Retro-Link Classic USB Controllers Review

Retro-Link SNES

For me, the holiday season is not only about merriment, giving, family, and friends, but about good memories and all the best feelings of childhood, brought back to life. With a new console generation roaring in like a kitten, I’m not only fondly remembering the glory days of the games I grew up on, but also looking forward to NOT spending all the money that a new generation calls for, which means setting up my PC for maximum gaming versatility for as long as I can reasonably hold out on buying a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.

Retro-Link NESWith all that in mind, it’s only fitting that I have been sampling a range of products from the time-hopping gaming accessory manufacturer, Retro-Bit, a company that makes a bevy of products you may not have known exist. What has me the most excited is the Retro-Link Classic Controller line, a series of USB-compatible controllers that are essentially replicas of such legendary gamepads as those that accompanied the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, and Nintendo 64. The controllers tap directly into the brain’s nostalgia centers at first glance, but the more important consideration is whether they actually work worth a damn. So do they?

Retro-Link GenesisI’ve spent hours with each of the gamepads noted above, and my answer to that question is a highly definitive, “some better than others.” The controllers, from the simple NES pad right up to the glorious N64 trident, match the originals they emulate well, but not exactly. The face buttons and directional pads on the Nintendo systems are built to physical specification: of the proper density plastics with the correct tactile response. Start and select buttons, on the other hand, feel slightly off; they’re of the correct material, but protrude from the controllers to an unfamiliar degree. This is really nit-picky stuff, unlike my issues with the face buttons on the Genesis six-button gamepad, which is undoubtedly the poorest specimen of the bunch. These unstable pillars wobble in the chassis and have a squishy feeling when pressed. Combined with the similar sensation and delayed response of this unit’s directional pad, I would recommend avoiding the Retro-Link Genesis controller.

Retro-Link SaturnThe good news for Sega fans is that the Saturn controller easily has the most precise directional pad of the Retro-Link line, as tested by one of the most demanding tasks in classic gaming: the championship bout with Mike Tyson in the original Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! These rusty fingers failed to knock out the Dynamite Kid with any but the Saturn controller, primarily thanks to the stellar response of that d-pad. The N64 and SNES controllers gave minimal false positives in the same test (pressing one direction and moving in another), while the NES pad suffered from a few more. And just to reiterate: forget the Genesis controller. All of the others should be sufficient enough for most of what one will be playing with these gamepads, and the Saturn layout covers all the needs of the dedicated Genesis gamer.

The real jewel of the product line, however, is the Nintendo 64 controller. This is especially important because the funky, experimental, and at one time revolutionary layout is not easily recreated with current USB offerings. The Retro-Link version, in fact, surpasses Nintendo’s thumbstick, as it abandons the original ball-in-socket design, which was prone to rapid deterioration and diminishing performance, with a more stable platform. The in-game results are perfect, and the stick is just as responsive as any Xbox 360 pad, which has long been the go-to USB controller for serious PC gamers due to the quality of its design and function. In my opinion, the Retro-Link Nintendo 64 controller is a must-have for anyone aiming to emulate that unique input layout, or for anything that doesn’t require dual shoulder buttons popularized by Sony’s Dual Shock controllers.

Retro-Link N64

While the N64 and Saturn controllers are standouts in the bunch, it’s hard not to recommend all of the Retro-Link pads aside from the Genesis version. They’re well-constructed, function admirably, and just feel right in your hands. Additionally, setup is as simple as plugging them into a USB port, waiting a few seconds, loading up a game, and mapping your entire childhood onto a $20 piece of plastic.


Pick up your Retro-Link controllers by Retro-Bit here, here, and here.

Retro-Bit is exclusively distributed by Innex, Inc.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

2 Comments on "Retro-Link Classic USB Controllers Review"

  1. Ben Wilson December 24, 2015 at 4:23 am -

    I am looking to collect USB controllers for the most popular retro consoles. Do you have any recommendations for other brand controllers that don't suffer from the negatives you mentioned in your review?

    • Eddie Inzauto February 24, 2016 at 1:26 pm -

      We haven’t found anything that perfectly replicates the original experience. The Xbox 360 wired USB controller remains the best controller for the PC, hands down.

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