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Best Controllers For RetroArch

RetroArch has been around since 2012 and has fast become a must-have application for retro gaming fans as well as one of the backbones for projects such as RetroPie.

Since its inception, RetroArch now has over 200 emulation cores available, including everything from classic consoles such as the NES to a pocket karaoke player! But what’s the best controller to use with RetroArch? To help you get the most from this excellent application, we take a look at the best controllers for RetroArch, looking at everything from the most basic joysticks to a full arcade stick setup.

Best Controllers for RetroArch Top Picks

8Bitdo Pro 2 Controller
9.7/10
  • Compatible with PC, macOS, Raspberry Pi, Android & Nintendo Switch
  • Bluetooth / USB-C Connectivity
  • 1000mAh Li-on Removable Rechargeable Battery
  • 6-Axis Motion Sensor & Vibration
  • 8BitDo Ultimate Software - Customize button mapping & create macros
8Bitdo Arcade Stick
9.2/10
  • Compatible with PC, Raspberry Pi & Nintendo Switch
  • Bluetooth / Wireless / USB-C connectivity
  • 1000mAh Li-on rechargeable battery
  • 8BitDo Ultimate Software - Customize button mapping & create macros
  • Ultra-Moddable Arcade Stick - Universal mounting plate supports sanwa, seimitsu & More
8BitDo M30 Gamepad
8.9/10
  • Compatible with PC, macOS, Raspberry Pi, Android & Nintendo Switch
  • Bluetooth / USB-C connectivity
  • 480mAh Li-on rechargeable battery
  • Super responsive d-pad - Perfect for 8 & 16-bit gaming
ImageProductFeaturesPrice
8Bitdo Pro 2 Bluetooth Controller

8Bitdo Pro 2 Bluetooth Controller

  • Highly configurable and compatible with many systems
  • Perfect for playing retro and modern games
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8Bitdo SN30 Pro Bluetooth Controller

8Bitdo SN30 Pro Bluetooth Controller

  • SNES controller form factor but includes analogue sticks, perfect for retro & modern gaming
  • High compatibility across a number of systems
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8Bitdo Arcade Stick

8Bitdo Arcade Stick

  • Perfect for Arcade & Fighting game fans
  • Ultra-moddable Arcade Stick - Universal mounting plate supports parts from Sanwa, Seimitsu & more
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8BitDo Ultimate Bluetooth & Wireless Controller

8BitDo Ultimate Bluetooth & Wireless Controller

  • Modern form factor & functionality - Perfect for both retro & modern gaming
  • Includes charging dock
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8BitDo M30 Bluetooth Controller

8BitDo M30 Bluetooth Controller

  • Impressively comfortable and responsive d-pad
  • Perfect for Sega Genesis / Mega Drive & Saturn emulation
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8Bitdo Zero 2 Bluetooth Controller

8Bitdo Zero 2 Bluetooth Controller

  • Totally unique tiny, but usable Bluetooth controller
  • Fits in your pocket - Be ready to game anywhere and anytime!
View on Amazon
Speedlink Competition Pro Extra USB Joystick

Speedlink Competition Pro Extra USB Joystick

  • The best retro USB Joystick available today
  • Perfect for C64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore Amiga & Atari ST emulation 
View on Amazon
Retro-Bit Sega Gensis / Mega Drive USB Controller

Retro-Bit Sega Gensis / Mega Drive USB Controller

  • Great budget choice
  • Officially licenced by Sega
View on Amazon

Best Bluetooth Controllers for RetroArch

If you’re looking for Bluetooth controllers that work on multiple systems, are packed with features and have all the buttons you’ll need to control RetroArch from the comfort of your sofa, then the following list will be all that you need. They are all retro-inspired in terms of design as well as the functionality you need.

8BitDo are the leading retro-inspired controller maker at the moment, they have controller designs that are classic console inspired, right through to more modern implementations such as the Xbox controller.

Here are a few of the best Bluetooth RetroArch controllers that 8BitDo has to offer for use with RetroArch.

Here are some of the best 8BitDo Bluetooth controllers they have to offer.

9.7
8Bitdo Pro 2 Bluetooth Controller

Features:

  • Compatible with PC, macOS, Raspberry Pi, Android & Nintendo Switch
  • Bluetooth / USB-C Connectivity
  • 1000mAh Li-on Removable Rechargeable Battery
  • 6-Axis Motion Sensor & Vibration
  • 8BitDo Ultimate Software - Customize button mapping & create macros

The Pro 2 is the natural evolution of 8BitDo’s SN30 Pro+, there are some fantastic additions, including two new rear triggers as well as a customisation application allowing for full macro and remapping set-up functionality.

My favourite feature sounds basic, but it is the removable, rechargeable battery, this can be replaced with 2x AA batteries should you need to. Very rare to have both as an option in controllers these days.

The 8Bitdo Pro 2 is supremely comfy to use. It essentially is the same button layout as the SN30 but has a more rounded PS4 controller feel, as well as analogue sticks which make it perfect for PS1 games upwards.

But don’t be lulled into a sense that this controller is for 3D games, the d-pad is fantastic too, which makes playing those 8-bit classics a pleasure.

Not only is the Pro 2 just great in terms of functionality and quality but it is also priced at under £40 / $50, so is a really competitively priced controller.

I absolutely recommend this controller if you are looking for a great performing all-rounder for your emulation set-up, it just does not let you down.

Pros
  • Superb value vs. functionality
  • Comfortable button layout
  • Rechargeable & removable battery
  • Macros can be set up
Cons
  • Customisation software not available on Mac / Nintendo Switch
8BitDo M30 Bluetooth Gamepad
8BitDo M30 Bluetooth Gamepad
8BitDo M30 Bluetooth Gamepad
Our Score

 

 

 

Features:

  • Wireless Bluetooth.
  • Compatible with Switch, Windows, macOS, Steam, Android devices.
  • Built-in 480mAh Li-on battery

Inspired by the Mega Drive / Genesis 6-button controller, 8BitDo’s M30 is one of my favourite controllers for RetroArch. Its d-pad is really its main selling feature and is one of the most responsive I have used on a recent controller.

Aside from its top-grade d-pad, the M30 has shoulder buttons, a start button, and three additional function buttons which can be mapped easily in RetroArch to access menus, save states, etc no problem at all.

It is compatible with your RetroArch set-up on PC, Linux & Mac, and Android devices.

The M30 sells for under £25 / $30, which is brilliant value considering the quality you are getting. You should not be looking at any other controller if you’re looking to buy one for Mega Drive / Genesis emulation.

Pros
  • Top quality d-pad
  • Light & comfortable to use
  • Ideal for Sega Genesis & Sega Saturn emulation
  • Sega-inspired design
Cons
  • No analogue controls
  • Built-in battery
8Bitdo SN30 Pro Controller

 

 

 

Features:

  • Compatible with PC, macOS, Raspberry Pi, Android & Nintendo Switch
  • SNES-inspired design, but with all modern features
  • Compatible across a wide range of systems
  • Wireless Bluetooth / USB-C connectivity

We have the M30 for Sega fans, but what about the Nintendo fans? The SN30 Pro ticks all the same boxes for those who favour Nintendo!

The SN30 Pro has a SNES-inspired classic layout, along with an authentic feeling d-pad and shoulder buttons. Unlike the M30, added analogue sticks bring it far more into the future in terms of being able to use the SN30 Pro for more recent systems far more easily.

Even with the dual analogue sticks being added to the bottom of the controller, it doesn’t remove too much from the feel and usability.

it’s been out since 2017, but the 8BitDo SN30 Pro is still a hugely popular product with emulation fans.

Pros
  • Lots crammed into a good-looking controller
  • SNES-inspired form factor
  • Analogue sticks bring welcome versatility
Cons
  • A little awkward for larger hands
  • Built-in battery

Best Wireless Controllers for RetroArch

Lag can be contentious for retro gamers, so if you still don’t want to go fully wired, then consider a 2.4Ghz wireless controller to keep lag to a minimum whilst being wireless.

8BitDo M30 2.4Ghz Wireless Controller
8BitDo M30 2.4Ghz Wireless Controller
8BitDo M30 2.4Ghz Wireless Controller
Our Score

 

 

 

Features:

  • Turbo fire function
  • Access the Sega Genesis / Mega Drive Mini home menu wirelessly!
  • 480mAh Li-ion battery, rechargeable
  • 35 play hours with 1-2 hour charging time

Whilst there is an officially licenced Mega Drive / Genesis controller which is perfectly good, I still recommend the 8BitDo M30 above all!

Its trump card is an excellent d-pad, it is super responsive and comfortable for long periods of use. The M30 has everything you need for 16-bit and earlier retro gaming, with the bonus of some shoulder buttons, you can also easily play SNES games with the M30 no problem at all.

The wireless version of the M30 seems to be not quite as easy to get hold of as its Bluetooth counterpart, but for some, they swear by the 2.4 GHz connection over Bluetooth. An added bonus is that it also comes with a USB-C connection for charging the M30, but you can also use it wired, for an even more responsive experience.

Pros
  • Brilliantly responsive d-pad
  • Lightweight & comfortable to use
  • Works with Sega Mega Drive / Genesis Mini consoles
  • Sega inspired design aesthetics
Cons
  • Built-in battery

Best USB Controllers for RetroArch

While most people tend to use wireless or Bluetooth controllers, there are still some great wired USB controllers out there. 8BitDo once again provide some USB versions of a couple of their best-selling products. Here we recommend the USB version of the SN30 Pro.

8Bitdo SN30 Pro USB Controller

 

 

 

Features:

  • Compatible with PC, macOS, Raspberry Pi, Android & Nintendo Switch
  • SNES-inspired design, but with all modern features
  • Low latency
  • USB connectivity

This controller is the same as the excellent SN30 Pro mentioned above, but simply with a hard-wired USB cable and no wireless built-in. It’s an ideal solution if you game at a desk and want optimum performance in terms of latency.

The SN30 Pro USB has dual analogue sticks, and built-in vibration and is compatible with a wide range of systems.

Pros
  • Loads of buttons crammed into a retro-inspired controller
  • SNES controller looks
  • Analogue sticks mean you can use it with more modern games
  • Low latency thanks to its wired connection
Cons
  • Can be a little cramped for with larger hands

One for the home computer fans here, so lovers of the C64, ZX Spectrum, Commodore Amiga & Atari ST can rejoice now being able to play their favourite games on an actual joystick!

Speedlink Competition Pro USB Joystick
Speedlink Competition Pro USB Joystick
Speedlink Competition Pro USB Joystick
Our Score

 

 

 

Features:

  • USB joystick for PCs and Android devices
  • Rapid fire mode
  • Nostalgic-inspired design from the original Competition Pro joystick

This modern replica of the Competition Pro remains faithful to the original and also throws in some additional buttons which can be useful for mapping a second-fire button.

It’s the perfect antidote for fans of a time before gamepads became the norm and the joystick ruled!

Pros
  • A great recreation of the original
  • Extra buttons at the base of the joystick
  • Ideal for Amiga, Atari ST & 8-Bit micro emulation
  • Low latency
Cons
  • Microswitches are a bit loud

Best Arcade Stick for RetroArch

8Bitdo Arcade Stick

 

 

 

Features:

  • Compatible with PC, Raspberry Pi & Nintendo Switch
  • 1000mAh Li-on rechargeable battery
  • 8BitDo Ultimate Software - Customize button mapping & create macros
  • Ultra-Moddable Arcade Stick - Universal mounting plate supports Sanwa, Seimitsu & more

Arcade & Neo Geo fans as well as lovers of the fighting game genre will be excited to see that 8BitDo also offers a highly functional arcade stick.

The follow-up to the very popular N30 Arcade Stick, the 8Bitdo Arcade Stick delivers more of the same but is more geared towards power users and fighter enthusiasts with its macro functionality and highly configurable setup.

One thing that really appeals to arcade fans with this arcade stick is the moddable nature of this great product. All the parts are universal-sized, meaning that you can swap out parts for more premium buttons such as Sanwa, etc.

The 8BitDo Arcade Stick is compatible with a number of devices, especially great for RetroArch fans!

Pros
  • Multiple connectivity options
  • Highly moddable – Replace components with custom arcade stick/button parts
  • Programmable macros
  • Comprehensive button configuration tools
Cons
  • Stock factory stick / buttons are average

Best Joystick for RetroArch

If you are a fan of 80s and early 90s Home Computers, then you will no doubt have memories of using joysticks more than joypads. There are Loads of classic joysticks of the time including the Cheetah 125+, Quickshot, the Konix Navigator, and the Zip Stick. But one name has lived on and has received a second life – The Competition Pro.

Fans of the 80s and 90s home microcomputers will love this. While some used Mega Drive / Genesis or Master System controllers on their computers most would have had an old-school joystick. The Competition Pro name and design have been resurrected and is a must-buy for those looking to get that original feel back in their computer gaming.

Without a doubt, the best Joystick for RetroArch in my view is the Speedlink Competition Pro USB.

it is ideal for playing old C64, Amstrad CPC, Spectrum, Amiga & Atari ST games. I could never get to grips with playing Sensible Soccer on a gamepad, but now I can get the old skills back like they never left me!

This modern reinvention of the Competition Pro also has an additional button added so setting up a useful second button for navigating the RetroArch menus is really useful.

Speedlink Competition Pro USB Joystick
Speedlink Competition Pro USB Joystick
Speedlink Competition Pro USB Joystick
Our Score

 

 

 

Features:

  • USB joystick for PCs and Android devices
  • Rapid fire mode
  • Nostalgic-inspired design from the original Competition Pro joystick

Best Budget Controllers for RetroArch

There are plenty of budget-priced retro-style controllers on eBay & Amazon. If you are looking for minimal fuss and cost, then look no further than these best budget RetroArch controllers.

Whilst the 8BitDo range of controllers offers huge value for money in terms of their quality and functionality, sometimes you are just looking for something quick and easy to play retro games as cheaply as possible, look no further than these best budget RetroArch controllers.

Retro-Bit Sega Genesis / Mega Drive USB Controller

 

 

 

Features:

  • Compatible with PC, macOS, Raspberry Pi, Android & Nintendo Switch
  • USB Connectivity
  • 10ft/3m cable length
  • Classic 6-button layout with re-positioned mode button
  • Officially licensed by Sega

This licenced copy of the Sega Mega Drive / Genesis 6 button controller is a great buy. It is usually one of the cheapest controllers to buy and is still of good quality.

If wireless or Bluetooth connectivity isn’t a requirement, this excellent-looking controller will be a perfect match-up for playing Mega Drive / Genesis games in RetroArch.

Pros
  • Low latency
  • Shoulder buttons
  • 3m cable length
  • Officially licensed by Sega
Cons
  • D-pad is not as good as the 8BitDo M30
8BitDo Zero 2 Bluetooth Controller

 

 

 

Features:

  • Compatible with PC, macOS, Raspberry Pi, Android & Nintendo Switch
  • Fits in your pocket - Be ready to play at any time!
  • Bluetooth / Micro USB connectivity
  • 8 hours of play with a 1-2 hour charge time

This very cute little controller looks like a novelty toy, but don’t be fooled, the 8BitDo Zero 2 is tiny, weighing 21 grams, but is perfect as a controller to take on the move with you. It’s ideal for kids to pack away in a pocket on holiday, or maybe even keep it on a keychain!

Possibly a little small for most adults, at least for long gaming sessions, but the 8BitDo Zero 2 is perfect for ad-hoc gaming sessions where it can easily be kept in your pocket and is especially good as a gift for kids who are just starting their journey into retro gaming.

Pros
  • Compact enough to carry with you
  • 8 hours use with just 1-2 hours charge
  • Compatible with most systems
  • It’s cute!
Cons
  • Not ideal for long play sessions