There are a number of situations where a gaming keyboard and mouse aren’t the greatest input alternatives for PC games, ranging from badly transferred console titles to action adventures and racing simulators. When it comes to twitchy responsiveness and pixel-perfect aim, it’s easy to swear by a keyboard and mouse, but there’s a large field where alternative gaming controllers can have an advantage while playing on a gaming PC.
1. PowerA Wired Controller (Enhanced)
There are two reasons to acquire a wired controller now that wireless controllers are the standard. Most manufacturers are now marketing it as a way to assure a reliable connection that reduces input lag and missed inputs.
However, there is another, more obvious reason: it is less expensive. That second factor is significantly weighted in PowerA’s Enhanced Wired Controller for Xbox Series X/S, the next-generation version of its wired Xbox One controller.
It costs $34.99, which is less than half the price of the standard Xbox Series X controller, which costs $59.99. Even if you choose convenience over performance and consider a hardline tether to be a defect, it’s easier to accept as a trade-off that keeps money in your pocket.
The Enhanced Wired Controller Series X, it turns out, is a perfectly passable controller. Despite the fact that some sections of it look and/or feel precisely like the copycat you’d expect, it functions admirably in all areas that matter, and even includes a couple of valuable extra features.
The PowerA Enhanced Wired Controller looks and feels quite similar to the standard Series X controller, with the exception of the MicroUSB-powered detachable wire and a few extra buttons. The chassis is slightly larger than the standard Series X controller, measuring 6.00 x 4.13 x 2.53 inches (WDH).
It’s deceptively light, weighing only 208 grams. It’s not particularly light in my hands, but it’s significantly lighter than the Series X controller (287g). The most important thing to remember is that you don’t feel the controller in your hands at all.
In many ways, the Enhanced Wired Controller feels Xbox controllers: The button, trigger, and stick layouts are all identical. The face buttons have a little more travel than the back buttons, but the tactile push is the same. The sticks are sensitive in the same way.
However, there are a few places where you may feel the difference. The etched into the plastic “grips” on the handles are just decorative. The analog sticks feature textured rims as well, but they aren’t rubberized for grip like other gear.
They won’t keep your hands steady as you move around the gamepad, and they won’t keep your hands from slipping when they get sweaty. The D-pad, which is a simple cross, is a little spongy. When you press, you get a strong tactile bump, which is wonderful, but the directional spokes sink a little when you fully press.
The quality of the construction is also an issue. The bumpers and triggers are made of a shiny hard plastic that feels fine while playing but appears flimsy. Right out of the box, the bumpers, in particular, jiggle a little. I’ve just had the controller for about four days and haven’t had any years, but considering a lifetime of using controllers, I wouldn’t anticipate the Bumpers to survive very long or withstand a lot of abuse.
Though I primarily regard the Enhanced Wired Controller as a cost-effective alternative to the standard controller, it does have a few handy added capabilities. It contains a pair of customizable rear buttons, similar to the Enhanced Wired Xbox One controller, situated at the base of the handles where your middle fingertips naturally rest.
Using the program button in the center of the controller’s back, you can program the buttons to emulate any of the face buttons, bumpers, or triggers. While limited in comparison to the Xbox Elite: Series 2, this feature is standard on most third-party Xbox controllers.
It’s one of the greatest two-button back input systems I’ve used, despite its simplicity: They have a more intuitive feel than other back buttons and paddles, making them easy to pick up and use without any practice or unpleasant acclimation.
The Enhanced Wired Controller now incorporates a huge, transparent headset audio control switch at the bottom of the gamepad, which is new to the Series X model. The dial, which sits just above the 3.5mm headphone socket, allows you to change the volume of a wired headset by pressing left or right, as well as mute the microphone by pressing in.
In general, I’m not sure how useful it is to have audio inputs on controllers: On the one hand, they make it easier to make modifications on the fly than the onboard controls of a headset. The controls, on the other hand, only work with 3.5mm wired headsets that plug into the controller, which are becoming less and less popular as a connection method.
The audio controls have no detrimental impact on the controller, so it’s not that I don’t enjoy their inclusion, but their utility is really more niche than you might think at first appearance.
The Enhanced Wired Controller provides an experience that is similar to that of the standard Xbox Series X controller. Apart from the wired connection, which has its own set of performance perks and possibly difficult logistical limits, I rarely notice what controller I’m using.
That may come out as mocking, but it’s actually a compliment: “Comparable” is a notable achievement considering the controller costs approximately half as much as the first-party default. The controller felt good in my hands when playing long lengths of Cyberpunk 2077.
My movement and aim seemed precise thanks to the quick analog sticks. The buttons and triggers all felt comfortable, with the exception of the bumpers, which have a slight wobble and harsh edges. In Cyberpunk, the D-pad is only used on occasion, yet I found myself pressing the directions for longer than I would with other controllers.
Because of their prominent positioning, I found myself naturally incorporating the back buttons into my play more often than I did with other controllers. They’re simple to operate and comfortable to hold. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War multiplayer gave me a similar sensation.
My movement and aim felt more natural because to the responsive analog stick movement. There were times when specific actions, such as horizontal movement on the right stick, felt slow after moving from a high-end third-party controller with configuration software that lets you fine-tune your analog sticks: However, the motion was exactly similar when I switched back to the standard Series X controller.
The PowerA Enhanced Wired Controller feels “standard” in almost every manner, despite the back buttons and the word “Enhanced” in the name. It’s not an upgrade over the fantastic controller that comes with a Series X or Series S, but it’s a cheap and highly capable backup controller for couch co-op or as a replacement if necessary.
2. Xbox Controller Wireless
The Xbox Wireless Controller is known as “Old Reliable.” The new Xbox Wireless Controller debuting with the Xbox Series X and Series S isn’t so much a “next-gen” controller as it is an incremental improvement on the one we already know, in keeping with Microsoft’s drive for cross-generational continuity.
It’s chock-full of modest improvements to certain aspects of the Xbox experience, such as recording games, using the D-pad, and grip. However, there are no major “next-gen” changes – no new features aimed to change the way we play and interact with games – simply a slightly improved controller over the previous one.
This may take the wind out of your sails if you’re looking forward to that next-gen moment when the hardware gives you a glimpse of what could be. Personally, I’m happy with Microsoft continuing to riff on its incredibly recognizable and comfy controller design.
The black model, which will be included with the Xbox Series X on launch day, looks and feels similarly to the Bluetooth-enabled model that debuted with the Xbox One S and X: the black matte plastic shell, multi-colored face buttons, and analog sticks are all identical to their predecessors.
If you’re familiar with an Xbox One controller, you’ll notice the pairing button on top, a plate in the back that hides two AA batteries, and two ports on the bottom – a proprietary socket for connecting the Xbox chatpad and a 3.5mm audio jack for wired headsets.
There are a few minor cosmetic differences, such as an all-black Xbox button and matte bumper and trigger buttons, that make the controller look slightly different from its predecessors. After seven years of using an Xbox One controller, I’d expect Xbox aficionados to notice the changes, but more casual players are unlikely to notice.
The controller’s body hasn’t changed much. It measures 6 x 4 x 2.47 inches (WDH) versus 6 x 4 x 2.56 inches (WDH) for the Xbox One controller. It’s also slightly heavier, measuring 287 grams versus 279 grams for the Xbox One model. (With two AA batteries inside, both weights were measured.)
Despite the minor weight and size differences, the new controller has a substantial feel to it. The weightiness is perfectly balanced, just like the Xbox Elite Series 2, so the controller sits well in your hands. However, there are three differences between the previous Xbox controller and the new model that may impact how you use it.
The first is the new share button, which is located near the Menu and View buttons in the center of the controller. With a single button click, the share button allows you to instantly take screenshots or start recording video clips.
By default, pressing and holding the button for a second takes a screenshot and starts recording a video clip. (Using the Xbox Accessories app on any Xbox One or Xbox Series console, you can swap these features or change either to capture recent footage.)
The share button makes using Xbox’s native sharing facilities on the fly a lot easier. With the old controller, there was a lag after pressing the Xbox button before you could reach the recording choices, making recording a chore and making it difficult to capture accurate screenshots without a photo mode.
Although I still don’t think utilizing the share button is the ideal way to take screenshots, it feels more responsive and is absolutely painless. Knowing that I can snap something with a single press makes me considerably more likely to do it on the spur of the moment.
The controller also features a new, clickier “hybrid”-style directional pad that sits midway between the previous model’s cross-shaped D-pad and the Xbox Elite Series 2’s abstract, concave D-pad design. A slightly concave circular pad with raised cardinal directions has been added to the new version (right, left, up, and down).
The directions are more distinct than on the Elite Series 2, making it easier to distinguish between hitting a cardinal and a diagonal. Surprisingly, the most noticeable change is the click, which is now louder and more responsive. A complete press on one of the cardinal directions produces audible and tactile feedback.
This may be a significant upgrade or a nuisance, depending on your feelings about “clicky” buttons, but as someone who frequently fudges directional presses during furious play, I found it to be beneficial.
There are also two minor improvements to the controller’s wireless technology. It supports the Xbox One’s wireless pairing protocol as well as Bluetooth for easy connection with other devices such as phones and tablets, just like the previous version. Bluetooth has been upgraded to Bluetooth Low-Energy, which should lead in longer battery life when used in that mode.
Regrettably, the Xbox controller still requires AA batteries rather than an integrated rechargeable battery. The new controller, on the other hand, has a USB-C port rather than a microUSB port. It’s a bit of a letdown because I had hoped Microsoft would finally make the switch to an internal battery. If you utilize an Xbox rechargeable battery kit, however, adopting USB-C may lead in faster charging.
3. 8BitDo Pro 2
The 8BitDo Pro 2 may appear to be remarkably identical to the SN30 Pro+ controller that preceded it at first glance. While the new model has the same design as the old one, it has some significant physical and software advancements. This is the ultimate 8BitDo controller to own for retro gamers and current gamers alike, with a stronger emphasis on “pro” than ever before.
The 8BitDo Pro 2 is based on the SNES controller and has a retro feel to it, albeit with modern capabilities like dual analog sticks, vibration, and more. The controller’s ergonomics are excellent, making it a pleasure to wield. In terms of size and weight, it’s quite similar to PlayStation’s DualShock 4 controller, with the Pro 2 weighing just 18 grams more.
Even the rear of both controllers’ “improved grip” feels the same. The main difference is that the stems on the 8BitDo are a little straighter, whereas the DualShock 4 extends at a greater angle. The Pro 2 is compatible with the Nintendo Switch, Windows PCs, Mac OS X laptops, Android smartphones and tablets, and the Raspberry Pi. On all supported devices, it offers Bluetooth 4.0, as well as a wired option if you choose.
8BitDo has practically mastered the current D-pad, recreating the best version of what was on the SNES controller while preserving the same size, shape, and feel. Four face buttons (set out in Nintendo’s A/B/X/Y style) are located opposite the D-pad and produce a pleasing click when pressed. They’re a little taller than the buttons on newer controllers like the DualShock, DualSense, and Xbox Series X/S, but the point where the button records a press is about the same.
The analog sticks are slightly more spaced out than the DualShock 4’s analog sticks and lie below the pill-shaped Start and Select buttons. The sticks themselves are firm but sensitive, snapping back to their original position nearly instantaneously. When pressed in, both feature a distinct click and a pleasant thumb groove.
The L and R buttons on top are also comparable to those seen on a SNES controller. Both buttons are long, narrow, and easy to push as they curve with the controller. The L2 and R2 buttons on the back are excellent. They’re simple to press down, but they’re a little tense. In actuality, these are analog triggers, which means that for games that support it, they can tell how far they’ve been pressed.
8BitDo’s distinctive buttons, the Star and Heart, are also on the front of the controller, on opposing sides of the controller. On the Nintendo Switch, these buttons serve as the screenshot and home buttons, but they may be assigned to anything you want on any platform. There’s also a button in the center that lets you easily switch between three customizable preset profiles.
Two “pro” back paddle buttons are located on the back of the device. When pressed, these low-profile buttons generate an audible click and are tucked comfortably into the natural curvature of the grips. This is one of the Pro 2’s new capabilities, and it’s a great touch for people who want to fine-tune their inputs.
A simple toggle switch on the back lets you choose between four different devices to connect to: Switch, macOS, Android, and Windows. This is a significant improvement over prior 8BitDo controllers, which required simultaneously pressing the Start and one of the face buttons to change the associated device.
A battery door stores 8BitDo’s replaceable 1000mAh lithium-ion battery pack, allowing you to replace it without having to buy a new controller if necessary. The controller’s battery lasts about 20 hours on a single charge and can be recharged in about four hours using the USB-C port on top.
Wired modes allow you to play and charge at the same time; however, the included USB-C cable is just around three feet long, so you’ll probably want to get another. The platform toggle on the rear of the Pro 2 makes switching between Nintendo Switch and PC games a breeze. Once you’ve linked the controller for the first time, it remembers the device for each input mode, allowing you to easily utilize the same controller across numerous platforms.
On the Switch, I spent some time playing Super Mario 3D World, where the analog sticks felt tight and responsive. It was also a wonderful touch to have built-in rumble, as many third-party controllers lack this important feature. There was no apparent input lag throughout my playtime, and all buttons worked as intended. The sole disadvantage is that it cannot rouse the Switch from its sleep state, which is a small annoyance.
I went back to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate after ending my search for green stars and began personalizing profiles. I built bespoke setups for different characters because I was able to modify them so easily through my smartphone. This made playing them much easier.
For example, instead of pushing down and B at the same time, I made a macro for one of the back paddles that allows me to easily switch between Pyra and Mythra. While it may not appear to be a big deal, the ability to practically bind whole maneuvers to a single button hit got me really thrilled.
I also put the D-pad through its paces by playing a few of classic games on SNES Online. Unlike the last several Xbox controllers and many other 3rd-party controllers I’ve used, I’m happy to say that 8BitDo still offers a superb D-pad that genuinely feels pleasant to use.
The movement was precise, and the platforming in the numerous Mario games was as enjoyable as it had always been. I even played Spelunky 2 on my gaming PC, a game that necessitates extreme precision, and the D-pad, as well as the controller itself, did not let me down once.
4. Hori Fighting Stick Alpha
Hori is a brand that is synonymous with high-quality third-party gaming peripherals. Gaming The Japanese company makes everything from headsets to chargers to controllers. Arcade sticks are, of course, Hori’s most well-known items, particularly the Fighting Stick Alpha (stylized as ).
The Alpha ticks all of the appropriate boxes with its elegant yet durable design, top-of-the-line components, and customization choices. Hori’s Fighting Stick Alpha is the dominant combat stick for anyone playing on Xbox Series X or a gaming PC, to say nothing of how it performs during gameplay.
The Fighting Stick Alpha is a tournament-grade fighting stick, which means it’s built with long-lasting components that allow for precise inputs while standing up to the rigors of high-level competition. The Hayabusa line of levers, buttons, and switches had a part in achieving this feat.
The eight-directional joystick of the Alpha is low to the ground, detecting even the tiniest movements swiftly. The fact that your inputs are being read is indicated by light clicks. However, the punching and kicking buttons are a tad louder. Their ergonomic shape is familiar, with four rows of four with a slight curvature; most fighting game aficionados will be at ease with their placement. They sit low, like the joystick, allowing rapid inputs.
Hori’s Hayabusa joystick and buttons are noted for their responsiveness. They are fast, reliable, and feel fantastic to the touch. The softness of the matte polished buttons contrasts with the coldness of the metal joystick. Neither appears to be of low quality; on the contrary, they appear to be built to withstand wear and strain.
Button sticking is avoided thanks to the matte coating and breathing spacing around the buttons, for example. That’s in contrast to the plastic, tightly packed buttons seen on other sticks, which can struggle to move freely after a while.
The chassis of the Fighting Stick Alpha is equally as tough. Its 7.5-pound chassis is strong enough to withstand minor knocks and bumps during transport, and all save the glass that covers the main panel is fingerprint-resistant. The hinges, which open the chassis for maintenance with a simple release mechanism, can hold in place regardless of angle.
The Alpha’s chassis is a little bulky, but not too so, in terms of dimensions. The Alpha is massive and heavy enough for tabletop play but compact and light enough to sit comfortably on your lap on the couch, with dimensions of 18.9, 14.37, and 6.5 inches, respectively. Of course, your feelings regarding its size and shape may depend on your particular preferences, but I thought it was ideal for competitive scenes.
A color-coded description of the button/cable configuration, plastic holders for wrapping the controller’s USB cord around when not in use, and access to the top panel’s screws are all found on the inside. They’ll spring out with a few short rotations, making swapping out the top panel artwork a breeze. Hori does not supply bespoke panel work, but it does provide a template that you can utilize to create or commission your own.
Hori includes a few console-specific features around the top of the stick because the Alpha is licensed by Microsoft for the Xbox Series S/X. These include the LSB and RSB (left and right sticks), as well as the View, Menu, and Share buttons on the Xbox controller, as well as the Xbox button itself.
There’s also a profile switcher, key lock toggle (which disables specific keys to avoid unintentional presses like stop from disqualifying tournament players), and onboard headset and mic audio controls, all of which are conveniently located but out of the way of unintentional presses.
I could speak with pals on Xbox Live without having to use a controller by plugging a 9.5mm headset into the left side of the stick. Muting, raising, and decreasing the volume was a breeze with the integrated audio settings.
Hori basically made it such that you won’t need to use an Xbox controller with the Fighting Stick Alpha to complete simple tasks. The Fighting Stick Alpha always performed admirably during my 20+ hours of testing.
I had a blast winning and losing to friends online whether I was playing Street Fighter V on PC or Samurai Shodown on my Xbox Series X.
The responsiveness of the controls made difficult maneuvers like a counter-based punish in Tekken 7 or pro link combos in Street Fighter IV much easier to execute, to the point where any time I missed a fireball or dropped a combo, it felt as if the blame fell squarely on my shoulders rather than the controls.
However, I did attribute some of the losses to the sensitivity of the buttons. It was simple for me to accidently graze the X and Y buttons when trying to press the other with my fingertips hanging over them. I’d press low and medium punch instead of “low punch” (to hurl a Fireball), tossing out an EX Fireball or performing a Super when I didn’t want to.
This would, of course, result in my opponent punishing me if my strike failed. Hori’s Fighting Stick Alpha is the greatest combat stick for the Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S, as well as a strong challenger for the PC. You’ll be hard pushed to find a better choice come fight night than the Hayabusa with its superb Hayabusa buttons, handy console features, configurable controls, and robust chassis.