8BitDo Neo Geo Wireless Controller
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

SNK's Neo Geo system is famous for giving the world hits such as Metal Slug, Fatal Fury, Samurai Shodown and King of Fighters, but it's also the platform which delivered one of the greatest controllers the world has ever seen – the Neo Geo CD microswitched gamepad.

Released alongside the Neo Geo CD in 1994, this controller replaced the bulky arcade stick which had shipped with the Neo Geo AES home console. At first glance, it looks like a pretty traditional joypad, but it hides one key difference: its D-pad uses microswitches, and this gives it a unique, 'clicky' feel when compared to other console pads from the same period. It was a move which made a lot of sense, given the Neo Geo's library of fighting games and action titles; a microswitched pad feels more precise. SNK would use a similar control system in its Neo Geo Pocket handheld a few years later.

Ever since the Neo Geo CD pad appeared on the scene, fans have been holding out for a faithful replication because, more often than not, original pads now exhibit issues such as failing microswitches and other problems.

SNK released a replica for the PlayStation 2, but it was exclusive to Japan and is now extremely expensive on the secondary market. Hopes were raised when the company later produced a pad to accompany the Neo Geo Mini, but it turned out that it lacked microswitches on the pad, making it practically unusable (the button layout was also changed for some odd reason).

Mercifully, the wait for a proper replica is now over, and it is prolific accessory maker 8BitDo that we have to thank. Its latest offering not only imitates the original Neo Geo CD pad perfectly, but it also comes with a few neat extras.

8BitDo Neo Geo Wireless Controller Review - What's In The Box

The box includes the controller (well, duh) and USB-C to USB-A cable, a short USB-C to USB-A (female) cable, and a 2.4GHz USB receiver. You also get a sheet of instructions.

8BitDo Neo Geo Wireless Controller
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

8BitDo Neo Geo Wireless Controller Review - Design And Feel

The good news is that the 8BitDo Neo Geo Wireless Controller is an astonishingly close match to the original, both in terms of design, feel and overall weight.

That all-important microswitched pad is a joy to use; it clicks in almost the same way as the original (we say almost because the sound is slightly different) and feels incredibly accurate and precise – making it perfect for fighting games, scrolling fighters and all manner of shmups.

The four face buttons are also excellent, offering a decent level of travel and generally matching the real thing perfectly (they even got the button colours spot-on, which is something that could not be said for the pad which shipped alongside the Neo Geo Mini).

The 'Start' and 'Select' buttons are made from black rubber rather than the original grey, and the font has been changed from upper-case to lower-case. You've also got two additional buttons at the bottom of the pad in the form of 'Star' and 'Heart' – these are commonplace on 8BitDo's controllers and enable users to access extra options, such as dropping to a system's home screen.

8BitDo Neo Geo Wireless Controller
Left to right: Original Neo Geo CD Controller, 8BitDo Neo Geo Wireless Controller, Neo Geo Mini Controller — Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

On the top of the pad, you'll find two new shoulder triggers, inputs which weren't present on the original Neo Geo CD controller. There's also a USB-C port and pairing button here, while, on the bottom edge, there's a four-light LED indicator to show when the pad is connected and which player it corresponds to. Finally, there's a physical switch on the rear of the controller, which allows you to toggle between Bluetooth and 2.4GHz wireless modes.

8BitDo Neo Geo Wireless Controller Review - Compatibility & Battery Life

8BitDo lists the Neo Geo Wireless Controller as being compatible with Windows (2.4GHz / wired), Android (Bluetooth) and the Neo Geo Mini (2.4GHz / wired). However, as is so often the case with 8BitDo controllers, it will actually work with more systems than those advertised.

For example, it works like a dream with the MiSTer – and in all three modes (2.4GHz, Bluetooth and wired USB), too. However, one system it isn't promoted as working with is the Nintendo Switch, which is a shame – but, thanks to Mad Little Pixel, we can report that it is possible to use the Neo Geo Wireless Controller with your Switch, provided you use the beta firmware for both the pad and the 8BitDo USB Adapter 2 (not the one that's included in the box, it seems). Support is also included in the beta for the Analogue Pocket, via its dock.

8BitDo Neo Geo Wireless Controller
As you can see, 8Bitdo's pad is a close match to the original when it comes to face button colours – unlike the Neo Geo Mini controller (the one on the right), which not only has slightly different colours, but also changes the button order — Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

The short story here is that 8BitDo is constantly updating the firmware for its controllers, and the Neo Geo Wireless Controller is no exception; expect it to support more systems as time passes. One system it won't work on is the original Neo Geo, which, although it sounds obvious, could be quite a sticking point for some people.

Given that existing Neo Geo CD pads have a high failure rate, a replacement option would be brilliant news. Given that wireless dongles exist for systems like the SNES, NES, PlayStation and Genesis / Mega Drive, it wouldn't surprise us if 8BitDo was working on a similar solution for the Neo Geo AES – so watch this space (the Neo BT already exists and includes support for 8BitDo Bluetooth pads, but we haven't had the chance to test it with the Neo Geo Wireless Controller as yet).

Oh, and while it's mentioned in the instructions, the pad's D-pad toggle commands aren't particularly well promoted. You can assign the D-pad to imitate the left analogue stick of a standard controller by pressing select & left, the right stick by pressing select & right or the standard digital pad by pressing select & up.

Battery life is exceptionally good in wireless mode, with 8BitDo quoting around 35 hours of use from a single charge.

8BitDo Neo Geo Wireless Controller Review - Latency

Latency is a common concern for many retro gamers when it comes to both wired USB and wireless controller options these days. Thankfully, it seems that the 8BitDo Neo Geo Wireless Controller comes out looking pretty good in this regard.

We found it performed well in all three modes, but we're hardly experts in this field, so don't take our word for it. Porkchop Express (AKA MiSTer Addons), on the other hand, is absolutely meticulous when it comes to testing latency on controllers, and he's put the pad through its paces to see how it fares in terms of input lag.

In wired USB mode, latency was measured at 6.15ms on average. In 2.4GHz mode, it was 4.51ms on average – meaning that, for the time being, at least, the 8BitDo Neo Geo Wireless Controller actually works better wirelessly than it does wired (firmware updates may change that, of course).

Finally, the Bluetooth latency was the worst, clocked at 9.87ms on average. (As a guide, Porkchop Express explains that 16ms of latency is roughly one frame of 60p video, and he considers 10ms to 15ms to be a 'silver' on his personal latency rating chart).

8BitDo Neo Geo Wireless Controller Review - Conclusion

A true design classic, the original Neo Geo CD controller is a joy to use – and we're pleased to report that 8BitDo's update is just as appealing. The microswitched stick is fantastic, and the addition of extra buttons brings the pads up to speed for use on many modern-day systems. It's perfect for emulations on platforms like PC, Android and MiSTer, and – with a little extra effort (and expense), you can get it working with Nintendo Switch and Analogue Pocket, too. Hopefully, it will soon be compatible with the original Neo Geo AES via a dedicated retro receiver.

8BitDo Neo Geo Wireless Controller
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

If you're a hardcore SNK fan, then this really is a no-brainer. Those of you who have never had the pleasure of cradling a Neo Geo CD pad in your hands before might take a little more convincing – especially as Switch support doesn't currently work out of the box – but take our word for it; this is one controller you'll want to include in your arsenal.

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