8Bitdo releases a kit that allows you to convert your old N64 controllers with modern joysticks into gamepads for the Nintendo Switch. In addition, there is a rumble pack that enables a vibration function. It doesn’t get more retro than that.
- Mod kit for the N64 controller
- at AliExpress for €45.40 | 8Bitdo for about 45€
- Mod Kit for SNES
- Mod Kit for PS1
8BitDo Mod Kit turns the old N64 controller into a gamepad for the Switch
- The N64 controller – what was Nintendo thinking?
The N64’s controller had a really questionable but also unique design with its three handles. It was always a bit odd to play with, and the left grip with d-pad was almost never used. What you hear most often when players talk about the controller are the joysticks becoming very stretched out at some point and blisters on the palms of the hands from rotating the sticks while playing Mario Party. This is precisely why the design has achieved a certain cult status. (And Nintendo later took it to the extreme when it came to fancy controller design with the Wii.)
If you still have one or more of the controllers in a box somewhere, you can now convert them into controllers for the switch. 8Bitdo has released a kit for this that you have to install yourself in the gamepad housing. The buttons of the controller are still used, only the circuit board inside is replaced. Optionally, the kit can be ordered with a Hall joystick. That should be the more reasonable option, because at least on my N64 controller, all the sticks are no longer in a usable condition.
The kit also includes a “rumble pack” that plugged into the bottom of the controller like it did with the N64. At that time, the Rumble Pack still shared the slot with the Memory Pack, so you always had to choose whether you wanted to use extra memory slots or the vibration function. There is now also a battery in the Rumble Pack, which is charged via a USB-C connection. This means that the controller can also be used wirelessly.
I have to say, I really like the idea. Do you need that? No, absolutely not. The N64 controller no longer meets the demands that are placed on modern gamepads, from ergonomics to workmanship – not to mention the design. And controllers that are based on the design and also work with the switch or on the PC have been around for a long time. But just for nostalgia reasons, being able to play with the controllers from back then feels like something special. The N64 was my first console in 1997 and has a special place in my memory. So I ordered the kit myself and tried it out.
Conversion of the N64 controller – the test
I ordered the kit directly from 8Bitdo in their online store for around €45 including shipping. It took about two weeks after ordering for the package from China to reach me. Quite normal for a normal order without express shipping or the like. In the shipping box you will then find a simple, brown 8Bitdo packaging.
The box then contains the various components for the conversion. That’s the new circuit board, the joystick and the “rumble pack” that will later be plugged into the bottom of the controller. There is also a USB-C cable, instructions and a small screwdriver.
No more preparation is required, you can start right away. I pulled my old N64 console out of the basement and found three controllers along with a few classic games like Super Mario 64 and the two excellent N64 Zeldas. All three controllers (it used to be four) have extremely worn joysticks that wobble when you move the gamepad. Years of Mario Party gaming has taken its toll on the hardware. I then decided on the green controller for the conversion.
If you follow the instructions in the manual, the conversion is relatively uncomplicated. The controller is mounted with 9 simple Phillips screws that can be loosened with the included screwdriver. Then you can simply open the case and expose the inner workings. The stick is again attached with three screws, but the circuit board can be easily removed. The only parts that are reused (apart from the buttons themselves, of course) are the silicone attachments that fit under the shoulder buttons and the Z-trigger.
Now all you have to do is insert the new 8Bitdo board and screw on the new control stick. The stick must also be plugged in, but this is a single connector. A small silicone plug closes the point where the cable previously led out of the controller. When reassembling, make sure the buttons are all in place (especially on the shoulder buttons), then you can just snap the case back on and tighten the screws.
The Rumble Pack is then plugged into the bottom of the controller – just like the Rumble Pack of the N64 back then. In addition to the connection for charging the battery, there are also some of the buttons that are otherwise found on the 8Bitdo controllers. A switch on the bottom controls whether the controller should be paired with the Switch or an Android device.
The conversion is already complete. Even if you proceed very carefully (eg because you are unsure or just don’t have a steady hand for something like that) everything does n’t take longer than 20-30 minutes . That’s a generous estimate; who knows what he’s doing is done here in under 5 minutes. The instructions show each step with a small picture and English text.
Then you can use the controller directly. On the Switch, it’s even recognized as an N64 controller (there used to be one officially made by Nintendo for the Switch). The coupling works right away and depending on the game you can start playing immediately. All titles are not supported, but the gamepad is missing a few buttons compared to the Pro Controller.
The service then works very well. The stick is a massive improvement over the N64 stick and on par with modern controllers. After all, it is a magnetic stick with Hall sensors. The buttons also react well, I don’t see a big difference here compared to the operation before the conversion. The only limitation: the right shoulder button doesn’t really move. Although it recognizes inputs correctly, there is hardly any haptic feedback. I opened the controller again and tried to fix it, but so far without success.
8Bitdo already offers similar DIY sets for other old controllers, such as the Playstation 1 or the Super Nintendo. But the N64 version is the only one that also has the optional new joystick.
If you want to swap out the joy con sticks on the Nintendo Switch for magnetic reverb sticks, check out this DIY kit we tried out a few months ago.
Conclusion – pure nostalgia
One must evaluate this kit in two ways. On the one hand, there’s the question of whether it’s a good option if you simply want an additional Switch or smartphone controller. Then the answer is no. There are cheaper controllers that serve the same purpose and are better shaped than the very idiosyncratic N64 model.
But there is a second perspective. On the one hand, the conversion is just fun. I have enough controllers and don’t need another one, but I just wanted to try the kit. There is also a nostalgia factor. I’ve heard a few times that you can just buy the official N64 controller for the Switch, or one of the many 3rd party products. But these controllers here are not just any. The console in the picture is the N64 that my siblings and I got for Christmas in 1997 when I was 10 years old.
We’ve played Mario Kart, Mario Party, and Super Smash Bros. with the controllers for years, and this oneI can now use controllers with the Switch, 26 years later. Just seeing the console again after all these years brought back a lot of memories. Quite apart from the fact that I can show the controller to my nephew, who was wide-eyed when he saw the console because he only knows his switch, but of course he doesn’t know what an N64 is.
In this respect, my conclusion is: If you are looking for an extra switch controller, buy any other one. If you’re a gamer at heart and you still have an N64 controller in the attic somewhere, get this kit.