Aiming with sticks? So yesterday! Gyro aiming is the future
by Domagoj Belancic
The Hori Split Pad Compact is an ergonomic alternative to the comparatively tiny Joy-Cons. Nevertheless, the controller didn’t convince me during daily use.
Gaming on the Switch in handheld mode can be an ordeal. Even five years later, I still haven’t got used to the puny Joy-Con controllers on Nintendo’s hybrid console. My hands cramp up, especially during hectic action games such as «Bayonetta 3».
The Split Pad Compact offers an alternative. According to the manufacturer, their Joy-Con replacement offers the comfort and grip of a large Nintendo Switch Pro controller in a small, portable format.
I’ve tested the Split Pad Compact extensively. But despite the increased level of comfort, this compact controller doesn’t convince me as a replacement in everyday mobile gaming. Mainly due to some features that I’m sorely missing.
My first impression after the unboxing was sobering. The controllers are very light and feel cheaply made. It felt like I was holding simple plastic. But once attached to my Switch, this impression faded. The weight of the console immediately makes the cheap plastic feel much weightier.
Despite their compact size, the controllers are more comfortable to hold than Nintendo’s tiny originals. They’re slightly wider and curved at the back, allowing me to really grab and hold on to the controller. One highlight comes from easier operation of the shoulder buttons thanks to the improved grip.
The buttons on the front of the controller feel great. They’re larger and softer than Joy-Con buttons and have a more pleasant pressure point, nearly rivalling the Switch Pro Controller.
The surfaces of both analogue sticks are concavely curved and feature a fine texture. This way, your thumb remains in place even during intense action sequences and doesn’t slip. The sticks are placed significantly higher than the Joy-Con ones. This makes operation not only more convenient, but also more precise.
Fans of 2D games should be pleased by the control pad. It’s precise, has a pleasant pressure point and the rounded edges are ideal. In comparison, the four separate Joy-Con buttons look pretty bad.
When operating the directional pad, I noticed that the Split Pad controllers don’t slot in tight enough into the side rails of my Switch. Every time you use the directional pad, the left controller wobbles a bit. The right one also moves around too much in the rail. Joy-Cons feel much more stable. A blemish that doesn’t bother me too much when playing.
The two additional buttons on the back of the controllers are practical. These can be freely programmed. During my test, this was especially useful in «The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.» Usually, Link runs when the B button is held. But because your thumb has to stay in place, you can’t operate the camera with the right analogue stick at the same time. Annoying. I therefore set the extra button on the back as a B button replacement. Now I can run around with Link and operate the camera at the same time. A small adjustment that makes the game much more comfortable to play.
For me, Turbo mode is more a nice gimmick than a practical feature. This allows a single button press to be registered several times. Press the A button just once, and the game registers anywhere from five to twenty inputs per second. In Bayonetta 3, you can use it to fight through hordes of enemies more easily, and in Pokémon Purple you can skip boring dialogue even faster. I myself don’t like this kind of automation and prefer to rely on my own fingers and my ability to react.
The Hori Split Pad Compact is compatible with both the OLED Switch and LCD version. In both cases, your console won’t fit into the default case with the Split Pads attached. If you want to take the controllers with you, you’ll have to transport them separately or buy a larger case.
These separate modes of transport and the associated fiddling with controllers are unnecessary complications for me, which I’d prefer to avoid. The «compact» controllers are therefore only useful to me on longer trips or at home.
The question is, why go for the compact variant when the larger Split Pad Pro offers improved comfort? Neither model fits into conventional cases anyway. The Compact Controller’s older brother fits my hand even better and contains the same controls and additional functions.
The biggest deal breaker for me is the missing Joy-Con features. Hori’s Split Pad Compact includes no motion controls, HD Rumble function, NFC support or infrared camera – in other words, everything that makes the Switch unique.
Something I was aware of before testing. However, I didn’t realise how much I’d miss these features.
As much as I appreciate the greater ease of use in handheld mode, I can’t do without essential functions. I can get over the missing NFC support and infrared camera. But playing a game entirely without the Rumble function? No chance. Not least because many games convey important additional information using vibrations.
I also sorely missed motion-controlled aiming while testing «The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild» and «Splatoon 3». And those who know me know I adore motion controls. Even in handheld mode. This is the final straw, I just can’t love the Hori Split Pad.
The Hori Split Pad Compact offers greater ease of use than the original Joy-Cons. They fit well into my hand thanks to the curved back. The keys and directional pad feel precise and have a pleasant pressure point. Thanks to their concave curvature, the grippy surface texture and extra height, the sticks feel precise and reliable. The whole package is rounded off with additional buttons on the back that can be freely customised.
In short, purely in terms of traditional controls, the Split Pad Compact is superior to Nintendo’s original in all respects.
A pity then that the controllers aren’t as compact as the name suggests. They don’t fit into the conventional transport case. I could still live with this limitation, but the missing rumble function and motion controls are absolute deal breakers for me. The controller can be as ergonomic and comfortable as it wants to be – I can’t do without these basic functions even in handheld mode.
If you don’t mind the size, and vibrations and gyro sensors are just unnecessary gimmicks for you anyway, the Split Pad Compact is a viable ergonomic alternative to the puny Joy-Cons.
I will continue to struggle with my tiny original controllers. Be it with cramped hands, but with my precious vibration and motion controls.
HORI Split Pad Compact
Switch OLED, Switch
HORI Split Pad Compact - Gengar
Switch, Switch OLED
HORI Split Pad Compact
Switch, Switch OLED
HORI Split Pad Compact - Pikachu + Mimigma
Switch, Switch OLED
My love of video games was unleashed at the tender age of five by the original Gameboy. Over the years, it's grown in leaps and bounds.