Hori Split Pad Pro review: The ‘pro’ Joy-Cons the Switch should have come with

With a D-pad, better ergonomics, and programmable rear buttons, and no joystick drift (so far), the Split Pad Pro is almost the perfect cure for the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con drift.

Alejandro Medellin / Input

Between a banger first-party library and an avalanche of indie games that are better on a handheld, the Nintendo Switch has already achieved legendary status. From casual titles like Animal Crossing: New Horizons to more hardcore games like The Legend Of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Apex Legends, the Switch doesn’t miss when it comes to games. But the Joy-Cons do.

Admittedly, the Joy-Cons are great for party games and motion-based titles like Super Mario Odyssey, and their ability to split makes it possible to play with others, but the controllers fall short on some fronts. The compact and non-ergonomic design makes for a cramped experience during longer sessions, and the missing D-pad is an insult to those who play fighting games, 2D platformers, and other genres that demand precision. These issues can be overlooked by some, but the egregious Joy-Con drift, which one intrepid YouTuber managed to fix with a piece of paper because Nintendo never did, can’t be overlooked.

The Split Pad Pro controllers come in several different colors and skins, though this is the translucent black color option that is very slightly opaque. Alejandro Medellin / Input

Enter: the Hori Split Pad Pro. Hori, a well-established licensed peripheral maker, has made a “pro” version of the Joy-Con that makes the stock model look like a plaything. If you’re mostly playing your Switch in handheld mode, you’re going to love the Split Pad Pro — they're superior in ergonomics and buttons (it’s got a D-pad!). But if you need your Joy-Cons for two-player games or waggle controls, I’m afraid this won’t improve your Switch since they don’t support either feature.

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Bigger is better

Let’s get something out of the way first: the $50 (I paid $40) Hori Split Pad Pro controllers are chonkers. It’s why I held off on getting them for a long time; I’m singing a different tune these days. The bigger form factor fits better in my hands, with curved undersides that feel more natural and comfortable compared to the flat Joy-Cons. The larger Split Pad Pro design means the buttons and joysticks are bigger as well. The scooped joysticks hug your thumbs much better than the Joy-Con’s domed ones, lending themselves for shooters such as Rogue Company. The larger size of the Hori controllers makes the Switch bulkier, but they barely weigh a thing, so there’s no need to worry about wrist fatigue. Okay, enough about the size.

The Hori Split Pad Pro is much larger than the Joy-Cons, but it’s extremely comfortable, especially for larger hands. Alejandro Medellin / Medellin

If you like the Joy-Con’s button placement, there’s no need to worry. The Split Pad Pro controllers don’t reinvent the wheel, but they do have a real D-pad. It’s not as good as the one on the Switch Pro Controller due to it being slightly mushier, but it’s still better than having four buttons instead. Saying a controller comes with a D-pad should be as much of a selling point as saying a car has seat belts, but here we are. It’s not that hard to do, Nintendo. (For what it’s worth, I’m aware that the Switch Lite has a proper D-pad and the Switch (OLED model) also doesn’t for obvious separation reasons.)

Hori’s Split Pad Pro don’t seem to be plagued with drift.

While I haven’t tested the controllers extensively enough to say definitely joystick drift isn’t a problem, I haven’t been able to find much to the contrary (joystick drift can happen on any controllers, especially with heavy use). Looking on Reddit and other forum sites, I’ve mostly found posts with users saying they haven’t experienced it. If your Split Pad Pro controllers show signs of joystick drift, this post has instructions on how to fix it by simply dissembling the controller and cleaning the joystick area with compressed air or isopropyl alcohol. Anecdotally, my brother bought this controller back in 2019 to replace his drifting Joy-Cons; he’s used the Split Pad Pro controllers since then and hasn’t experienced any joystick drift. While I wouldn’t doubt anybody for being skeptical when it comes to joystick drift, Hori’s Split Pad Pro controllers don’t seem to be plagued with drift in a way that I find concerning.

Turbo Moves

Scourge Bringer is a fast-paced game, so remapping the jump and dash actions to the rear buttons makes it easier to move around. Alejandro Medellin / Input

If all the Split Pad Pro had to offer was a bigger, more comfortable form-factor, and a D-pad, I would still recommend it, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What you’ll find under the controllers is not just textured plastic but rear buttons that can be programmed on the fly. Any button can be programmed to the rear by hitting the “assign” button and then pressing the desired input. In Rogue Company, for example, you need to press the joystick to begin running, but that’s wack, so I bound that function to the rear button and I was off to the races. In a game like Scourge Bringer, a seriously hard rogue-like fast-moving platformer, I mapped the jump and dash functions to either rear button and was able to move around without impeding my thumbs as I hacked and slashed my way to each boss.

The rear buttons may not be as useful in every game, but they can be game-changing if used correctly. Alejandro Medellin / Input

The rear buttons won’t be as useful in every game, but the option to experiment with alternative button layouts is refreshing. I didn’t think I would use this feature since I couldn’t imagine a real use-case scenario where it would be useful, but I was quickly converted. Sadly, it’s not possible to reassign inputs from the opposite controller, so you can’t assign the “A” button to the left controller or vice versa — that would have been a big sell for lefties if it could. There is a workaround, though. The manual says you can rebind an input via a game’s controller settings. For example, in Rogue Company, I remapped the right shoulder button to the left one; I then assigned it to the left rear button. It’s a workaround, though I doubt I’ll go through that type of setting gymnastics with every game. This “hack” is a case-by-case basis since not every game lets you remap the buttons. Putting aside that one flaw, the rear buttons are the star feature on these controllers.

There are two turbo modes that can be used on each controller. The regular mode repeats the input for as long as the button is pressed, while the “turbo hold” mode requires no button presses.Alejandro Medellin / Input

It’s also possible to assign “turbo” to any button. It can be useful in shooters when using a semi-automatic weapon, which requires repeated presses to fire off each shot, to make it shoot like an automatic weapon. As long as you’re holding down the button, the turbo function keeps activating the input, and the activation frequency can be adjusted from 5 to 10 to 20 times per second. In games where you’re pressing the same button repeatedly, turbo buttons can make the process less tiring. If you don’t want to press the button at all, it’s also possible to change the turbo function to “turbo hold” mode, which automatically activates the assigned button without user input. I can’t say I’ve found a use for this, but it can be used for cheesing repetitive game mechanics like the crafting in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. The turbo function overall is a bit more circumstantial, so mileage may vary per game, but it’s nice to have.

D-pad > four buttons.Alejandro Medellin / Input

The Split Pad Pro’s most glaring shortcomings include the lack of a built-in battery and wireless connectivity. The controller only works when attached to the Switch; no using them one in each hand or connected together in a shell like you can with Joy-Cons. The controllers also don’t have SL and SR buttons (the two buttons inside of the Joy-Con rails). They also don’t have rumble to make the controllers vibrate, which is used in games in various ways to provide feedback. Rumble adds an essential level of immersion in shooters and racing games and not including it is a deal-breaker for many gamers. Another biggie that’s missing is a gyro, which makes it possible to aim by moving the console around in games like Splatoon 2. I rarely use the Joy-Cons to aim, though I admit using the gyro to aim in a bow in Breath of the Wild hits different. Personally, I’d be lying if I said I missed the haptics or gyro; I only noticed after when I used different controllers. The missing features can be viewed as cons, but the silver lining is that their exclusion cuts down the Split Pad Pro’s weight and lowers the price.

Ditch your Joy-Cons

Now, I’m playing with power. Alejandro Medellin / Input

It is a real shame that Nintendo still hasn’t fixed the joystick drift on its Joy-Cons four years after the Switch launched. Worse, the gaming giant remains coy on whether or not the very real issue is fixed in the OLED Switch coming out in October.

With no official fix, Switch owners have to turn to third-party accessories for a solution. The Hori Split Pad Pro is a great Joy-Con alternative if you don’t mind the lack of motion controls, a built-in battery, wireless, and rumble. The addition of the rear buttons and turbo function more than make up for what’s missing in my opinion. They make the Switch feel closer to a “pro” version.

Don’t sleep on the Split Pad Pro if you’re sick of the dinky Joy-Cons.

Best of all, the Hori Split Pad Pro doesn’t break the bank. At $50 (often on sale for $40), it sure beats paying $70 for Joy-Cons that will inevitably become defective. If all you need is a D-Pad, Hori also makes a left Joy-Con replacement with a D-pad starting from $20 (depending on print), but it’s also missing features like a battery, wireless connectivity, rumble, and motion sensors. Frankly, the Hori Split Pad Pro is a better overall Joy-Con replacement since the ergonomics are far superior.

When my brother told me to get a pair two years ago, I blew him off. After getting my own, I can confirm that he was right. Don’t sleep on the Hori Split Pad Pro if you’re sick of the dinky Joy-Cons that come with the Switch.