Retro-Bit SEGA Saturn 2.4GHz Wireless Controller Review

I really have neglected the SEGA Saturn, for so many years. I’ve owned one for the best part of a decade and a half, and I just don’t play it enough. However, that’s something I’m trying to rectify, so I sold my old PAL model and upgraded to a lovely Japanese model. However, I decided to sell my existing controllers with the old console, and my newly-purchased system didn’t have any pads with it, which gave me the conundrum of what pad to purchase. I could have gone for the original chunky Western pad, bought another of the redesigned Western pads, or even gone for one of the many different coloured varieties of Japanese controllers, just to keep things authentic.

But, this being 2020 – I’ve been trying to go the wireless route. Luckily, Retro-Bit had just the thing I needed, a wireless Saturn controller that works with the original system. Even better, it’s officially licensed and designed to mimic the original controller – So, I purchased one from Amazon and it’s now arrived, so join me and let’s see how this modern take on a retro controller fares.

First things first, the whole thing is presented rather well in this packaging – It’s wonderfully authentic, invoking the design of the original European Saturn packaging, even down to that oh-so-1990’s SEGA Saturn logo. This pad comes in several colours, and I went for the lovely slate-grey colour. Yup, this is an official-looking box, let’s carefully crack it open and see what’s inside!

Oh my, what’s this shiny plastic impressiveness all about? You usually expect polystyrene, cardboard or soft plastic packaging inside, but Retro-Bit went the extra mile here and have supplied this snazzy storage box. Nice work there, especially if you’re the type who likes to display things. Carefully taking the cellophane off and opening the lid, there’s a nice flocked-velvet texture that screams “we care about the details”. There’s the controller itself, and not one, but two receivers – A 2.4GHz receiver to be used with the original Saturn, and a USB one that can be used with your PC, Mac, PlayStation 3, SEGA’s Mega Drive Mini system or even your Nintendo Switch. Adding two different receivers is a really nice touch – There are plenty of other third-party wireless pads that make you buy the receivers separately but to have more than one in straight out of the box is incredibly considerate.

There are many that believe the SEGA Saturn’s 6-button pad is the pinnacle of controller evolution, and I must admit I’m inclined to believe the hype. The disc-based Dpad and 6 face buttons were absolutely made for the mountains of brilliant 2D games that the system was so good for. It’s a controller that just melts into your hand quite nicely, and might just have the most comfortable shoulder buttons around. Retro-Bit’s version is just as comfortable, and light too.

Retro-Bit has multiple coloured versions of this pad and is continuing to release new colours as well, but I went for the Slate Grey. the rear of the pad has a partially textured transparent casing that wraps around the face of the pad, while the main area of the controller is a gorgeous transparent grey colour. Combined with the colourful Japanese-style buttons, it’s an absolute joy to look at.

The two included receivers are easy to use – They have a button on them to sync up controllers, and a micro USB port to connect them to a PC for firmware updates. Once you plug them into your chosen device and power that device on, a red LED will slowly blink as it looks for a synced controller. To sync a new controller, turn the controller on by pressing the Start button, and just hold the sync button to make the LED flash red to put it in sync mode. The process takes just a couple of seconds with the Saturn receiver, and only a tiny bit longer with using the USB receiver on a Windows device, as it has to install the drivers first. With the hard bit done, it’s time to play some games!

Personally, the ultimate test for any controller is a Capcom fighter, and my cup truly doth run over here. I’m no fighting game connoisseur, but for me, a few rounds throwing Hadouken and Shoryuken are the perfect way to see if a Dpad is up to par. You’ll be pleased to know that the Retro-bit pad passed the test with flying colours – I didn’t find it any different to the stock Saturn pad.

This pad ain’t just for Street Fighter though, this style of pad is good for pretty much anything you can throw at it – I had a lot of fun blasting through some of the best games the Saturn has to offer. As original equipment ages, as did my old Saturn pads, with time making those old buttons stick and unreliable – So to have a new pad that’s fully working is a godsend.

I did experience an instance of the C button sticking on the Retro-bit pad, and from a quick Google search, this does seem to be a regular issue that I can now repeat by pressing the C button upwards at around the 10 o’clock position. It’s something that can be fixed by the user, but really we shouldn’t have to and it’s weird that it’s still occurring months after the initial release.

ADDENDUM: While producing this video, I contacted Retro-Bit’s support team about the issue, who were very helpful and sent me a replacement pad from the US in a matter of weeks. I’m pleased to say that the replacement pad works perfectly, so kudos to Retro-Bit for providing an excellent support service, even in the midst of a global pandemic.

So, I bought this pad for my Saturn, but as it works with other devices, let’s see how it works with the Nintendo Switch? Quite well, in fact. Being that this is a dpad-based controller, it’s obviously not the optimal pad for playing the majority of 3D games, but if you’re looking to play some of the many retro remakes, rereleases and pastiches on the system, you really could do a lot worse. Initially, the pad does default to a rather unusual mapping where the A, B, X & Y buttons map directly to their counterparts on the Switch pad, which is the wrong orientation – However, this is easily rectified by holding Down & Start for three seconds, which flips the X & Y and the A & B buttons to something that resembles the Switch button layout. If required, you can also change the Dpad to be used in place of the Left analogue-stick by holding Left & Start for three seconds, in place of the Right Analogue-stick by holding Right & Start for three seconds, or back to normal by holding Up & Start for three seconds.

I’m honestly amazed at how versatile a controller this is, and how well it works. Other than the sticky C button, I’ve been nothing but impressed with Retro-Bit’s attention to detail and the quality of the pad they’ve released. I’ve been solidly playing with it over the last week and it’s just a wonderful wireless pad, with no noticeable lag (especially when playing on a CRT). Retro-Bit has certainly raised the bar in terms of retro console accessories, and with so many other retro systems not having decent wireless controllers, here’s hoping the likes of Dreamcast, PlayStation and more get controllers that are this well-designed. This pad definitely gets the thumbs up from me.

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