The tagline for the Nitro Deck is “Level Up Your Switch”. And there’s never been a truer slogan: this controller really does feel like an evolution of Nintendo’s console, turning it from something slightly flimsy to a solid, ergonomic handheld device.
It’s not the first controller to make the Switch more ergonomic, of course. We’ve had the Hori Split Pad Pro and the Nexigo NS53, both replacing the official Joy-Cons with something chunkier and more comfortable to hold. The trouble with the Joy-Cons and their typical replacements, though, attaching to each side of your Switch’s screen, is that there’s always a little bit of ‘give’ in them. Your console never feels like one solid unit.
But that’s where the Nitro Deck differs. You see, this is an all-in-one controller, where your Switch screen slots securely into it. The result is one very sturdy unit that feels like a joy to hold – and an even bigger joy to use.
Your Switch is so secure inside the Nitro Deck, in fact, that it’s a bit of a task to take it out. We thought ours was somehow jammed in, but there’s an art to removing it. It’s safe in there, though, and you’re not going to damage anything taking it in and out. But there is a knack to it, and we’d suggest the Nitro Deck is best suited to Switch users who primarily use handheld mode. If you’re constantly switching between handheld and docked mode, you might find this a bit of a pain.
Though in truth, we’d wager only serious handheld gamers would be interested in levelling up their Switch’s controllers anyway. Once your Switch is nestled into the Nitro Deck, it immediately feels so much nicer to use. Its larger size feels much more ergonomic in an adult-sized hand, with shaped grips on the reverse helping it sit more comfortably in your palm. The buttons feel nice to use, too, with better triggers and Hall effect sticks. That’s right: with the Nitro Deck, Switch stick drift is a thing of the past. That alone is enough of a selling point, surely?
Unlike conventional Joy-Cons, the Nitro Deck doesn’t require its batteries to be charged for use. In fact, it doesn’t have any. Instead, it draws power from the Switch via USB-C. Along with always being ready to use, it also means you’ve got the least amount of latency possible, making it amongst the most responsive Switch controllers on the market. And don’t worry, while it does mean your playing time on a fully charged Switch will be adversely affected, it’s only by a negligible amount.
You’ve also got the addition of programmable back buttons, like those found on ‘Pro’ controllers. It gives you a great amount of customisation over how to play your games. Whether you simply want a quicker way to change weapons in a shooter, or want Mario to jump with the push of a different button, it can be done.
We also love the colour schemes available for the Nitro Deck. The standard version is available in black and white, but opt for a limited edition ‘Nostalgia Collection’ model and you’ll get a controller with a colour scheme inspired by a retro console. The model we’ve tested is purple, with red and green buttons and a yellow thumbstick – aping the design of the Game Cube. It looks fantastic. These limited editions also come with a carry case, meaning you can safely store your Switch and Nitro Deck together. An official carry case can be bought separately, too.
The downside to the Nitro Deck? We’ve had a couple of connection issues: our Switch stopped picking it up upon launching a game, but simply turning the console off and on again fixed it. It’s only happened to us twice, and once we’re in a game it’s been perfect. Yes, it’s a minor irritation – but we’ve also occasionally had issues connecting our Joy-Cons or other controllers to the Switch over its lifetime. It’s just one of those things, and not enough of an issue for us to dissuade you from buying a Nitro Deck.
Because other than that, this really is the nicest third-party Switch controller we’ve had the pleasure of using. Unless we absolutely need to, we won’t be going back to using our standard Joy-Cons any time soon: the Nitro Deck really is the best way to play Switch games. It’s solid, it’s comfortable to hold, its buttons, triggers and thumbsticks are excellent quality, and you don’t have to worry about keeping it charged. What more could you ask for in a controller?
Thanks to CRKD for providing us with a Nitro Deck unit for the purposes of this review.