Datel “Old Skool” Retro Controller Review

Last summer, Datel released a retro styled classic controller in Japan, based off of the Famicom controller of the 1980s.  Holding the same form factor as an NES controller, yet equipped with X, Y, and shoulder buttons of the SNES controller, it was something Wii owners had been waiting for – a classic controller from the era their Virtual Console games.  The new game-pad made it’s way to North America last month branded as the “Old Skool Retro Controller,” and if you can find it, it’s an excellent compliment to the official classic controller – but no replacement.

The Datel “Old Skool” feels light in the hand, but solid.  The D-pad and buttons give a nostalgic click when pressed, rendering a sensation very similar to how a new NES pad must have felt.  The “start” and “select” buttons representative of the Classic Controller’s “plus” and “minus” buttons retain the soft texture of the NES start/select buttons – a texture that is mirrored in the controllers “home” and “turbo” buttons.  The top of the controller features L and R buttons, molded into the contour of the game-pad itself – both of which are quite responsive, but a little uncomfortable compared to the round contours of the SNES pad or official classic controller.

Overall, the controller just feels right.  It’s form factor gives it that “retro feel” of an NES pad and the button layout makes it a suitable replacement for an SNES controller – as long as you don’t need to make excessive use of the L and R buttons.  The controller has a two speed turbo mode that, when activated, applies the turbo setting to every button at once – which can leave you stuck with turbo jumping when all you wanted was turbo attack.  It looks right, it feels right, the controller wire is black and it comes out of the top – it works with Wiiware games such as Megaman 9 and Tetris Party – really, there is almost nothing to complain about – but the one thing that could improve this controller would also undo everything it is.

The thing that keeps this controller truly “retro,” also remains it’s biggest fault – the lack of analog sticks.  Without them, it falls short of it’s packaging, which calls it “ideal for games downloaded from the Wii Virtual Console.”  The “ideal” falls short without analog, leaving the pad unable to play N64 titles – but the inclusion of analog sticks would destroy the retro feel that makes the controller so perfect for NES, SNES, Genesis, and Turbo Graphix 16 games.  The absence of analog also leaves the “Old Skool” unable to navigate the Wii menu without the aide of the Wii Remote IR pointer, costing the user some convenience.

All in all, if you are big on Virtual Console games, the “Old School Retro Controller” is a great compliment to the official classic controller, and a preferable alternative for most NES and SNES titles.  If you can only afford one Classic controller, stick with the official pad, the Nyko Wing, or perhaps Datel’s own wireless alternative – but if you’re considering picking up a spare for the occasional player two – or just want that retro feel, you can’t go wrong with Datel’s “Old Skool Retro Controller.”

The Datel Old Skool Retro Controller can be found at CodeJunkies, Amazon Japan, or ebay.