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The Best Controllers For Emulators

The Best Emulator Controllers

With emulators now being in their most accessible and best-performing state since retro game emulation was even a thing, you’ll be wanting a high-quality and retro-inspired controller to enjoy your favorite retro games with.

But what is the best controller to use with your retro game emulators? Sure, you may only be wanting to play some classic Game Boy games, but if you want to navigate menu systems and set up hotkeys/shortcuts, you’ll be needing a controller with more than one fire button that allows all of these conveniences.

Here we look at the best emulator controllers, everything from the most basic joysticks, to modern analogue controllers, through to full arcade stick setups.

Best Bluetooth Controllers for Emulators

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

If you’re searching for Bluetooth controllers that can function on multiple systems, have various features, and include all the necessary buttons for controlling your emulators conveniently from your sofa, then look no further than the following list. These controllers have a retro-inspired design and the features you require.

Currently, the leading retro-inspired controller maker is 8BitDo, with designs ranging from classic console-inspired to more modern designs, such as the Xbox controller.

Below are some of the best Bluetooth emulator controllers 8BitDo has 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 SN30 Pro+ by 8BitDo has undergone a natural evolution with some remarkable additions, including a customization app that enables complete macro and remapping set-up functionality, and two new rear triggers.

While the removable, rechargeable battery may sound basic, it’s my favourite feature. This battery can be replaced with 2x AA batteries if necessary, which is a rare option in controllers nowadays.

The 8BitDo Pro 2 is incredibly comfortable to use, featuring the same button layout as the SN30, but with a more rounded PS4 controller feel to it.

It’s perfect for PS1 games upwards, with analogue sticks that work well for 3D games. Despite this, the d-pad is also fantastic, making playing 8-bit classics an enjoyable experience.

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.

If you’re searching for a reliable all-around controller for your emulation setup, I highly recommend this one. It performs exceptionally well and won’t disappoint you.

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

The 8BitDo M30 is one of my favourite controllers for emulation, drawing inspiration from the Mega Drive / Genesis 6-button controller. Its highly responsive d-pad is the standout feature, providing one of the best experiences I’ve had with a recent controller.

In addition to its excellent d-pad, the M30 comes with shoulder buttons, a start button, and three function buttons that can be easily mapped in emulators to access menus, save states, and other functions.

This controller is compatible with PC, Linux, and Mac, as well as Android devices, making it a versatile option for all your emulation needs.

At under £25 / $30, the M30 is a great value considering its high quality. If you’re looking for a controller for Mega Drive / Genesis emulation, look no further than the M30.

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

While the M30 caters to Sega fans, the SN30 Pro is perfect for Nintendo enthusiasts. It features a classic SNES-inspired layout with authentic-feeling shoulder buttons and d-pad.

Unlike the M30, the addition of analogue sticks allows the SN30 Pro to work seamlessly with more recent systems.

Despite having dual analogue sticks, they don’t detract from the controller’s usability or overall feel.

Although it was released in 2017, the 8BitDo SN30 Pro remains a popular choice among 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 Emulators

Lag can be a real spoiler for retro gamers, so if you still don’t want to go fully wired, then take a look at a 2.4ghz wireless controller to keep lag to a minimum whilst still retaining wireless connectivity.

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

Although there is an officially licensed Mega Drive / Genesis controller available that works well, my top recommendation is still the 8BitDo M30.

Its key advantage is its superbly responsive and comfortable d-pad, making it ideal for extended gaming sessions. The M30 offers everything you need for retro gaming up to 16-bit, with the added benefit of shoulder buttons, allowing you to play SNES games with ease.

While the wireless version of the M30 may be slightly harder to find than its Bluetooth counterpart, some users swear by the 2.4GHz connection over Bluetooth.

The M30 also includes a USB-C connection for charging, and it can be used 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 Emulators

Although many people prefer wireless or Bluetooth controllers, there are still some excellent wired USB controllers available. 8BitDo offers USB versions of some of their top-selling products, and we highly 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

The SN30 Pro USB is essentially the same as the excellent wireless SN30 Pro, but with a wired USB cable instead of built-in wireless. This makes it an ideal choice for desk-based gaming where low latency is crucial.

Like its wireless counterpart, the SN30 Pro USB features dual analog sticks, 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
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

For fans of home and microcomputers such as C64, ZX Spectrum, Commodore Amiga, and Atari ST, this joystick is a dream come true.

It is a modern replica of the Competition Pro, maintaining its authenticity while also including extra buttons that can be mapped for a second-fire button. It allows you to relive the classic gaming experience on your favourite home and microcomputer systems.

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 Emulators

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 full of features to exploit!

The 8Bitdo Arcade Stick is a highly anticipated sequel to the popular N30 Arcade Stick, providing advanced features for power users and fighting game enthusiasts, including macro functionality and configurable setup.

What sets this arcade stick apart is its moddable design, allowing for easy replacement of parts with universal-sized buttons like Sanwa, providing a more premium arcade experience.

The 8Bitdo Arcade Stick is compatible with a wide range of devices and is an excellent choice for arcade and emulation fans alike.

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 Emulators

If you have nostalgia for the classic joysticks of the 80s and early 90s home computers, you may remember names like Cheetah 125+, Quickshot, the Konix Navigator, and the Zip Stick. However, one name that has endured is the Competition Pro.

For those who used to play games on home microcomputers, the Competition Pro is a familiar name and design that has been resurrected for a second life. It is a perfect purchase for anyone looking to relive the authentic gaming experience of the time, as most would have used an old-school joystick rather than a Mega Drive / Genesis or Master System controller on their computers.

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

Playing old C64, Amstrad CPC, Spectrum, Amiga, and Atari ST games is made perfect with this joystick. As for me, playing Sensible Soccer on a gamepad has always been a challenge, but with the Competition Pro, it’s as if the old skills never left me!

In addition to the faithful design of the original joystick, this modernized version also includes an extra button, perfect for setting up a secondary button to navigate emulator menus with ease.

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 Emulators

For those seeking a cost-effective solution to play retro games, there’s no shortage of budget-priced retro-style controllers available on marketplaces like eBay and Amazon.

While the 8BitDo range boasts impressive value for money in terms of quality and functionality, sometimes you might prefer a quick and simple option. In that case, consider checking out some of the best budget emulator controllers available.

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 officially licensed 6-button controller for Sega Mega Drive / Genesis is a great option for those on a budget. It is reasonably priced and offers good quality.

If you don’t need a wireless or Bluetooth connection, this controller is a great choice for anyone who wants to play Mega Drive / Genesis games on an emulator. Its appearance is excellent and it provides a good match for retro gaming.

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

Despite its cute and compact design, the 8BitDo Zero 2 packs a punch and is an ideal on-the-go controller for gaming enthusiasts. Weighing only 21 grams, this tiny controller is perfect for children to carry around while on vacation or even attach to a keychain.

While the small size of the 8BitDo Zero 2 may not be suitable for most adults during long gaming sessions, it is an excellent choice for casual gaming sessions that require a portable and easy-to-carry controller. It’s also a great gift idea for kids who are just getting started with 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

Best Emulator Controllers Round-Up

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
View on Amazon
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
View on Amazon
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
View on Amazon
8BitDo Ultimate Bluetooth & Wireless Controller

8BitDo Ultimate Bluetooth & Wireless Controller

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

8BitDo M30 Bluetooth Controller

  • Impressively comfortable and responsive d-pad
  • Perfect for Sega Genesis / Mega Drive & Saturn emulation
View on Amazon
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