One thing I don’t miss when it comes to modern gaming is wired controllers. Wireless is just that little bit more convenient – not to mention there’s no risk of you (or a friend) accidentally yanking your console off the TV stand.
In this regard, Hyperkin’s Admiral wireless N64 controller is a godsend. It’s not the first wireless N64 controller, but it’s certainly one of the most reliable in terms of connection and ease of use.
There have been a few aftermarket N64 controllers in recent years, each one emphasizing a particular feature or improvement.
But there’s one thing that all these new, unofficial controllers have in common. They have terrible joysticks. Not necessarily in terms of how they feel, but definitely in how accurate and precise they are.
As nice as wireless functionality may be, does the Admiral wireless N64 controller finally get the joystick right? And even if it does, is it a decent controller otherwise?
Admiral wireless N64 controller features overview
The Admiral wireless N64 controller is made by Hyperkin. It’s compatible with all N64 consoles, and you can also use it with PC, Mac, Android and Nintendo Switch.
It has a two-prong design similar to the N64 Hori Mini Pad and features a GameCube-style joystick.
This controller’s main selling point is its wireless connectivity. You can connect it to an N64 console using the included dongle and other devices via Bluetooth.
Due to its wireless design, the controller is powered by a built-in rechargeable battery. Hyperkin promises on the packaging that this lasts for six hours of gameplay. You can recharge the controller using a micro USB cable that comes included.
It’s also possible to back-up your memory card save data with this controller and even transfer it to another PC and different memory cards.
Otherwise, the Admiral wireless N64 controller sports a similar face button layout to that of the original N64 controller. It also has two Z buttons, one on each shoulder.
It’s currently available in four colours: black, white, and two transparent colours (space black and amethyst purple). Both the controller’s shell and buttons have a matte finish.
The controller retails for $39.99 USD. It’s currently only available through import elsewhere, making it an even pricier option. (For example, it costs around £45 in the UK.)
Before you can start using the Admiral wireless N64 controller, you need to pair it with the controller port dongle.
This is a super simple process. Both the controller and dongle have useful LED lights to indicate the connection status.
You only have to do the pairing process once. After this, you simply press any button on the controller to turn it on. (The manual says to use the controller sync button, but this doesn’t do anything as far as I can tell.)
It then reconnects after a few seconds. Your N64 needs to be powered on with the dongle inserted, which prevents you from accidentally turning on the controller and wasting the battery.
When you’re done playing, you can press the controller sync button to immediately deactivate the pad. However, it will automatically enter sleep mode after a short period time.
As far as I can tell, sleep mode and turning off the controller are the same thing.
The Admiral wireless N64 controller has a range of up to 30 feet (around nine metres). Unless you’re playing on some huge outdoor projector, you’re probably not going to be that far away from your console.
Nevertheless, it works, and the connection remains consistent anywhere within this range.
It’s a bit of an ordeal trying to insert and remove the dongle from your console. The connection is incredibly tight, to the point where it’s a real struggle taking it out. You definitely need to be careful and hold your N64 console firmly while doing so.
The dongle has a built-in Controller Pak slot for games that use it. It’s technically compatible with the Rumble Pak too, although this will make your console shake rather than your controller. Hyperkin strongly suggests you don’t use a Rumble Pak or else you might damage your console or the dongle.
Of course, having built-in force feedback would’ve been nice. But this omission is understandable given how Rumble Paks work with the N64 by default.
You can use more than one Admiral wireless N64 controller at a time. I tested two simultaneously and didn’t encounter any interference or connectivity issues.
Battery life and charging
Push those frustrating memories of scrounging around for a pair of batteries for your Rumble Pak to the back of your mind – the Admiral controller has a built-in rechargeable battery!
It provides up to six hours of battery life, and it’s possible to charge as you play.
There’s a battery indicator LED on the controller that lets you know when it’s charging. This also flashes if the battery is running low.
It doesn’t take long for the controller to reach a full charge. There were a few occasions where I noticed the charging light wouldn’t disappear after many hours. I can only guess that this is just a quirk?
The battery is neither removable nor easily replaceable, so there will come a point years down the line when the Admiral stops working. But such is the way with most modern electronic devices.
Size, shape and weight
The Admiral wireless N64 controller ditches the classic trident N64 pad layout for a modern, two-prong design. It’s surprisingly small, which is impressive considering it’s wireless and has a built-in battery.
It’s about an inch shorter in width than the original N64 controller. And it’s only slightly wider than the N64 Hori Mini Pad – one of the dinkiest N64 pads.
The controller weighs around 150-155g (every pad is slightly different for some reason). It’s incredibly light to hold, to the point where you may find this makes the pad feel cheap.
That said, it does make the controller easier to hold for long periods of time.
And largely speaking, this really is a comfortable pad despite its small size. The handles have a distinct shape for you to wrap your fingers round.
There’s a “shelf” underneath the shoulder buttons so you can rest the pad on your middle fingers. You can hold it with both your middle and index fingers over the shoulder buttons, but it feels less secure.
Despite the controller’s small size, there’s enough space between your hands. I have long, albeit skinny fingers and am able to hold the pad both comfortably and correctly.
Otherwise, the Admiral wireless N64 controller has a decidedly flat look to it. It’s the first thing you notice in fact.
This doesn’t have any impact on functionality, but it does give the controller a bespoke, modern design.
The joystick on the Admiral wireless N64 controller is almost a hybrid of the N64 and GameCube joysticks.
It’s soft and rubbery like a GameCube stick, but has a flat head and is very similar in size to the N64 controller’s.
The textured grip does its job, ensuring your thumb doesn’t slip during chaotic games.
The joystick also sits within an octagonal gate, which I feel helps with directional control, but it’s really down to your preference.
Joystick accuracy and sensitivity tests
Does the Admiral wireless N64 controller finally get right the one feature every other third-party pad gets wrong?
In short, no.
Putting the accuracy to one side for a moment, the biggest problem with the Admiral is that it suffers from stick drift.
Both controllers I tested – each bought months apart – suffer from a drift towards the left.
It’s minor, meaning you won’t even notice it in some games. But it can cause real problems in games where very precise control is needed. There’s also the possibility that it could get worse over time. (It’s worth noting that I wasn’t able to determine this based on my usage thus far.)
In addition to this, the Admiral wireless N64 controller doesn’t offer the full range of movement. The right and upper directional inputs fall short of the original controller. This can have a negative impact in certain games, particularly in the racing genre.
It’s also more sensitive than the original controller, although not as bad as some aftermarket controllers. Precise actions, such as aiming in GoldenEye 007 or steering in F-Zero X, are manageable, but the original controller still offers a far superior experience.
The D-pad’s position on the Admiral wireless N64 controller is perfect. It’s within easy reach, unlike the official pad.
This is great for games that use the D-pad heavily. But it’s the joystick games that rely on the D-pad to perform actions (such as change weapon) where you really notice the difference.
Unlike the Admiral wireless N64 controller’s joystick, the D-Pad is both accurate and responsive. In particular, diagonal inputs work as they should enabling you to play frantic D-pad games such as Bangai-O.
The D-pad is raised and clacky to press. This doesn’t have any impact on how you use it, but you might find the noise annoying.
Obviously, this pad isn’t ideal if you’re a fan of using the D-pad and joystick setup in first-person shooters. It’s worth noting that there are very few instances where you’re forced to use this setup. (For example: the Ekans’ Hoop Hurl mini-game in Pokémon Stadium.)
The Admiral uses a similar face button layout to the original controller, so it immediately feel natural to use.
The most notable difference is how close the B and Start buttons are. The short space means you might accidentally hit pause during frantic games like Super Smash Bros. 64.
Otherwise, the C buttons are a tiny bit bigger, but this doesn’t make them any more or less usable. Much like the controller’s shell, each button also sports a flat-topped, matte design.
While they are fully responsive, the buttons are loud and clacky to press. They also have a lot of travel on them, making them less ideal for button-bashing segments in games.
Thanks to the Admiral’s two-prong design, the L, R and Z buttons are all within easy reach at any one time.
There are actually two Z buttons – one on either shoulder underneath the respective L or R button. They function identically, and so which one you use is down to preference.
However, the overall button quality is a little disappointing. The L and R buttons have a good feel when pressing them, but they’re very thin and far too close to the Z buttons.
The Z buttons are thankfully much thicker (just over a centimetre). They have a curved, slightly raised tip at the bottom. However, they’re clicky and have a lot of travel – not ideal for button bashing.
Bizarrely, the shoulder buttons behave differently on both the Admiral pads I have. For some reason, Z and R are swapped on my black controller (despite the button still saying R).
I assume this is a defect, but I actually prefer this setup. Your fingers rest more naturally on the Z buttons due to their larger size.
Still, the fact there is an inconsistency is worrying. Especially given the other quality issues the controller has.
Memory card save data backup and transfer
N64 memory cards have a notoriously tiny storage capacity. As a result, you often find yourself having to delete saves to make way for new games. Well, provided the card doesn’t corrupt first and delete everything anyway.
Thankfully, the Admiral wireless N64 controller offers a nifty save data backup and transfer feature. It only works for memory card saves, so you can’t backup any games that saves directly to the cartridge.
The process involved is fiddly. You need a micro SD card, which you insert into the controller’s dongle.
While slightly overkill (N64 memory card files are mere kilobytes), the card format is at least widely used. So you don’t need to get a massive capacity micro SD card.
You can only create one backup at any time. You do this by flicking a switch and pressing a button on the dongle. An LED indicator will then let you know whether the transfer has been successful.
You can then transfer the file to your PC for safekeeping by copying it from the micro SD card.
If you want to then use a backup, you have to rename the save filename on your PC to a particular naming convention and copy it back to the SD card.
It’s the same process, except you press the dongle button twice. You’ll definitely want to keep an extra copy on your PC. That’s because it seems a little too easy to accidentally overwrite your saves by getting your button presses muddled up.
A lot of what I’ve said above is actually just taken from the controller’s instruction manual. That’s because I couldn’t actually get the back-up/transfer process to work.
I tried two separate Admiral controllers, different N64 memory cards, and even different micro SD cards and had no luck at all. My memory cards aren’t corrupted either. (One of them has the battery-less mod, so it’s incredibly reliable.)
I don’t know if this has something to do with the type or capacity of the micro-SD cards I was using. Nonetheless, neither the controller’s manual nor packaging stipulate any limitations.
(It’s worth noting that I’ve seen it work for people on YouTube, so presumably I’ve just gotten unlucky?)
Provided you can get it to work and it’s your only option for creating backups then it’s worth going through all the rigmarole. However, the EverDrive 64 offers a simpler back-up option, and you should use this instead if you have one.
Should you buy the Admiral wireless N64 controller?
In terms of its wireless functionality, the Admiral controller performs, well, admirably. It’s reliable, easy to setup and reconnect each time with minimal fuss.
Unfortunately, some of the controller’s other features aren’t up to standard.
As with virtually every aftermarket N64 pad, the joystick doesn’t provide the same range of movement or precision as an official controller. That said, it would be better than some other controllers out there if it wasn’t for its inherent stick drift.
Otherwise, the save data backup and transfer feature is a big letdown. Even if you can get it to work, the process involved is too fiddly. It’s also not worth buying a micro-SD card for.
And let’s not forget that the Z and R buttons are randomly swapped around on one of the pads I tested. It could be a one-off defect, but even then it doesn’t scream quality.
It’s a shame because these gripes spoil an otherwise decent N64 controller. The design is modern, it’s comfortable to hold, and it’s surprisingly compact despite its built-in battery.
Ultimately, I can’t recommend a controller with such obvious issues and poor build quality. If you really want a wireless N64 controller then the Admiral is at least usable. But it’s not worth the high asking price, especially now that the Brawler 64 wireless controller is available.