All gamers will one day reach the point where we realize we simply don’t have enough controllers. This is an inevitable truth. We may be perfectly content to play single-player our entire lives, but something eventually changes — a friend’s over for a visit, a significant other wants to join in, our main controller is low on juice, and the charge cord doesn’t quite reach the most comfortable spot on the couch. We’re left at a loss. Upon this realization, we must face the dilemma of finding the right controller to supplement our gaming setup.
The defining feature of Nintendo’s Switch is flexibility. When it comes to hardware, you’ve got options on how and where you want to play. The Nintendo Switch comes with a pair of Joy-Cons included in the box, but you may find yourself facing the decision of whether to buy a Pro Controller or another set of Joy-Cons. Surely, they can’t be that different?
As it turns out, they can be. Both controller types benefit different play styles and offer their advantages, though the differences may not be immediately apparent. In this article, I’ll explore the pros and cons (get it?) of each controller type and how to determine which option is the best for you and your preferred gaming experience.
If you’re not in the mood for a detailed breakdown, the table below offers an at-a-glance comparison of the Pro Controller vs Joy-con:
|Price||$69.99||$79.99 (per pair)|
|Battery Life||~40 hours||~20 hours|
|Syncing||– Up to 8|
– Connects to PC
|– Up to 8|
– Connects to PC
|Customizability||– Comes in black|
– Suited for stationary mode
-Suited for portable and stationary modes
|Preferable For:||– Single-player|
– Online multiplayer
– Competitive gaming
|– Local multiplayer|
– Party games
– Handheld mode
Let’s begin with the basics — what are the specs that make the Pro Controller and Joy-Cons different from one another? For starters, the Pro Controller looks like any other modern console controller. It has two analog sticks, a D-pad, ten face buttons (including four action buttons, two buttons under the analog sticks, three game/system menu buttons, and a screenshot button), a Bluetooth sync button, two shoulder buttons, and two shoulder triggers. The controller improves in-game interactions through the inclusion of an accelerometer and gyroscope for motion control, HD rumble feature, and an NFC touchpoint for Amiibo support.
The Joy-Cons offer a near-exact layout when placed in their controller grip, but split a bit more precisely down the center to allow for their iconic separation. When used individually, each Joy-Con has one analog stick (and the corresponding analog button), four face buttons (as the D-pad is replaced by four directional buttons on the left Joy-Con), two shoulder buttons, and a Bluetooth sync button. Each Joy-Con also includes the motion control features and HD rumble, with the right Joy-Con offering an infrared camera as a depth sensor and an NFC touchpoint in the analog stick.
One of the primary technical differences lies in battery life. The Pro Controller boasts a 1300 mAh battery, which can be charged via a USBc to USBa cable, whereas each Joy-Con only sports 525 mAh apiece. The Joy-Cons can charge while connected to a charging Switch console or when attached to Nintendo’s charging grip to keep gameplay going even when the batteries run low.
Design and Functionality
The Pro Controller is designed to resemble other modern console controllers, offering a more familiar grip than the Joy-Cons provide with their distinctly boxy shape. With Nintendo’s history of unusual (albeit dynamic) controllers, the more traditional design of the Pro Controller and its predecessors is a breath of fresh air.
While this familiarity goes hand-in-hand with the more conventional setup of the Switch’s stationary mode, it doesn’t exactly lend itself well to the console’s hybrid appeal. The Pro Controller is unable to physically connect with the Switch, meaning that players going portable will need to make use of the console’s built-in kickstand or some other means of support when gaming on the go.
The Joy-Cons, by contrast, offer a stronger handheld experience along with a more convenient multiplayer setup. Although multiple Pro Controllers can be synced to a single Switch at a time (specifically, up to 8 to allow for massive Smash competitions), the Joy-Cons have the added benefit of being two controllers in one. Joy-Cons are bought in pairs, so you automatically have access to two smaller controllers for just a bit more than the cost of a Pro Controller.
The Joy-Cons aren’t without their fair share of issues, though. Their ability to split into separate controllers requires a more awkward, vertically-aligned grip that loses out on the comfort offered by the Pro Controller, and they’re notably smaller. While it doesn’t pose as much of an issue for people with smaller hands such as myself, gaming with a single Joy-Con instead of using the controller grip or handheld mode can prove a bit more challenging.
It would also be remiss of me not to mention the technical troubles that have plagued the Joy-Cons in the past. Consoles that were purchased early after release have been reported as having connectivity issues in the left Joy-Con due to a manufacturing error, and stick drift is still a real drawback for many gamers. The connectivity issues have since been fixed in later releases, and there are rumors that Nintendo will offer improved support for problems with stick drift. Nevertheless, anyone who prefers to buy their accessories secondhand should be wary of potential complications.
The Pro Controller is designed to provide an improved single-player experience, and it certainly delivers a better experience in games where the single-player mode is the primary mode. This edge is evident when playing Nintendo’s own IPs, but it’s especially true for third-party ports. The difference is even starker if you have previous experience playing the game on a different console. The familiar grip also offers more control and dexterity, making it well-suited for games that require quick reflexes and muscle memory.
Although I personally gravitate toward playing with Joy-Cons, I’ve found that the Pro Controller is a good fit for expansive single-player games like Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild, as well as more competitive bouts of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I also prefer the Pro Controller for Monster Hunter: Generations, especially since I’ve spent a lot more time playing MH: World on the PS4 with the Dualshock 4 controller.
As mentioned previously, the Joy-Cons have the added advantage of being two controllers in one, making them perfect for party games. You will only need two sets of Joy-Cons for four-player couch co-op, so if you prefer games like Mario Kart 8, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, or Super Mario Party (which requires Joy-Cons to play), spending the extra ten dollars on a second pair of Joy-Cons may prove to be a better investment.
Bang for Your Buck
The Pro Controller goes for $69.99 (as reported on Nintendo.com), with the price reflecting the convenience of extended battery life and the comfort of a more traditional gaming experience. There’s not a lot of customizability here, though — unless you buy one of the special-edition releases that came out when the controller launched, your color choice is limited to black.
The Joy-Cons will set you back $79.99 a pair (with an additional $19.99 for the controller grip), but it’s worth keeping in mind that you’re buying two controllers for the price of one. You sacrifice the comfort and battery life of the Pro Controller, but gain fun color options, as well as a more portable and adaptable gaming experience in return.
Nintendo Switch Joy-Con vs Pro Controller Final Verdict
Since the price points of the two controllers are relatively similar, it’s not the best idea to choose one over the other solely based on cost. Each controller appeals to a different playstyle and offers its own distinct benefits.
The Pro Controller is a better choice if you’re looking for a comfortable single-player experience or prefer games that require quick reaction times. The Joy-Cons are better if you typically play in groups or frequently make use of the Switch’s handheld mode.