I don’t often buy third party controllers these days. History tells me to be cautious. Certainly back in the 90s and 00s there was no comparison between first and third party gamepads – there’s a reason that giving a bad controller to player two became a meme! However, in recent years I’ve been tempted by low prices to give a couple a go – starting with two different Wii/Wii U controllers, one of which connects to a Wii Remote and replicates a Gamecube controller well, and the other is the USB Pokken Tournament controller, which was for a couple of years my go to for emulation on my Mac; with its SNES layout it was very comfortable in use.
Emboldened by these great successes, I recently picked up the Nacon Wired Compact Controller for PS4. It’s also compatible with Windows and Mac (via XInput), though I’m using it exclusively with my PS4 Pro. It’s an officially licensed controller too, so at least Sony has some input to it. Initial impressions were good – it’s a solid controller, made of good plastic and with no obvious flexibility to suggest a cheap build. The buttons feel good, analogue sticks have a good amount of weight to them, and the analogue triggers are sensitive – perhaps more sensitive than the DualShock 4, according to my highly scientific messing about in Gran Turismo Sport, which has two bars representing the position of the accelerator and brake pedals according to how far you press the triggers. They feel a lot like the triggers on an Xbox One controller, albeit without the fine rumble feature that employs. The thumb sticks also have a deep concave surface and good grip, and not once did I feel my thumbs slip or need to reposition them.
The D-pad is contructed from one piece, and pivots nicely under your thumb. Each direction responds well, and there are no complaints here. The touch pad (with PlayStation symbols embossed on its surface) responds as you’d expect, though occasionally I’d find myself hitting it erroneously as it sits a little close to the square button. Options and Share are easy to find, with a satisfying click, and I actually prefer them here over the official DualShock 4.
My sole complaint about the buttons on this controller concerns the two bumpers. I played through the intro to Nier Automata, which employs several variations of shoot em up gameplay, requiring you to hold the L1 button to fire your guns. Unfortunately on numerous occasions my guns stopped firing, because my finger naturally settled on the far right end of the button, and the button wanted pressure nearer its centre to make its connection. It’s relatively minor given how good the controller is otherwise, and improves with an adjustment to your finger position, but its an annoyance I’ve not had with other controllers.
As you’ve noticed, I bought the illuminated version. I’m a sucker for such things, especially with blue LEDs. I’d hoped before I used it that the LEDs might be multi-coloured and reflect the status of the light bar, but alas they are blue, blue, or off. A handy switch on the back of the controller switches between four settings – bright, dim, oscillating, and off. The lightbar is represented by a very small bar between the two thumb sticks, which means this can’t be used with the PlayStation camera for software that uses it. There is also no built-in speaker, but there is a 3.5mm socket for your favourite headphones/headset, which is nice. The controller also omits motion sensors, making it useless in some games, but does have two vibration motors (which you can see spinning thanks to the transparent shell. Finally, a 3 metre cable connects it to your console via USB.
All in all I’m very impressed with this controller. I bought it new for €39,99 (a DualShock 4 costs €64,99), and at that price point I’ve not used a controller nearly so well made. The wire is long enough, I imagine, for most scenarios too. I use my PlayStation at my desk, via my computer monitor, and so a wired controller is perfect – I don’t have to think about the battery of my DS4 running flat in 3 hours, nor do I need to concern myself with stress on the DS4’s USB socket by having it continually plugged in (I have one controller that already has a loose connection). The shell has a “soft touch” too, which makes it very comfortable in use, and even in my big hands it fits well – despite being called “compact controller” it is roughly the same size as the official controllers.