Tech reviews

CRKD Neo S Switch Controller Review: Retro Comfort, Modern Tech

Rectangular game controllers are a relic of the past for a simple reason: they aren’t comfortable. That hasn’t stopped upstart hardware creator CRKD from drawing influences from the NES and Master System for its sophomore release–but given its debut effort, there’s every reason to trust its vision.

The Neo S Nintendo Switch controller follows the superb Nitro Deck, the go-to handheld dock for many Switch players–me included. The Nitro Deck wasn’t perfect, but as hardware debuts go, it’s a great option for roving gamers.

CRKD’s latest pad is, essentially, a standalone controller alternative to the Nitro Deck–and for just $49 a pop, it’s hard to ignore. Like its predecessor, it’s not without its quirks, but it’s a damn good piece of kit.

What’s in the box?

While the Neo S package is light on extras, the real value comes from the pad’s technology. The box contains:

  • A CRKD Neo S controller;
  • A protective cloth bag; and
  • A one-meter USB-C charging cable.

Big things in a small package

The Neo S has everything you’d hope to get from a Switch controller. First and foremost are the same Hall effect thumbsticks as the Nitro Deck, which even near-$200 pro controllers like the impressive Thrustmaster eSwap X2 and Victrix Pro BFG lack. We should expect stick-drift-eliminating technology from all modern-day pads, and the fact the Neo S does it for $50 emphasizes this.

It offers a lot more, too. While it’s mainly designed for the Switch, the Neo S is also compatible with PC, mobile, and smart TVs through its wireless Bluetooth mode and an optional wired connection provided by the cable. It also has adjustable vibration, two remappable buttons on the back, motion controls, rumble support, a turbo function, adjustable triggers, and a no-deadzone mode.

The CRKD Neo S markets itself as ergonomic, but this is definitely in the hands of the beholder. Even for a large-mitted bloke like me, it doesn’t feel natural. It’s “ergonomic” in the truest sense–it has nice, rounded edges, and isn’t immediately uncomfortable–but it still feels half an inch too wide. Because it’s so flat, it’s also difficult to use both shoulder buttons with two fingers at the same time, especially with the triggers’ large depth.

It adopts an asymmetrical stick layout, despite the upgraded, soon-to-be-released Nitro Deck+ opting for “a symmetrical thumbstick layout for enhanced comfort” as part of “a host of new and improved features based upon community feedback.” Development cycles will always undermine best-laid plans–Neo S blueprints were probably agreed with manufacturers when they were finessing the next Nitro Deck. Still, it doesn’t feel alien; the Switch Pro Controller also has an asymmetrical layout, and that’s probably the most comfortable current-gen official pad out there.

Simple but dependable

Once you adjust your grip–shoulder buttons notwithstanding–the Neo S works brilliantly, and its input quality is excellent. The analog sticks are nicely weighted; the D-pad is responsive and dependable; the action buttons are definite and satisfying; and its easily programmable back buttons have the right amount of resilience to avoid accidentally pushing them in at the wrong time.

Ultimately, the Neo S’s retro stylings make it a fantastic controller for classic games. It’s not trying to become an alternative to the Pro Controller, instead targeting the same audience as rival 8bitdo: mostly 30-somethings like me who want a throwback pad to play older or retro-inspired games. This is in no way a game-changer for, say, Mario Kart 8, but it’s not designed for that, even if you’ll still hold your own in a casual session.

Depending on your taste, the Neo S might be a bit too wide, a little too thick, or the sticks don’t feel comfortable enough. However, it’s an incredibly well-built controller with all the bells and whistles you’d ever need, it comes in nine beautiful designs (including more input from the incredible POPeART), and offers ridiculously good value for just $50.

CRKD is on an incredible and ambitious trajectory, it’s clearly happy to learn from its missteps, and it’s only a matter of time before it targets modern controllers. Here’s hoping it doesn’t try an alternative to the Switch Pro any time soon; if you’re going to come at the king, you best not miss.


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