Review: Controller Pro U blends nostalgic aesthetics, with limited functionality
Back in October, the internet stumbled across a very peculiar product that merged the aesthetics of a Wii U Pro Controller and a SNES gamepad. That very same day, we also found out that the controller wasn't an officially licensed Nintendo product, which should have raised some red flags. I remained hopeful for the prospect of playing both Virtual Console games AND Wii U games with the same controller. Aside from the controller's lack of Wii U functionality, the joke was on me since Nintendo didn't even support Virtual Console titles to begin with until recently. Nevertheless, with the controller in hand, I was ready to put it to the test.
That pretty, nostalgic design
You simply can't just look at the controller and not have it invoke some sort of nostalgia out of you, that is of course if you have the Super Famicom style or the Super NES style. The controller also comes in all black, white and gold, which simply doesn't look as good. I actually enjoyed having the Famicom version because let's face it, purple buttons are overrated.
The design essentially fuses the Wii U Pro design with a crammed in SNES controller. It sounds odd, but in reality, feels really good. None of the buttons are out of reach, and despite you holding something that feels like a Pro Controller, you can't help but feel a pure sense of fanboy joy as you press each of the four face buttons, all of which retain their concave and rounded shapes. Even the start and select buttons have that mushy feel that they did back on the original SNES gamepad.
The d-pad, whose functionality I will get to later, also seemed to feel exactly as it should. It was raised just enough to feel as close to an actual SNES d-pad I've grown up with.
Outside of the micro, built-in SNES pad, the controller also has two analog sticks that both click in, as well as two triggers, rounding it out to both look and feel just like a Wii U Pro Controller.
So what is it exactly?
The Pro Controller U is deceptive not only by its looks, but by its packaging. The fact that you'll probably find this next to Wii U accessories in a retail store will mean your average shopper will undoubtedly mistake this for a 'cooler' looking Wii U Pro Controller, when in fact, the game doesn't function as one. Let me point out why.
I went ahead and circled all indicators that will fool a lot of general consumers. The words Pro U, for Wii U, compatible for Wii U, universally compatible with both Wii U and Wii and a picture of a Pro Controller itself simply scream "Buy me! I look cooler than my officially licensed step-brother!" However, this issue seemed to have been mended, since Interworks changed the packaging to be called Retro Classic Controller.
The controller is in fact a Wii remote and Classic controller, housed inside of a Pro Controller shell. When you sync this puppy up, it's actually pretty cool to navigate your Wii U menu like you would with a standard Wii remote, thanks to its front sensor, except still holding it like a standard gamepad.
Playing with the Controller Pro U
Obviously my first choice was to try out both virtual console games that are now available on the Wii U, Balloon Pop and F-Zero, the latter which is an actual SNES game so it was the perfect opportunity to test the functionality. Both games actually controlled fairly well. The buttons were responsive and I truly felt like I was indeed holding a somewhat smaller SNES controller.
I then switched over to the Wii Mode to try out Kirby Super Star and Super Punch-Out!!, the former which started showing one of the bigger faults of the controller. The d-pad, while having a traditional SNES design, is way too sensitive. While running with Kirby, even while I was convinced I was just pressing forward, Kirby would occasionally crouch or drop down on platforms because my thumb wasn't fully pressed down in the right direction. A slight graze of my thumb, which would normally not affect a traditional SNES controller, made all the difference, and in platformers especially, this can be an issue.
The left analog stick does work as a much more accurate replacement to the d-pad but the whole reason for this controller is to recreate that nostalgic joy of playing Super Nintendo (or any classic games) with a classic gamepad.
NES games though are somewhat awkward to control, since regardless of what mode you're in, you're either using the X and Y buttons, or A and B buttons on the controller, which means games will feel slightly awkward when played with this controller.
One thing to keep in mind is this controller is meant for Wii games that support the sideways Wii remote or classic gamepad. Games that require a nunchuck are not compatible. That said, games like Monster Hunter Tri and Super Smash Bros. Brawl are absolutely magnificent with it. The latter I actually prefer the Controller Pro U to any other controller, thanks to its far superior analog sticks.
So wait, I can play Wii U games?
While the Controller Pro U doesn't function as a Wii U Pro Controller, it does actually work on Wii U games that support the Wii Remote, such as New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land.
There is one big caveat to this seemingly good setup. NSMBU for example doesn't recognize the traditional Classic Controller, and only allows the game to be controlled via Wii U Gamepad or standard Wii Remote. What that does to the controls is make the A and B button on the Wii Remote, translate to the A and B button on the Controller Pro U, and the 1 and 2 buttons translate to the X and Y buttons. This is problematic, especially for Mario games, since now you have to use X and Y to run and jump. It makes for an awkward way of having to hold the controller. Essentially, it's the same issue that I ran into when playing NES games.
Couple this awkward setup with the d-pad's sensitivity and you're bound to run into some problems, especially since in Wii Remote mode, the analog sticks are completely disabled, meaning you're stuck using the d-pad.
Give it to me straight, what's wrong with it?
At complete, full disclosure, I was having issues with the controller when I first received it, as it wasn't correctly syncing up to my system, whenever I would switch to Wii Mode. The controller would turn off, and couldn't be reawakened again unless the reset button was pushed in with a paper clip or a pin.
With that said, after speaking about this issue with an Interworks representative, we were able to figure out the issue. The controller and its functionality were designed before the launch of the Wii U, meaning they had no prior knowledge of the system needing to power cycle when actually switching over to Wii Mode. That explains the odd behavior of the controller itself when switching over.
TL;DR Use a standard Wii Remote when switching over to Wii Mode, and only then sync up your Pro Controller U and you won't have any issues. Spare yourself the time and trouble looking for a paper clip in your house. Chances are, you don't have one.
So should I get it?!
Once you get over the fact that you can't replace it as an actual Pro Controller for the Wii U (which I would do in a heartbeat) and that the d-pad is just a tad bit too sensitive, the controller is actually pretty good. Wii games that utilize Classic Controller functionalities shine with the Controller Pro U, as the analog sticks are built far better here than they ever were on Nintendo's product, and SNES games in particular control very well.
If nostalgia is getting the best of you, and you have a crazy library of Virtual Console games available to you, then you honestly can't go wrong with the Pro Controller U. With Wii U's Virtual Console just a few months away, it might just be the next best alternative to the real thing.