Retro-Bit Sega Saturn Wireless Pro Controller Review
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

The Saturn may have lost out to the Sony PlayStation in terms of market share, but one thing it got right was its controller. Sure, the PS1 pad boasted a forward-thinking design complete with four shoulder buttons and ergonomic 'prong' grips, but its D-pad was a distant second to the lovely rolling pad on the Saturn's controller – and this (twinned with a Capcom-friendly six-button face setup) made it the interface of choice for fans of 2D fighting games.

Retro-Bit has created licenced pads based on the legendary Saturn controller in the past, but its latest trick attempts to bring things bang up to date. The Sega Saturn 2.4GHz Wireless Pro Controller incorporates dual analogue sticks into the pad's iconic design, making it a viable option not just for retro gaming but for modern games, too.

But first, the basics. The big news is that the dual sticks use 'Hall Effect' sensors, which should ensure that they never suffer from dreaded drift. The sticks are roughly the same size as those on the Switch Joy-Con, which is to say they're somewhat on the small size, and that means precise control is tricky. We'd have liked to have seen slightly bigger sticks, but this would naturally have forced something of a redesign when it comes to the pad's overall shape. We're also a bit bummed out that the controller has a 'Sega Saturn' logo in the middle, rather than the simple 'Sega' that was on the original pad, but that's just us being picky.

The controller is wireless and utilises low-latency 2.4GHz connectivity rather than Bluetooth. Two receivers are included in the box – one for the Saturn and the other for USB-ready systems. Input lag is virtually non-existent, from what we can tell – although pairing the pad with the receiver can feel a little bit like trial and error initially (we had to totally reset the pairing on both of our review units in order to get them to play nice).

Throw in surprisingly decent rumble (which is reserved for non-Saturn systems using the USB receiver), 500mAh battery (good for approximately 20 hours of use) and 30ft range, and you've got a pretty compelling controller – but what's it like to actually use?

The most important question most Sega fans will have is likely to relate to the controller's D-pad, and the good news is that it's an incredibly close match to the original. After spending some time with the likes of X-Men Vs Street Fighter, King of Fighters '96 and Street Fighter Zero 3, we are happy to report that this is a fantastic replacement pad if you love your 2D fighters.

The inclusion of analogue control means that you can use the left-hand stick to imitate the Saturn's optional '3D Pad', which was released alongside NiGHTS and is supported by a few other Saturn titles. Again, the small size of the stick is an annoyance; on the original Saturn 3D pad, the stick (which, coincidentally, also uses a Hall Effect sensor – Sega was really ahead of the game on that score) is much larger and nicer to use. It's not that the sticks on the Retro-Bit pad aren't fit for purpose, but they do take some getting used to.

Retro-Bit Sega Saturn Wireless Pro Controller Review
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

We're also a little disappointed that Retro-Bit wasn't able to include a physical switch for toggling between digital and analogue control in Saturn mode, which was possible on the Saturn 3D Pad. Instead, you have to hold 'Start' and 'B' to enable analogue input. Various other button inputs are required to get the controller to work on certain systems, so whatever you do, don't lose the instruction sheet.

It's also worth noting that, while we were unable to test it, there have been reports that the stick gives a false input when playing certain titles. According to YouTuber Shock Block, this issue impacts the 3D sections of Sonic Jam, with Sonic moving slowly forward even though the stick isn't being touched. Another YouTuber user, shleeve, reveals that the same issue is present in the Saturn ports of Duke Nukem 3D and Quake – and also adds that when the pad is in 3D mode with these games, the shoulder triggers are disabled, meaning that it's impossible to strafe (a key mechanic in both FPS titles).

We'd imagine Retro-Bit will be able to fix these issues with a firmware update – we've reached out to the company and will update this review when we get a reply. We're also looking into getting the games mentioned so we can test them ourselves; the titles we tested (such as Burning Rangers and NiGHTS) played perfectly.

Update: Retro-Bit got back to us with the following statement:

We are currently working on testing a update to resolve these issues and improve performance. We're currently testing a firmware build that addresses the issue with the trigger inputs causing problems as well as a test build of mapping for Virtual On.

Because the Saturn Pro Controller lacks Bluetooth, you can't pair it with consoles like the Nintendo Switch in the traditional way. Instead, you'll need to plug the bundled USB receiver into the Switch dock's USB port and make sure you've got the 'Wired Pro Controller Communication' option turned on in the system settings. The upshot is lower latency thanks to the 2.4GHz connection, but the downside is needing to keep that USB dongle handy at all times. While we're talking about Switch here, the pad should work on any other system which allows for USB controller input.

We've got some very mixed emotions about the Retro-Bit Saturn 2.4GHz Pro Controller. While the foundations are solid – the Saturn pad is one of the greatest ever made, no argument there – Retro-Bit's attempt to bring it up to date isn't without its problems. The sticks feel awkwardly tacked onto the controller, and while it would have resulted in an even less visually appealing product, we'd have liked to have seen larger ones (like those shown on the early prototype a few years back).

However, it's not a complete write-off. While the sticks do initially feel a little misplaced and dinky, you do get used to them – and the size trade-off is arguably worth it if you're looking for a controller which can be used with fighting games, modern games and your original Sega Saturn. This pad covers a lot of bases, for sure, but we'd say it's going to be more appealing to fighting game fans and hardware Sega lovers than it will be to those who are simply looking for the best 'all-round' wireless controller for multiple systems.

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