PC Controllers for Emulators | What Controllers Are The Best For Retro Gaming?

Sony Dual Shock 4 8BitDo Pro 2 SNES Controllers
Featuring Retro Gaming's Finest Controllers!

Choosing the right controller for your favorite retro gaming experience is key to making you feel like you're sitting there during the glory days in front of your CRT. Sure the televisions have gotten larger and thinner, but nothing beats holding that piece of shiny plastic for some 16 bit nostalgia. Many new age controllers have clunky analog sticks or button placements that don't suit the simplicity of your favorite retro games.

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This list will help you determine what type of controller works best. Whether you're using an emulator on a PC, a RetroPi or even something as new as a MISTer FPGA device.

Best All Around Controller for Emulation

Sony DS4 Controller

Sony Dual Shock 4

All of the current gen (and most likely next generation) will put the Dual Shock 4 to good use. What makes Sony's controller so great is the D-pad in the most comfortable position for retro gamers. What the Super Nintendo controller brought to the table with the four button layout is still being used in today's cutting edge controllers. The Dual Shock 4 can be used wired or wirelessly, making it a perfect choice for compatibility and comfort. It's also able to be natively used with Steam, making it a perfect choice if you want to fire up that next gen FPS.

Best Controller Layout - Money is no object!

Sega Saturn USB Pad SLS

Sega Saturn SLS USB Controller

Several years ago, Sega Logistics Service released their official Sega Saturn pads in Japan for the PC/Mac in an assortment of colors. Since they used the exact moldings of the original Sega Saturn pads from back in the day (arguably the greatest 2d controller design of all time), they were immensely popular. Costing roughly $35 at the release, the demand was never able to fulfill the supply.

Unfortunately SLS hasn't released any more of these official branded SLS pads since late 2008, leaving you will cheap knockoffs that may appear to be the same with inferior parts. Your only option here to find a genuine part is to pay top dollar for one on eBay or Yahoo Japan Auctions. You get what you pay for in the end, it might be worth it for you to decide to go with one of the higher end options for retro gaming.

Best Wired Controller for Emulation

RetroFlag Classic Gaming Controller

RetroFlag Classic Gaming Controller (Upad)

The SNES was a worthy successor to the NES in terms of sound, graphics and most importantly controller. The four button two shoulder layout is still being used in modern consoles such as the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PS4.

If you're looking for a reliable wired device that will suit your retro gaming needs, check out the RetroFlag Classic Gaming Controller.

Best Arcade Stick for Emulation

Hori Real Arcade Pro USB Controller HRAP

Hori Real Arcade Pro 4

If you're looking to play your favorite fighter, shmup or beat em up then look no further than the Hori Real Arcade Pro 4 arcade stick. it's 8 button layout and Hori branded arcade quality parts fit comfortably in your lap and allow you to bring the true arcade experience home.

It's able to be used on all of your classic arcade games as well as works great on newer gen PC ports of all of your favorite fighters or shooters.

We've heard complaints that the buttons are a bit more responsive in the Hori parts compared to Sanwa (one of the other manufacturers of arcade parts). If this is the case, every wire under the hood of the Hori Real Arcade Pro 4 is set up with quick disconnects that allow you to easily pop out a button and pop in a new one in a matter of minutes.

Best 8Bitdo Controller for Emulation

8BitDo Pro 2 Controller

8BitDo Pro 2

The 8Bitdo Pro 2 controller has everything you need in the palm of your hands. It feels great in your hands, you'll never experience any hand cramping for long gaming sessions. The D-Pad feels so great in your hands, the button layout although resembling the Sony Dual Shock 4, is top notch. Speaking of Dual Shock, the Pro 2 comes in with multiple colors, all black, a DMG Game Boy grey color scheme as well as a PSX style layout with colored buttons that match the Sony Dual Shock colors.

With a 1000mAh battery life, you'll experience 20 hours between charges when used wirelessly. You can also plug in the 8BitDo pro 2 to charge and continue playing on a wired connection.

Make use of 8BitDo's Ultimate Software for Windows to customize the experience by allowing you to remap any of the buttons, adjust the sensitivity of the analog sticks and triggers, set up custom button sequences. The 8BitDo Pro 2 controller is by far the best option for fans of modern and retro gaming.

Best Way To Use Original Controllers on Emulation

Daemonbite Controller Adapters

Daemonbite Controller Adapters

Daemonbite is a new company that makes custom gaming gear since 2020. You can find low latency high quality USB adapters for your Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, NES, NeoGeo controllers that you may have lying around in that closet of yours.

Since it's such a good product, you might find yourself not being able to find them in stock. If you're feeling ambitious, the products found on the website are all open source and can be made with simple parts (usually an extension cord and an Arduino board) for less than $20USD. You can find out more about the project here. I personally made the Super Nintendo variation and love the fact I can use my original SNES controller from 1991 in 2022 on my emulation PC.

DaemonBite – Custom music and retro gaming gear
GitHub - MickGyver/DaemonBite-Retro-Controllers-USB: A collection of retro controller USB adapters (SNES, NES, Mega Drive/Genesis, Master System, Atari, Commodore, Amiga and Amiga CD32)
A collection of retro controller USB adapters (SNES, NES, Mega Drive/Genesis, Master System, Atari, Commodore, Amiga and Amiga CD32) - GitHub - MickGyver/DaemonBite-Retro-Controllers-USB: A collect...

Cheapest Controller for Emulators

INNEXT SNES USB Controllers

INNEXT SNES USB Retro Controllers

These INNEXT controllers won't be winning any awards for cutting edge designs or build quality but they offer an incredible value for the buck. Coming in at only $10 you'll get a pack of 2 SNES clone style controllers that work great for a magnitude of 2d games. These are great for someone on a budget who doesn't have any controllers to begin with and just wants to start out with their retro gaming experience.