[Disclosure: A review unit was provided for the contents of this article]
In a break from the normal act of reviewing videogames, the people at KontrolFreek kindly sent me a couple of Nintendo Switch Performance Thumbsticks a couple of weeks ago and I think it’s high time I told you all about them. Weighing in at just $14.99 per pair and pretty unlikely to see a UK release, my fellow Europeans (fuck Brexit) will probably be pleased to know that the parcel was marked with a value of just $3, which allowed them to sail through customs unimpeded.
In each of the small, cassette-tape sized packages all you’ll receive is a couple of thumbsticks. There isn’t much by way of unnecessary bumpf such as manuals and the like because obviously, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to push a couple of thumb sticks onto your existing pad. If it helps your conscience (as it does mine since I’ve been watching Blue Planet II for a few weeks) then you’ll be glad to know that there isn’t much plastic involved.
Firstly, the KontrolFreek Turbo package offers attractively coloured red and blue numbers that contrast (or match) nicely with the original Joy-Con controllers, or stand out beautifully against the grey, as pictured on my own Switch. In my case, the blue stick fit perfectly and clipped snugly around the existing stick without any damage left behind having pulled it off and put it back on again several times. The red stick didn’t fit quite as neatly and I had to push it rather firmly, but it did fit in the end and has remained so ever since.
The KontrolFreek FPS Freek Galaxy (which is frankly a ridiculous name) features two purple thumbsticks that have a similar texture to the Turbo, but an entirely different clipping system. I’ve only tested mine on the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, but the KontrolFreek website advertises the Galaxy for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One as well. I had no trouble fitting them to the Pro, but I did find that they feel a little less tightly held in place than the Turbo, which appears to be due to the design of the claws and how they grip the shape of the basic controller.
I’ll now switch (that wasn’t an intention pun) back to talking about both of these products now, in the main, since both of them perform the same function and are very similar in feel. Where appropriate, I will call out differences between the two, but there are relatively few of them. Effectively, in either case, the thumbsticks do two things to improve performance in a way that I really like. Firstly, they increase the height of the stick about a half centimeter, which is just enough to make the throw of the stick that bit more controllable. This is particularly true of the Joy-Con’s, which were perhaps a little short to begin with.
Each pair of thumbsticks also provides a soft, wider playing surface that is both easier on the hands (again, in particular compared to the stubby, hard Joy-Con sticks) and a lot easier to grip. The additional surface grip works perfectly with the longer throw to provide an overall effect that I can confirm does improve accuracy and feel quite a bit.
I’ve tested several games with the Switch in all configurations – handheld, mounted using the Pro Controller, with the Joy-Cons split between two players and in their own dedicated dock. The games I tested were DOOM, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Mario Odyssey, LA Noire and a plethora of recent indie titles including Portal Knights, Transcripted and a couple of others.
I found that LA Noire, which features a small crosshair and a fair amount of shooting and DOOM, which is obviously all about efficient shooting and rushing were both much easier to play as the result of these thumbsticks. Firstly, I was able to aim faster and more precisely (particularly in LA Noire) but also, I found my hands fatigued much more slowly in handheld mode. The other games benefited less, although again I did notice less fatigue in games like Mario Kart and Mario Odyssey. Simple games like top down shooters were more or less unchanged, although that’s not a bad thing really.
The only downside of these thumbsticks that I found, which only applies to the Turbo, is that in the relatively rare instance that a game requires frequent pressing of the B button, it can be difficult to transition a thumb from the right stick to the nearest fact button because of the smaller gap and less natural arc of travel between stick and button. It isn’t by any means an impossible task and it will rarely result in catastrophe, but you will need to reprogram your brain a bit to compensate.
All in all, considering the price point, generally high build quality and average performance enhancement on offer, I do endorse the KontrolFreek Performance Thumbsticks for Nintendo Switch as quality products in general, with the only caveat being that of the B button interference for the Turbo model. Even so, it’s the Turbo sticks that make the most material improvement because of the less mainstream form factor that the Switch’s original thumbsticks have. For the FPS Freek, it’s a Try It, but for the Turbo, it’s a clear:
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