How to hold an N64 controller – a definitive guide

by Martin Watts, 27 November 2018

Need three hands to hold an N64 controller

Over a year ago, we tweeted an important video guide on how to hold an N64 controller.

Okay, so we weren’t being serious. And we certainly never expected the video to go viral – that joke’s as old as the N64 itself!

But our tweet did actually spark a lot of serious discussion about how to hold an N64 controller.

After all, there are a lot of gamers around the world who’ve never even played an N64. It did come out over 20 years ago after all.

So just how do you hold one? We’ve written a definitive guide to set the record straight once and for all!

What’s the right way to hold an N64 controller?

There are actually three different ways to hold an N64 controller.

Standard grip

How to hold an N64 controller the standard way

You hold the middle grip with your left hand, meaning you can press the face buttons with your right hand.

Which N64 games use the standard grip?

Most N64 games use this configuration as their primary control setup. It’s mandatory for most 3D platforming games such as Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie.

It’s arguably the optimal way to hold the N64 controller. You can easily reach all seven face buttons, as well as the Z-trigger and right-shoulder button.

Scary 'Shrooms, Red coins mission in Super Mario 64's Tall, Tall Mountain course

In this setup, you typically control the camera in games using the C-buttons. First-person shooters such as GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark also use these buttons for aiming.

However, you may find this setup awkward if you’re used to playing modern console shooters.

Perfect Dark (N64) two-player Combat Simulator Challenges

Some N64 games will still use the D-pad to scroll through your inventory or even crouch.

How easily you can use the D-pad will depend on how long your thumb is. So you may find you have to take a hand off one of the prongs to press it.

Classic grip

Holding the N64 controller by the outer prongs to use the D-Pad and C-buttons.

You hold the the controller by both of its outer handles.

This enables you to use the D-pad in combination with the A, B and C-buttons.

Which N64 games use the classic grip?

Naturally, this setup lends itself well to 2D side-scrolling games such as Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards and Mischief Makers.

That said, games such as Yoshi’s Story and Goemon’s Great Adventure use the joystick instead as a way to offer analogue control. (You can still play Goemon’s Great Adventure with the D-pad though.)

Blue Yoshi from Yoshi's Story for Nintendo 64

You play most N64 wrestling games using the classic grip. However, many of them, such as WCW/nWo Revenge and WWF No Mercy, also use the middle prong for taunts and special attacks.

Otherwise, the majority of puzzle and fighting games use this setup. N64th Street also has a handy way of identifying whether a game uses the classic grip:

Double-left grip

Holding the left and middle handles of the N64 controller

For this setup, you hold the left handle in your left hand, and the middle handle in your right hand.

This allows you to use the D-pad and joystick together. Depending on how long your thumb is, you can also reach the A and B buttons.

Which N64 games use the double-left setup?

This is without doubt the least common way to hold an N64 controller.

This setup is usually a secondary control option in many first-person shooters, such as Turok: Dinosaur Hunter.

The Campaigner, main villain of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter on N64

It may be ideal if you’re used to modern games in the same genre. The stick offers more precise control than the C-buttons.

The only game to enforce this configuration is actually a mini-game from Pokémon Stadium.

Ekans' Hoop Hurl mini-game from Pokémon Stadium for N64.

Ekans’ Hoop Hurl is essentially a ring-toss game, where you try to hoop the eponymous snake Pokémon around pop-up Digletts.

You use the D-pad to line up your shot. Pulling back on the joystick determines how far you “throw” your Ekans.

The wrong way to hold an N64 controller

Obviously there many ways to hold an N64 controller incorrectly. However, there’s one position that’s all too commonly seen.

This is where you hold the controller in the classic grip position, but stretch your left thumb across to use the joystick.

Holding an N64 controller incorrectly

Unless you have very long digits, you probably won’t be able to use the N64 joystick with a great deal of precision this way.

Not only that, but you have to stretch one of your fingers to reach the underside Z-button, which may become uncomfortable quickly.

Of course, if it works for you then go for it.

Are there any games that require you to use all three handles simultaneously?

Many N64 games use buttons from every part of the controller, but almost never all at the same time.

The only example we can think of is Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. And it’s not exactly standard usage.

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (N64) title screen

The game has a debug menu that enables you to activate cheats.

To unlock it, you have to hold all the C-buttons, the L and R buttons, the Z-button, and left on the D-pad – all while carefully tilting the joystick halfway to the left and right.

It’s not a problem if you have three arms. But seeing as that’s highly unlikely, you’ll either have to use your chin or ask someone else for help.

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (N64) debug menu

Double up for dual analogue

Some games even allow a single person to use two controllers at the same time.

By holding each controller by its middle prong, you get to use two analogue joysticks. If your thumbs are long enough then you can still reach the D-pad and A and B buttons.

There isn’t an N64 game that uses this as its primary control setup. But some first-person shooters use it as a way to offer dual-analogue control.

Two N64 controllers on a table during an N64 coop games session

Two of the best examples are Robotron 64 and Star Wars Episode 1: Racer.

Robotron 64 uses both sticks for movement, aiming and shooting. It feels very natural.

Star Wars Episode 1 : Racer’s controls mimic the levers of Anakin Skywalker’s pod in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. It gives the game a nice authentic touch.

Anakin racing in the Boonta Eve Classic in Star Wars Episode 1: Racer's intro (N64 version)

Aren’t there any N64 controllers with just two handles?

You’ll be glad to hear there are! Although sadly none of them are made by Nintendo.

There’s the Nyko Alpha 64 controller, which sports a similar design to a Sony PlayStation DualShock controller.

It has dual sticks, but doesn’t offer dual-analog control sadly. Instead, you choose to use only one at a time by flicking a switch.

The Hori N64 Mini Pad features an improved N64 joystick

The N64 Hori Mini Pad is one of the best-quality options. Released late in the N64’s life, its design is very much inspired by the Nintendo GameCube controller.

Otherwise, you can try your luck with the MakoPad or SuperPad 64 Plus – but neither of these pads are known for their quality.

The N64 Brawler 64 Pad by Retro Fighters

More recently, Retro Fighters released the Brawler 64, which looks like a modern video game controller. Released in January 2021, the Brawler 64 wireless controller is an updated version that fixes many problems the earlier pad had.

Retro-bit’s Tribute 64 controller is clearly influenced by the N64 Hori Mini Pad. And Hyperkin has released its own cordless take, the Admiral wireless N64 controller, which also sports a similar design to Hori’s pad.

How do you hold your N64 controller?

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Martin Watts

Martin has been running N64 Today since it began in 2017. He has also written for Nintendo Life and Time Extension, and appeared in the 2022 documentary GoldenEra. He got the Nintendo 64 as a Christmas present back in 1997 and it's been his favourite console ever since. His favourite N64 game is Goemon's Great Adventure.