The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a fantastic game whether you're playing on your TV or in handheld mode. Most people are probably playing with the Switch Pro controller or Joy-Con controllers, but neither of Nintendo's first-party controllers offer the most ideal way to play Tears of the Kingdom. For convenience and comfort, Tears of the Kingdom is best played with a controller equipped with remappable back buttons.
If you're anything like me, you've probably pressed the wrong button a lot while playing--there are lots of inputs, after all! Even if you always hit the right button, the controls can still be annoying. You have to take your thumbs off of the sticks often to cycle through weapons, jump, swim, and even just to run. Not to mention the frequency of pressing the A button to pick up the many, many resources and gear scattered across Hyrule. Over time, the demanding controls can become genuinely uncomfortable, especially if you play for long stretches--a very easy thing to do with Tears of the Kingdom.
Thankfully, there are a handful of Nintendo Switch controllers that can markedly improve your experience playing Tears of the Kingdom by reducing how often you have to move your thumbs. I have personally tested all of the controllers listed below (as well as many others), and I've included options for handheld and docked modes. In addition to controllers designed for Switch, you'll see that there are some excellent out-of-the-box options that work very well despite not technically being Switch controllers. It's worth noting that you won't be able to scan Amiibo when using any of these controllers. Other features such as rumble and motion controls vary by controller.
For more on Tears of the Kingdom, check out our guides hub for tips, tricks, and walkthroughs. And if you want some new Zelda products to celebrate your love of Tears of the Kingdom, check out our roundup of The Legend of Zelda merchandise.
Hori's Split Pad line has been the most popular Joy-Con alternative for handheld mode for years. This is for good reason. The Split Pad Pro adds much needed ergonomic support to the Switch, giving it traditional handles that make the Switch far more comfortable to hold. It has larger sticks, buttons, triggers, and yes, a pair of remappable back buttons. The back buttons are conveniently located and feel solid.
If you have smaller hands or simply don't like the bulk of the Split Pad Pro, consider the Split Pad Compact. It has the same features as its older sibling, just in a smaller form factor (with smaller buttons, triggers, and sticks). The Split Pad Compact has great ergonomics thanks to its contoured design.
The only downside to the Split Pad controllers with Tears of the Kingdom is that the back buttons only work with buttons on the side they are located on. What this means is that you can't map two face buttons to the paddles. You'll probably want to use the right button for a face button and the left side for something else. I prefer mapping Link's ability wheel to the left back button.
The Split Pad series does not have rumble, NFC support for Amiibo, or gyro controls. Hori is releasing a Tears of the Kingdom-themed edition of the Split Pad Pro, but unfortunately it won't be available until August 31--you can preorder it now.
The NexiGo Gripcon is another handheld Switch controller with ergonomic handles, more traditional joysticks, and larger buttons. The controls don't feel quite as good as the Split Pad. This is especially noticeable with the D-pad, which is fairly rigid. However, the Gripcon bests the Split Pad in a notable category: back buttons. The Gripcon has four back buttons, which gives you a lot more freedom with your control layout. And unlike the Split Pad, you can map each back button to any input, regardless of side. As a result, you can drastically alter the way you interact with Tears of the Kingdom. One good layout is mapping all four face buttons to the back buttons.
Like the Split Pad series, the Gripcon is compatible with Nintendo Switch OLED and the regular Switch. The Gripcon has gyro motion controls and rumble (not HD rumble), though it lacks NFC support for Amiibo.
For docked mode, the best Switch Pro controller alternative is a tie between 8BitDo Ultimate and 8BitDo Pro 2. 8BitDo is one of the best third-party controller manufacturers for Switch thanks to its high-performing and affordable controllers. Both of these controllers have a pair of low-profile, conveniently located buttons that are built into the back of the controller, which makes them feel more natural than most controllers with back buttons.
The main difference between the Ultimate and Pro 2 is the layout. The Ultimate retains the offset joysticks of Nintendo's Pro controller, while the Pro 2 has aligned, PlayStation-style sticks. Also, the Ultimate's sticks use Hall Effect sensors, which prevents stick drift. There's a gap in price, too: the Ultimate comes with a charging dock and costs $70, while the Pro 2 is standalone and goes for $50.
In addition to the back buttons, these 8BitDo controllers have other customizable features that are useful for Tears of the Kingdom (and other Switch games). With the 8BitDo Ultimate software (mobile, PC, Mac), you can recalibrate stick and trigger sensitivity, adjust rumble strength, and even create macros. Both controllers can store up to three unique controller profiles. With the Ultimate software, you can also tinker with the default control layout in seconds, remapping any button you please.
The Ultimate and Pro 2 both have gyro motion controls and rumble, but again, you can't scan Amiibo.
Wait, what? Yes, you can use the Xbox Elite Series 2 controller with your Nintendo Switch. All you need is a cheap dongle designed for universal controller compatibility. I've been using 8BitDo's $20 adapter, and it has worked flawlessly with Tears of the Kingdom. The Elite Series 2 is, unsurprisingly, the most premium controller on this list. It's arguably the best controller for any platform, period.
There are a couple of caveats here, and you can probably guess the big one: All of the face buttons are labeled incorrectly for Switch. As such, you have to be okay with not having the proper button prompts on screen reflected on your controller. It takes a bit to get used to, but the Elite Series 2 has become my go-to controller for Tears of the Kingdom. I haven't noticed any input lag, though you might see a marginal increase in input latency in faster paced games that run at 60fps. The four back paddles give you ultimate versatility, and you can instantly cycle through three different profiles.
Another small inconvenience is that you have to use a PC or Xbox to remap the inputs, so you might be going back and forth a few times before finding your ideal layout. Additionally, you lose some functionality that you get with controllers designed for Switch. Though the Xbox button works as the Switch's home button, you won't be able to take screenshots or capture video clips while using the Elite controller. You also lose rumble functionality. And, of course, like the other controllers on this list, you can't scan Amiibo.
Though I'm recommending the Elite Series 2 here, the 8BitDo adapter allows you to use practically any Bluetooth-compatible controllers you have. All you need to do is turn on Pro Controller Wired Communication in the Switch's settings (you will be playing with a wireless connection), connect the adapter to your USB support, press the sync button, and pair it to your controller.
The standard Elite Series 2 comes with swappable sticks and back paddles, but you could save some cash by purchasing the Elite Series 2 Core controller--which doesn't come with swappable components--and a set of third-party back paddles.
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