zophar53's Blog

Posted on Mar 4th 2019 at 08:00:00 AM by (zophar53)
Posted under Review, 8BitDo, Retro, Controllers, Genesis, Mega Drive

For the past handful of years, 8BitDo has been bringing retro controllers and adapters to its fans at a regular clip. In general their quality has been pretty high, and the combination of retro styling and modern conveniences has made them the aftermarket manufacturer of choice for many gamers looking to add wireless controller support to their NES Classic or get a SNES-style controller with dual analog sticks for their emulator setup.

The M30 is 8BitDo's newest release, and to my knowledge it's the first Genesis-styled offering from them. I own a couple other 8BitDo controllers and have been considering dipping into the Genesis library recently, so I figured the timing was perfect to put the new gamepad through its paces.

Like the 8BitDo controllers I've used in the past, the M30 makes a great first impression. The packaging is neat and compact, not unlike the kind you'd find when you open the box of a new smartphone. There's not much to it, just a brief instruction sheet to show you how to pair it to various devices and a USB-C cord to charge it and to play wired, if you so choose. The controller is compatible with Microsoft, MacOS, Steam, Android, even the Switch. The latter is a nice addition, as I've read that Nintendo's newest console has some quirks to its bluetooth protocol that make some wireless devices tricky, if not impossible, to pair with it.

I was always more of a Nintendo fan than a Sega one, so while my brother had a Master System and a Genesis at various points, I have a lot less experience with Sega controllers of old. That said, I played enough of them that I still remember how good the Genesis controller felt in my hands. I had small hands as a kid, so it felt big and bulky, and even though the three-button layout was weird to me, I really enjoyed the curviness of the thing. The SNES controller had curved edges too, but it was more squared off on the top and bottom, and the Genesis controller's roundness made it feel comfortable and substantial. I have even less experience with the 6-button controller, but it too had rounded edges that I've always appreciated.

The claw and the jellybean, as I like to think of them

The M30 doesn't completely ape the shape of those old controllers, surprisingly, instead opting for a profile that looks like what you'd get if you took a baterang and sanded down all the pointy bits. This isn't a bad thing, though, as it retains the smooth curves that felt good in the hand so many years ago. In addition, the build quality feels good. The buttons and D-pad feel firm but not too stiff, easy to press but not too loose, and there's a satisfyingly tactile bump as you press them. It feels about perfect from what my brain remembers that controller feeling like to use, but I don't have an actual Genesis controller on hand to do a side-by-side button comparison, so take that with whatever grain of salt you see fit.

Beyond the standard buttons you'd expect to see, the M30 has L and R buttons, a Home button, one that serves mostly as a screenshot button, and a Select button. These are great additions, and make it easier to use on other platforms. Pretty much my only complaint with the physicality of the M30 is the weight. It's possible that my brain remembers the Genesis controller being heavier than it really was due to the fact that I was a child at the time, but it reminds me of the non-rumble PS3 Dual Shock controllers in its lack of heft. This isn't a deal-breaker by any stretch; it certainly doesn't feel flimsy enough to make me worry about a tense gaming session stressing the plastic to its limits or anything. But to someone who likes the weightiness of modern console controllers, the M30 feels pretty light by comparison.

My 8BitDo collection. The N30 Pro, the SN30 Pro, and the M30

"Ok Travis, we get it, it looks nice. But how well does it work?" Pretty great, as it turns out. I tried a number of games on the M30, some made for its layout and some not. The first thing I fired up was Sega Mega Drive & Genesis Classics on Steam. My first 8BitDo controller, the N30 Pro, was aesthetically fantastic, but it had some issues that keep it from being my controller of choice for retro gaming. It's clear the quality of these controllers has improved since then, as the M30 performed just as well as my SN30. I was able to maneuver Sonic through Green Hill Zone and give the thugs of Streets of Rage 2 the beat down they deserve with no latency that I could detect. By holding the button you'd like to assign it to and pressing the Star button on the controller, you can even activate a turbo function if that's your style.

I even felt comfortable enough that I gave Cuphead a try next. Anyone who's played that 1930's cartoon Twitchfest knows the secret to success is reaction time, and any hesitation or delay in controller input can spell doom. But even here I had no issues. I mean, it still took me 10 tries to beat the first boss, but that's entirely due to my lack of skill, not a fault of the M30. My SNES emulator was trouble-free as well, and with the customizable nature of emulators, the button configuration was simple to make work.

The M30 was quick enough to allow me to counter Jet's dive kicks, provided my reflexes were up to the task, of course

I couldn't get my Raspberry Pi to find the M30 when I tried to fire up Retropie on my TV, but I'm not sure if it was the controller or the Pi. I'm a bit of a novice when it comes to that level of setup, and my Pi has been finicky with controllers in the past, so it could be that I need to spend more time learning Emulation Station configuration. I've been able to get both of my other 8BitDo controllers working with the Pi before, so I'll continue working at it.

After that, it was time to give the Switch a try. Getting it to sync to the M30 was super easy, and just as lag-free as my tests on the PC, but actually playing games on it wasn't quite as smooth. When playing the Sega Ages version of Outrun, the game seemed to not register my presses of the L and R buttons. Thankfully, this was only a problem in the settings menu, and didn't effect the gameplay itself, but it's a sign that other "official" versions of old games brought to the console may have similar quirks. The other issue I ran into on the Switch was when playing Tetris 99. As my first tetrimino started to fall, I quickly realized that the D-pad was acting like the analog stick, switching which of my opponents to target for the junk I would generate by clearing lines. Since there are no sticks on the M30, I had no way to move my tetriminos in the well.

Sometimes I manage to convince myself I'm still good at video games

The last game I tried was the demo for Yoshi's Crafted World. There didn't appear to be any problems with that game, as I was able to move, jump, fire eggs, and do all the cute Yoshi things I wanted. So while it's a nice bonus that the M30 works so easily with a Switch, if you plan on playing games that require extensive use of the L or R buttons or make use of both the D-pad and analog stick, you may encounter some problems. Like the lightness of the controller though, this isn't necessarily a deal-breaker in my opinion. Other than the Sega Ages ports, I can't really see why anyone would want to use a controller like this on a Switch, so I consider it a cool because-I-can bonus feature more than a core use case.

At the end of the day I came away very pleased with the M30. This won't be a replacement for anyone's Xbox One or PS4 controller, but it's not meant to be. You can go on Amazon right now and get a wired PC controller in whatever retro shape you want for about $10, but I've used some really cheap, crappy third party controllers in my day. You could use an Xbox controller for your PC games, but they're not ideal for older titles. At $30, the M30 is less than half the price of modern console controllers, and when used with the 16-bit-era games it was made for, it performs with flying colors. It even works well enough that if you find yourself starting up a different emulator or some other game on Steam, there's a decent chance you'll be able to do so without needing to switch controllers, and that's the kind of convenience that turns a good controller into a great controller. Along with my SN30 Pro, the M30 will have a permanent home near my PC for when I need to get my retro gaming fix.

**Note: All products I review are bought and paid for myself, unless otherwise noted**

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I was really considering picking up one of these for my Genesis (with the adapter) but then I heard they are supposed to be bringing out an officially branded Sega wireless controller (like the Genesis and Saturn ones they just released) and will probably wait for that.
Seems like this might be a good pairing with the Mega SG when it comes out. Great in-depth review! I like my SF30 Pro quite a bit, so I might have to think about one of these for retro games and shmups on PC, because the lack of analog sticks wouldn't bother me for that stuff, and I love the curved design and feel of the Genesis pads, which this imitates to a degree.
Considering just how popular the Mega Drive/Genesis was, I have always found it surprising that most companies focused on the SNES and PSX pads.  Speaking of that, I am glad they opted out of including an analog stick for the M30 though.  It would have made the pad more versatile, but in truth I would rather just have a good, low latency Genesis for my PC/Mac experiences.
@MetalFRO: These were actually designed to accompany the Mega Sg and 8bitdo even makes an RF wireless version (the one I own) that helps with any potential input lag.

8bitdo also makes a PCB you can put into a Japanese 6-button controller which adds Bluetooth and USB charging.

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