Late to the party: The HORI Split Pad Pro

Your Editor, dear reader, is a massive nerd, and as such only tends to leave the house when his supplies of crispy snack products or energy drinks are running low — and even then, it’s a toss-up as to whether or not he Amazon Primes a bunch of stuff in bulk. Consequently, he has not tended to make much use of the Switch’s handheld mode — but the HORI Split Pad Pro may well have him thinking otherwise.

Yes, that’s right; despite the Switch being a hybrid console, I tend to spend the majority of my time playing it at home on the sofa with the Pro Controller. One of the reasons for this is that I don’t like the Joy-Cons much; as someone with quite large hands their tiny, unsatisfying buttons and flimsy-feeling analogue sticks aren’t especially pleasant to use. And don’t even get me started on that sorry excuse for digital directional controls on the left one. Come on, Nintendo, you invented the modern D-Pad. All this means that I’m disinclined to enjoy the Switch in handheld mode.

HORI Split Pad Pro packaging

But this week, to coincide with a couple of nights away from home, I decided to invest in a HORI Split Pad Pro to see if it made the handheld Switch experience more pleasant and enjoyable. And I’m pleased to report that it most certainly does, regardless of what type of game you’re enjoying — though there are a couple of caveats worth bearing in mind.

The HORI Split Pad Pro, for the unfamiliar, was released first back in 2020, and is essentially a Nintendo Pro Controller sawed in half and fitted with the rails required to attach it to the two sides of the main Nintendo Switch tablet. There’s also a more compact model set for release in 2022, but since this more closely mimics the form factor of the Joy-Cons, it’s less interesting to me — even if it does have a proper D-Pad.

The adoption of the Pro Controller form factor for the HORI Split Pad Pro means that it’s got a satisfying heft to it, as well as some comfortable grips on the outside edge. This makes the Switch considerably more comfortable to hold in handheld mode for protracted periods of time — although it does initially feel a little unnatural to hold your hands so widely apart.

HORI Split Pad Pro

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the HORI Split Pad Pro over the original Joy-Cons is that it features larger analogue sticks and buttons, with the latter having considerably more travel to them than the unsatisfying “click” of the Joy-Con buttons. On top of that, lesser-used buttons such as the “plus” and “minus” buttons (which I still call Start and Select to this day, because no-one I play Switch games with ever knows where “the plus button” is) are positioned in a much better place; while on the Joy-Cons, you have to sort of thread your thumb around the analogue stick to reach them, on the HORI Split Pad Pro they’re much more clearly separated.

In third-party controller tradition, the HORI Split Pad Pro also comes with a few additional features over and above the standard Nintendo controllers. Two of them, to be specific: a Turbo function, which allows you to enable rapid-fire on any button, and an Assign function, which allows you to assign any button to an extra “trigger” on the back of the controller.

There are a couple of issues with both of these, however, most notably that although the Turbo and Assign functions are replicated on both sides of the controller, they only apply to the side they’re on. This means that you can’t, for example, assign the extra left trigger to one of the right-side face buttons, which is a bit annoying; I would have, for example, liked to assign that left trigger to the A button so that I could hold the Switch in my left hand and still be able to advance through the text of a visual novel while holding a drink in my right.

HORI Split Pad Pro

The extra trigger buttons are also placed in such a way that it’s easy to accidentally press them while simply holding the controller naturally; as such, it’s probably best to leave them unassigned unless you have a particularly specific use case in mind for them, otherwise you might find yourself unintentionally triggering functions you don’t want to.

The HORI Split Pad Pro lacks motion controls, meaning that you can’t use gyro aiming in games like Splatoon — although with the better analogue sticks, this is arguably less of an issue — and the lack of an NFC feature means that you can’t use Amiibo with them. It doesn’t have HD Rumble either, which is probably the biggest shame. That said, the omission of all of these features means that the HORI Split Pad Pro is considerably more affordable than a set of Joy-Cons — and a better handheld controller in almost every other regard, to boot.

So if you’ve either been holding off on the HORI Split Pad Pro or not making good use of your Switch in handheld mode due to a dislike of the Joy-Cons, I encourage you to pick one up for yourself and see the difference. And there’s even an attachment set you can get now, too, which turns them into a wired controller for the Switch in docked mode.

So there you have it. HORI once again proving that the third-party controller for a console doesn’t have to be the shit one you give to that one friend who always beats you at Mario Kart. Sometimes it can actually be superior to “the real thing”.

The HORI Split Pad Pro is available from a variety of retailers, including Amazon.

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Pete Davison
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