It works the way a D-Pad should in 2020 and it’s not the least bit bulky. I’m so very thankful that they didn’t try to make it like the original. The games I tested with the D-Pad work as they should and it’s much more comfortable.
  • Triggers. If you remember (how could you forget), the N64 controller had two shoulder buttons and one Z button on the back. In all configurations of holding the controller you would have access to the L and R shoulder buttons. In two out of three configurations, you would have access to the Z trigger button. Enter Retro Fighters. They’ve curated a controller that is complete with wonderful feeling L and R shoulder buttons. Even better than that, they’ve doubled the amount of Z triggers. Everything is properly sized and placed so that my average sized hands can reach and press as necessary. I truly have no complaints whatsoever about these, they were a necessary addition in this day and age.
  • Handles. I wanted to lead with this section, but I decided to put it further down on the list. It’s obvious to everyone who makes third-party controllers that feature improvements to remove the third prong. I’m sure that Nintendo had some viable reason for having three handles hanging off of this controller. But honestly, having only two is also just fine. In fact, it’s better than fine, it should be a goshdarned requirement for controllers until something even more ergonomic is invented. These two handles are perfect length and land exactly in the palm where they should. They’re incredibly smooth and are a perfect texture. Kudo to Retro Fighters.
  • Face Buttons. The face buttons might be the only part where they didn’t need to iterate too much. Basically I just wanted to mention that both the A/B buttons and the C buttons are a true representation of the great aspects of the N64 controller. There was not much need to improve anything like the button size, distance, locations, etc. They took what made the original buttons great and left them alone. This includes height of the buttons and how far the travel is to make connection. I’m sure they improved something about these buttons, but I think all in all, they pay more tribute than anything.
  • Length. The cord length has been increased. The original controller’s cord length was far too short causing most people to buy third-party extension cords. You can still use an extension cord on the Brawler64 if you need to, but you shouldn’t. Retro Fighters practically doubled the length of the cord. It now sits at ten feet long. I found it was too much length for my setup, which is no complaint. But it may be perfect for yours, especially if you have a larger TV and need to sit further away.
  • Colors. They have a series of colors available for purchase. The promotional pictures I have in this article are for the classic gray colored controller, which is not the one I have (more on that in the Cons section). Here’s a list of the colors that exist, all of which are made to match the “Funtastic” colored consoles. Smoke Gray (is the one that I have) is a transparent gray. There is transparent blue, transparent red, transparent green, transparent orange, transparent purple. To be honest, they’re mostly transparent. There are parts of the controller that are more opaque, but now we’re just splitting hairs. The point of this all is to let you know that you have a lot of great options!
  • Turbo. I’m not much of a turbo fan, admittidly. I’ll always review it and base it on merit. Does it enable easily, does it work, do the buttons get in the way, is it more of a gimmick than a feature, etc. Well let’s just crank through those points real quick. 
    Yes, it does enable quite easily. Retro Fighters has a quick guide on how to enable and disable the turbo. And before you ask, it’s not a macro kind. It’s more for rapid fire. Does it work? Yeah, it works as a rapid fire quite well, best used for any thing like a bullet hell. The buttons do not get in the way of anything, so there’ll be no phantom button presses.
    Do I think it’s a gimmick on this controller to sell more? Probably? It’s hard to say, I know that their demographic is millenials and people with nostalgia for the N64. Those people want an improved way to play the games they loved. They’re not normally looking for ways to cheat at the games they used to play. Maybe it’s just me though.
  • Paks. This should work with every official Nintendo Pak you throw into it. I even had great luck with third-party paks. There are ones out there that rumble and have save functionality. If I were you, I’d find one on ebay that has a large memory and get one of those in this bad boy. You’ll never need to swap paks again!

Brawler64 Cons:

  • Logo. Honestly, if you’re someone who’s getting the classic gray color, you’re getting a slightly uglier product. The only reason I never bought a Brawler64 in the past was for the simple fact that they didn’t have anything other than gray. The gray has the large, distracting Retro Fighters logo sprawled out between the turbo buttons. I’m not saying don’t get the controller, but maybe opt out for one of the transparent colored controllers. They do not have a logo at all. I think they shouldn’t have screen printed the logo. I feel as though they should’ve embossed the plastic with their logo the same as they did with the words “Turbo” and “Cancel”.

StrikerDC Description/Features:

‘Built from the ground-up. Built for you.–From the sleek, ergonomic next generation features to the ports, chipset, and software, the StrikerDC was built from the ground-up to bring you the first Dreamcast controller of its kind.  Relive your favorite classic games like never before.

No sacrifices.–The StrikerDC is fully compatible with all first-party VMUs, Vibration Packs, 4x Memory Cards and Microphone.  Pull out your original accessories and play to your heart’s content.

Improvements all around.–Take your gaming to the next level with digital shoulder buttons and added pressure sensitive triggers – perfect for fighting games.  No matter what game you play, the StrikerDC adapts to you. And, unlike the original Dreamcast controller, the cord on the StrikerDC comes out of the top, instead of the bottom – no more annoying distractions.

Fits like a glove. Plays like a beast.–Ergonomically designed for comfort and hours of gameplay, the StrikerDC has been engineered with a high quality and responsive D-pad, comfortable and responsive analog stick, improved visibility VMU viewing window and a turbo function to help get you to the next level.

  • Ergonomic and modern design
  • Compatible with 1st party VMUs, Vibration Packs, 4X Memory Cards, and Microphone (some 3rd party accessories may be incompatible)
  • High quality and responsive D-pad
  • Added both pressure sensitive triggers and digital shoulder buttons
  • Turbo function to help get you to the next level
  • Comfortable and responsive analog stick
  • Improved visibility VMU viewing window
  • Extra long 10’ cord’

StrikerDC Pros:

  • D-Pad. Way improved over the original. The problem that I find writing about the D-Pad is that I never know exactly how to describe what I like about a good one. The D-Pad on the StrikerDC is definitely not as protruded as the original Dreamcast controller. I find that having a more subdued D-Pad is easier for technical fighting games. It’s also a flatter D-Pad, meaning not as thick and hard to move as the original. It doesn’t have the original’s circle dip in the middle. But what they lack in the dip they have instead made the D-Pad be a bit deeper in the middle. So it’s something more akin to modern D-Pads that scoop upward at the edges. It’s so fun to play older games with a D-Pad that has modern sensibilities and technology behind it. Hopefully I explained the D-Pad well enough!
  • Turbo. Turbo seems to be important to Retro Fighters. My assumption is that fighting games where you mash buttons may benefit from it. But there aren’t too many fighters that are non-skill based. It works in all games though. I don’t use it, but it’s there if it’s something you desire in a controller.
  • Thumbstick. Easily my favorite thumbstick for so many reasons. First of all, let’s cover the cap of the stick. To most people, they worry about the travel and length of the stick. I care about how large a cap is, what it’s made out of, and if it has a rim on it. The PlayStation 4 stick I thoroughly enjoy for instance. The StrikerDC thumbstick, while it doesn’t have a rim like the PS4’s sticks do, is interesting. The cap is instead slightly concave and that enables the convex surface of your thumb to maintain being centered. But that’s not all, for you stick length worrywarts, I can report that this stick is tight enough that you don’t need to move it much and it will control beautifully.
  • Shapely. Some may call this ergonomic, but I’m not that worldly. All I know is that I absolutely love the feel of it. Everything is properly sized and within reach for the average American hand. There’s not a thing I would change about placement or proportions. If you’re someone using the Turbo buttons, just know that they are smart about the placement of the Turbo and Cancel buttons. The buttons do not get in the way, causing you to accidentally press one. They also don’t get in the way to the point that they confuse your fingers and you think that you need to press it in-game instead of a face button.
  • Triggers. They added an extra set of shoulder buttons! The traditional trigger buttons are on the back and they feel great. But the best part is that you can instead use the shoulder buttons if you’d prefer. They made one set digital and one set analog. That way you can really enhance your fighting and racing games with pressure-sensitive triggers. Or you can use the more “normal” shoulder buttons on the top.
  • Colors. This is not something I can exactly review, as my controller is the classic Dreamcast off-white tone. But I do know that there is a transparent red and a transparent blue that exist! I don’t know if they’ll be releasing more colors down the road. I would follow @retrofightersco on Twitter if you want to see about any new colors of the StrikerDC. I’d like to see a black to match the Sega Sports console. Or better yet, a transparent pink to match the Hello Kitty console!
  • Cord. As mentioned before, Retro Fighters makes the cords to their controllers much, much longer than controller cords of the past. They seemed to have settled at 10 feet for modern living rooms and game rooms. I agree that this is a good length as I prefer corded controllers rather than wireless. Wireless controllers are consistently at risk of lag and battery depletion.
    But that’s not all that Retro Fighters did with the cord! Do you remember back in the day how the original Dreamcast controller’s cord was? I’m not talking about the color or the crappy material the cord was covered in. No, I’m talking about where the cord came out of the controller. The bottom. It came out of the frickin’ bottom of the controller. And they had a slot to pinch the cord at the top if you wanted to have it go towards the top instead. This controller, though, has remedied what Sega boofed up on back then. By making the cord come out of the top instead, you won’t have to deal with cord droopage at your feet or on your lap. Best of all, the length isn’t wasted falling down underneath the controller.
  • Packs. This is advertised as working with all first-party packs. They could be vibration packs or VMU’s, it doesn’t matter. They couldn’t confirm compatibility with third-party packs. I did test out all of the ones that I had on hand and found that they all worked. Hopefully, you can say the same about your third party packs. In that same vein, they give us a slightly larger window for the packs with a screen. This makes it easier to view it from different angles.
  • Face Buttons. The face buttons might just be the truest to Sega’s original controller out of everything else on this device. From the look of the dull, pastel-colored buttons (I always thought they looked sun faded) to the slightly rounded surface. These are absolutely true to form. I’m not precisely sure about the travel distance though, they feel the same to me. However, I don’t think they can be identical since the side of the controller curves by the B button rather than being flat next to it like the original. All in all, I was incredibly happy with them.  

StrikerDC Cons:

  • Vibrate. I don’t exactly know if what I’m about to say is even possible. But I’m surprised to not see that they couldn’t put in some kind of tech that is what is found in the vibration pack to make this controller more modern. They could really go even more modern and put a microphone built into it using similar tech that’s in the microphone pack. But again, minor gripes. I really love this controller.

Overall Thoughts:

I got the basic controller color for the StrikerDC and I got the Smoke Gray for the Brawler64. There are lots of colors for the Brawler64 and colors just now coming out in September 2020 for the StrikerDC. I can’t speak to what the other colors look like in person, but if you want to purchase another color and let us know in the comments how you like it, we’ll add it in. Otherwise, I think what you have here is a company that simply knows how to make really great controllers. From the cord length, to the build strength, to the ergonomics of it all, Retro Fighters is a force to be reckoned with and I will be buying more controllers from them in the future.

Purchase Links:

Gray Brawler64 Controller

White StrikerDC Controller

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