Choosing the best controller for emulation is the key to making the experience of playing classic games a pleasant one. Many older platforms have controls that aren’t designed around analog sticks or have special requirements that aren’t found on all modern controllers. Fortunately, I have extensive experience with finding the right controllers for retro gaming, and I can help you find the product you need to have a good experience with your favorite classic games.
This list will help you find the best controllers to use with emulators. So, whether you’re using Retroarch, a RetroPi, a MISTer, or any number of standalone emulators, console clones, or microconsoles, you can find what you need here.
Overall best controller for emulation
Sony DualShock 4
Of all the current-gen controllers, the DualShock 4 is the most versatile and easy to use. The aspect that makes the DualShock 4 better than the Xbox One controller is the D-Pad positioning. Most pre-fifth generation consoles and PCs didn’t utilize analog sticks for control. With the DualShock 4, you have the D-pad in the best possible position to play most retro consoles. Also, if you run into a system that makes use of an analog stick, you can easily switch over without any issues. You can also use the DualShock 4 either wired or wirelessly, which gives it a wide range of compatibility.
Best wired emulation controller
Buffalo iBuffalo Classic USB Gamepad
The iBuffalo Classic is basically a SNES controller that connects with USB and features turbo functionality. The difference between this product and the millions of other SNES USB clones is the iBuffalo’s build quality. This controller actually feels pretty close to an actual SNES controller. Plus, at such a low price, most people can swing grabbing two for multiplayer action.
Best way to use original controllers with emulators
For the retro purist, the ideal way to play via an emulator is with a system’s original controller. Fortunately, there are some low-cost adapters available that can make that possible. Mayflash offers adapters that allow you to connect your SNES, N64, Gamecube, Wii, PS2, and Saturn controllers to your PC via USB. For the most part, these work just like using an Xbox One controller and can be easily configured across emulators.
- Buy the Mayflash SNES Controller to Adapter for PC USB for $10.99
- Buy the Mayflash N64 Controller Adapter For PC USB for $14.96
- Buy the Mayflash GameCube Controller Adapter For PC USB for $5.99
- Buy the Mayflash Sega Saturn – N64 – PS2 Controller Adapter for PC USB for $19.99
- Buy the Mayflash W010 Wireless Sensor DolphinBar for Wii for $18.99
Best cheap controllers for emulators
iNNEXT SNES Retro USB Controller Gamepad (2-pack)
The iNNEXT SNES USB controllers aren’t going to win any awards for build quality, but they’re super cheap. For $10, you get two SNES clone controllers that you can use on a multitude of emulators and devices. These are great for someone who just wants to play retro games every once in a while without making a significant investment.
Best arcade stick for emulation
Hori Real Arcade Pro 4 Kai
The Hori Real Arcade Pro 4 Kai is a solid arcade stick, but what makes it perfect for emulation is that it includes enough extra buttons that you shouldn’t have any issues mapping essential emulator functions. The Hayabusa stick and buttons feel great on this product, and it won’t break the bank. You’ll be hard-pressed to find this much value in another arcade stick, whether its for use with emulators or otherwise.
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