Brawler 64 wireless controller review

by Martin Watts, 9 March 2021

Brawler 64 wireless controller and dongle

When Retro Fighters first announced it would be releasing a wireless version of its Brawler 64 controller, I was skeptical.

The original pad — which released back in 2018 — was a decent, yet flawed effort. In particular, the joystick just wasn’t precise enough for many N64 games.

So it came as a welcome surprise when I finally got my hands on the Brawler 64 wireless controller. Not only does it fix many of the issues found in the first Retro Fighters N64 controller, but it’s also a very good joypad in its own right.

Disclaimer: I purchased the Brawler 64 wireless controller for £39.49. I did not receive a discount or incentive in exchange for this review.

Brawler 64 wireless controller with box

Brawler 64 wireless controller features overview

The Brawler 64 wireless controller comes with a receiver dongle and USB-C charging cable (but no mains adapter). It offers many features, including:

  • 2.4 GHz wireless connectivity with a usage range of over 30 feet (9.1 metres)
  • a modern two-prong design
  • a rechargeable and replaceable battery with around 10 hours of battery life
  • an LED battery indicator
  • an automatic sleep mode, which activates after a few minutes of idle activity
  • compatibility with memory cards
  • dual Z triggers — one on either side of the pad
  • turbo mode.

The controller is available in four colours: solid grey and transparent red, green and blue.

Brawler 64 wireless controller and dongle

Size, shape and weight

The Brawler 64 wireless controller looks very much like a modern video game controller. It has a dual-handled design that’s similar in both shape and size to an Xbox controller. The original N64 controller is only slightly wider.

The prongs on either side of the Brawler 64 wireless controller are a good size. Even if you have large hands, the pad sits comfortably and snugly in your palms.

The width of the controller means the joystick and D-pad are quite far apart from the other buttons. Depending on your accessibility needs, this could present a problem. (On the original N64 controller, the buttons are at least easier to reach with your left thumb when holding the middle prong.)

Brawler 64 wireless controller held in hands

By holding the controller as intended, your index fingers will sit naturally over the top of the shoulder buttons. These are right at the edge of each side of the controller.

Despite having a built-in battery, this controller only weighs 164g, making it lighter than the official N64 controller. It feels comfortable to hold for extended periods of time, but equally doesn’t feel cheap.

The original Brawler 64 controller had the expansion port built directly into the controller. Because this is now part of the dongle, you have more space on the underside of the controller for your fingers.

The USB-C charging port sits inconspicuously at the top of the controller in its own small recess. As a result, it’s unlikely to get damaged.

Nevertheless, you do have to be mindful that there isn’t much space surrounding the port. So if you plan on using a different charging cable, you’ll need to make sure it’s not too thick to fit.

Wireless connectivity

Pairing the Brawler 64 wireless controller with the dongle is incredibly straightforward. Insert the dongle into the console, power it on and then hold the controller’s start button for three seconds.

Once done, you only need to press the start button once each time you go to use the controller. Unlike the Admiral wireless N64 controller, start is the only button that can activate wireless connectivity. I prefer this, especially as it reduces the risk of accidentally draining the battery when not in use.

The Brawler 64 wireless controller has an operational range of over 30 feet (9.1 metres) — farther than most users will ever need. I tried the controller from as far away as possible in my house and never experienced a connection dropout.

Brawler 64 wireless controller dongle

After approximately three minutes of idle activity, the controller will switch off to conserve battery power. It’s unlikely to make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things, but still a nice inclusion.

The pad seems to maintain a constant connection to the dongle at all times. And I didn’t experience any interference when using other wireless N64 controllers at the same time.

It’s worth noting I wasn’t able to test more than one Brawler 64 wireless controller at the same time. However, the included instruction manual implies up to four can be used simultaneously on the same console.

It’s also incredibly responsive with no noticeable delay. For example, I can easily perform rocket starts in both Diddy Kong Racing and Mario Kart 64 with this controller.

Dongle light on, confirming that the controller is connected to the N64 console.

Compatibility issues

However, I did come across some unusual compatibility issues when playing a few games. It was only a small handful, but even then it’s bizarre that the controller doesn’t work correctly with them.

For reasons unknown, the controller does not work with Body Harvest, unless you have a memory card inserted into the dongle. I found this out after contacting Retro Fighters’ support team.

Without a memory card, the game thinks the joystick isn’t centred correctly and behaves as if you’re always pulling down left. (It’s worth noting that Body Harvest doesn’t actually support the memory card, so it’s an unusual workaround.)

Adam Drake uses the sun shield - possibly a pop culture reference to the shield of Perseus in Body Harvest for N64?

In Rayman 2, the game plays fine, but it’s impossible to navigate the pause menu. Upon entering it, the cursor hard-locks as if you’re holding down. Retro Fighters doesn’t currently have a fix for this and is investigating.

And in Mario Kart 64 the Z or R button will sometimes cut out very briefly. This interrupts a power slide or pre-emptively fires a weapon, neither of which are ideal.

Retro Fighters advised I reset the controller. You do this by pressing D-pad down, A, B and start at the same time (it’s also stated in the manual). Unfortunately, this didn’t fix the issue.

Mario Kart 64 two-player Grand Prix mode on Nintendo 64

Unless you’re a huge fan of these games, this may not be much of an issue. I tested a wide range of popular N64 games and didn’t come across any other noticeable problems.

If you’ve discovered a compatibility issue I haven’t mentioned here, please let me know about it on Twitter or Facebook.

Dongle

The included receiver dongle is large and bulky as a result of its built-in memory card slot.

I tested this slot using an official Nintendo 64 Controller Pak. It fits just fine, and I didn’t encounter any issues with the dongle not detecting it.

Although Transfer and Rumble Paks use the same slot as memory cards, they are not compatible with the Brawler 64 wireless controller.

Controller Pak inserted into the Brawler 64 wireless dongle

Rumble Paks do technically work. But you shouldn’t use them as they only make the dongle vibrate (and, more importantly, doing this could damage your console or the dongle).

Despite the size, it’s possible to have two dongles sat next to one another in adjacent controller ports.

The dongle plugs into the console tightly. Removing it does require a bit of gentle force, preferably with one hand on the console. So be careful when doing this.

Brawler 64 wireless dongle inserted into the console alongside the Hyperkin Admiral dongle -- it just about fits!

Battery life and charging

The Brawler 64 wireless controller comes with a built-in battery that lasts around 10 hours. It takes around two and a half hours to fully recharge a very low or empty battery.

The battery life is decent — and offers around 4 hours more than the Admiral wireless N64 controller. You won’t find yourself constantly having to charge it after each session.

The controller also has an LED battery indicator on its front face. This will flash while the controller is charging (which might be annoying depending on where you place it). However, the light will eventually switch off to indicate it’s charged.

The LED indicator showing the controller is charging.

A really neat thing about the Brawler 64 wireless controller’s battery is that it’s easily replaceable. Just unscrew and remove the back shell of the controller to swap it out.

I haven’t specifically tested replacing the battery (especially with the controller being brand new). Nevertheless, it seems like a relatively straightforward process.

It’s nice that Retro Fighters has built some longevity into the controller. After all, if you’re still playing N64 over 20 years later then there’s a good chance you’re in it for the long run!

The battery is replaceable, but you need to remove the back of the controller to do this.

Joystick

Like most aftermarket pads, the Brawler 64 wireless controller features a modern-style joystick.

It’s soft and rubbery, and has a large, curved dome head. The top is completely smooth — there’s no textured grip. While it feels nice, it does mean it’s very easy for your thumb to slip off the joystick during frantic or stick-spin moments.

The joystick sits within an octagonal gate, which I feel provides useful tactile feedback in terms of positioning. Whether you like this or not really comes down to personal preference though.

Joystick accuracy and sensitivity tests

The Brawler 64 wireless controller’s packaging boldy promises a responsive analog joystick. But is this true?

Yes — surprisingly! It’s a considerable improvement over Retro Fighters’ original N64 controller and one of the best performing aftermarket controllers yet.

The joystick is remarkably balanced in terms of the range of its directional inputs. The max range is slightly larger than that of an original N64 controller.

In some games, this extra range gives a slight advantage, enabling you to turn more tightly or move more quickly. However, Buck Bumble is one game that won’t work correctly if the max range is too long. Thankfully, the Brawler 64 wireless controller gets this right, and so there aren’t any issues here.

Close-up of the joystick

But what about the sensitivity — a make-or-break element of any N64 controller?

Well, the joystick’s deadzone (the distance you can move the stick before the game will recognise it) is very low.

However, as the test below shows, you’re easily able to move the stick gradually without the tracking suddenly jumping up.

It also helps that the max range is only slightly further than that of the original N64 controller. This means the stick is always very close to the furthest distance you can physically push it when you reach the max X/Y axis value of the original N64 controller. By comparison, the N64 Hori Mini Pad will reach this max range when the joystick is around the halfway mark.

Because of this, N64 games that demand precision remain playable. That said, the Brawler 64 wireless’s joystick still pales in comparison to that of an original N64 controller. Nevertheless, it comes much closer than other aftermarket pads in recent years.

Using free aim in GoldenEye 007 feels responsive, and it wasn’t difficult to pull off more precise shots. I was able to stabilise my aim more easily, although I did encounter some occasional jitter when trying to make long-range shots. Unlike the N64 Hori Mini Pad, the game is completely playable (albeit not perfect) with the Brawler 64 wireless controller.

Similarly, the pad holds up in F-Zero X, a game in which oversteering is already too easy to do with even the original N64 controller.

Japanese exclusive Ucchannanchan no Honō no Challenger: Denryū Iraira Bō demands a level of control that most aftermarket N64 controllers can’t deliver. Yet I was able to make it through some of game’s tricky mazes without ever feeling a lack of control or responsiveness.

Ultimately, an original N64 controller’s joystick (in good condition) will still offer a more precise level of control. But the Brawler 64 wireless joystick does a surprisingly good job of coming very close. It’s incredibly impressive.

It’s important to note that I’ve only been able to test one controller. But I’ve had a look around online and seen that other users are getting incredibly similar joystick benchmark results.

I’ve yet to come across any stick drift issues. The stick sits squarely in the middle of the X/Y axis when in the neutral position.

D-pad

Close-up of the D-pad

The D-pad sits in an ideal location, making it easy to reach with your left thumb. For games that use both the joystick and D-pad (such as some shooters), it’s great having both so easily accessible.

It has a good size to it and is accurate too. I didn’t encounter any major input issues when testing it with D-pad-centric games such as Killer Instinct Gold or Bangai-O. That said, it does have slightly squishy quality, making it easier to inadvertently press in a diagonal direction.

It’s also quite noisy to press (and louder than the original controller’s D-pad), but not unbearably so.

Face buttons

The layout and size of the face buttons are very similar to the ones found on the original N64 controller.

There are some slight differences though. For example, all the buttons have a matte finish and a completely flat top. Also, the space between the A/B and C buttons is wider on this controller. It’s relatively minor, but less ideal for games where you quickly need to swap between all six buttons.

Face buttons, including Start, B, A and C buttons.

Each of the buttons has a large amount of travel distance. So you have to press them down a bit more before they activate. Again, it’s very minimal, but it does make this controller less effective for button-bashing moments.

As with the D-pad, all the face buttons are loud and clacky to press. This doesn’t affect how they function, but you might find it annoying.

Shoulder buttons

The shoulder button layout mimics a modern video game controller. There’s a shoulder button and Z trigger on either side of the controller.

Both Z triggers function identically, and which one you use is down to preference. It’s nice to have a choice, especially when many N64 games make heavy use of both Z and R. Also, it’s potentially more ideal if you’ve become accustomed the default control layout of most modern first-person shooters.

Shoulder buttons, including two Z triggers on either side of the controller

All the shoulder buttons are a decent size and well spaced. Giving the L-button the same prominence as the R button doesn’t really add anything given how sparingly it is used in N64 games. But it’s still a nice touch and ideal for D-pad-centric games.

One of my biggest issues with the original Brawler 64 controller was the inclusion of spongy, analog-like Z triggers. They offered absolutely no benefit, and actually had a detrimental impact on the gameplay experience.

Thankfully, Retro Fighters has clearly listened to feedback from last time round. On the Brawler 64 wireless controller, the Z triggers’ range of movement is drastically shorter. It’s now like pressing a button. They have a great shape and size, and feel both responsive and nice to press.

Turbo mode

Finally, the Brawler 64 wireless controller has a built-in turbo mode. Hold down the turbo button and press the button you want to behave in that way.

You can only have one turbo button at a time, so it’s quite limited compared to some other controllers. But it’s a nice inclusion nonetheless.

Brawler 64 wireless controller

Should you buy the Brawler 64 wireless controller?

On the whole, the Brawler 64 wireless controller is a great effort from Retro Fighters.

The joystick is the standout feature here. It’s something that so many third-party N64 controllers get wrong. But in this case, it’s surprisingly accurate and precise — and worked well with every game I tested. It’s by no means a replacement for the original N64 controller, especially in games like GoldenEye 007. But it’s a good enough alternative.

Unfortunately, there’s one big flaw: the controller doesn’t work properly with a very small selection of games. So if you play these titles, you’re still going to need an alternative pad.

Otherwise, the buttons are a bit noisy to press and the loss of Rumble and Transfer Pak support will disappoint some. But these are relatively minor gripes.

It’s not perfect, but the Brawler 64 wireless is definitely one of the better N64 aftermarket controllers out there. And if you’re specifically after a wireless pad, then it’s currently your best option.

Martin Watts

Martin has been running N64 Today since it began in 2017. He previously wrote for Nintendo Life and works as a content professional by day. 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.