Creator: Retro Fighters
Platform: NES, PC
Price: $44.99 MSRP
When I first heard of the Retro Fighters Jab Gamepad, my mind began to race. A classic NES controller with a modern redesign and dual functionality on—get this—the NES and PC. As a man who cut my gaming teeth on Nintendo’s two-tone gray console (and bought a RetroN 5 to recapture those days), I couldn’t wait to give the Jab a shot.
When the controller arrived from Retro Fighters, I lit up. The packaging punched me straight in the nostalgia. The box itself featured 8-bit characters (not unlike Megaman in street clothes) throwing—you guessed it—a jab. Even more eye-catching, though, was the controller in the box. Retro Fighters opted to stick close to the classic color motif Nintendo used three decades ago. For my full thoughts on the packaging and appearance, be sure to catch my unboxing video above.
Eventually, I had to pick my jaw up from the floor, plug in the controller, and actually spar with the peripheral for a few rounds. From Kung Fu to Marble Madness to Double Dragon and more, the Jab has had its time in the ring. Now let’s break down what I like and dislike about the controller. First, let’s talk about what I like with the controller itself. The shell is smooth, clearly designed for comfort. Much like the Xbox One’s controller, the size and shape ensure players will be able to play for hours comfortably without any hand or wrist issues. The shell’s construction feels sturdy, with seven screws holding the high-quality plastic casing together. On top of the peripheral’s form factor, I really like the joysticks. For those familiar with Microsoft’s controller design, the Jab’s joysticks will feel right at home. The thumb sticks offer just the right amount of grip and the feedback across their entire range of motion is directly on point with its modern contemporaries. I definitely recommend them as the way to go with Marble Madness! The trigger buttons also feel like they have the proper range of motion, though they feel a bit spongy. I also really like how the Jab splits its inputs between the classic NES connector and a USB port for PC compatibility.
Unfortunately, that’s where my love of this controller ended. The buttons themselves feel like they were made using a cheaper plastic than the shell. After some extensive play testing, I had several unexpected issues crop up. As previously mentioned, the shoulder buttons feel a bit spongier than I was expecting. The A and B face buttons are somewhat smaller than their original counterparts which seems minor but ultimately feels noticeable. The controller also still seemed to have trouble registering on some classically designed games on PC like Shovel Knight, despite the drivers being up to date.
Of it all, though, the design of the D-pad feels like the biggest misstep. At first glance it wouldn’t seem like there would be any issues here. Upon further examination and time spent testing though, it feels like it hinders more than it helps. There’s a depression built into the D-pad which offers an excellent resting place for your thumb, but the mechanism isn’t quite raised up enough off the face of the controller. It feels like the controller struggles to doesn’t differentiate its cardinal directions well enough. On several occasions, I found myself ducking then trying to move forward, only to be kicked in the face because the controller still registered a down-press despite my efforts to press left or right. I don’t want to write off a controller based solely on its D-pad, but when you’re trying to mimic the gold standard, it’s something you need to make sure you get right.
Overall, I like what the Jab controller is trying to do. Utilizing design improvements from three decades of experience to make beloved classics more enjoyable is a commendable goal. The controller looks fantastic and many of its features, like the joysticks and overall shape and button layout, feel great for modern sensibilities. Unfortunately, the D-pad feels woefully lacking and, though I expect it will improve with time, the driver support feels like it needs some work as well. At $45 MSRP, I also fear this may only appeal to a niche audience looking to shake up their retro experience with something new.
Review product provided by Retro Fighters
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The Bottom Line