As you may have gathered if you’ve looked through the blog at all, I’m something of a retro game fan. I grew up playing the Sega Master System and Mega Drive and had a Dreamcast before Sega moved to being a third party developer. I even owned a Saturn and Game Gear in there somewhere.
Still being a big Sega fan I love being able to replay these games, but it can be a little hard or inconvenient to do so. The original hardware is tricky to get to work perfectly on modern TVs (remember, this tech is 30 odd years old) and original games can go for insane prices. While it can be easy enough to set up an emulator on a PC, a PC isn’t really something you can just whip out for a quick game of Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine.
For a while I played around with various retro gaming options. I did the Raspberry Pi thing, tried out re-releases on mobile devices (hate virtual controls) and even hacked my 3DS to play emulated Mega Drive games. All of it was okay…but not brilliant.
After a while I kind of gave up. However, the urge to replay Sonic 3 & Knuckles did not take long to resurface so I started to look at my options again. I wanted good portability, quality emulation and comfortable play.
The portability and quality emulation could be provided by using the wonderful emulator MD.emu* which does all Sega consoles from the 32X down on my Android phone or tablet. But what about comfortable play? Well, this is where 8Bitdo comes in.
I’d known for a while that there were bluetooth games controllers for Android devices, but the ones I’d tried were all a bit…meh. Cheaply made and clicky, they either felt horrid or the connection would drop out at any given moment. However, I decided to do my research and came across Zero wireless controller by 8Bitdo. All the reviews I read were good so I picked ordered one from Amazon and when it arrived a few days later I quickly opened it up to test it out.
This little baby – and it is little at just over 7cm in length – is perfect for playing games on an Android device. It connected to my Kindle Fire 10 first go and ran like a charm.
The Zero is designed kind of like the old Super Nintendo controllers with a D-pad, four face buttons (A, B, X, Y) and two shoulder buttons. Playing Mega Drive games means that used the systems original six-button layout means I had to use the shoulder buttons for some things, but that’s far from an issue.
The Zero feels sturdy and well made, and the buttons have a very satisfying click to them. The white finish is lovely and the blue highlights really cap it off as an attractive little device.
The Zero has an internal battery that is charged via USB. However, the charge cord is so short if your plug is at all off the floor/ surface the controller is gonna dangle. I wasn’t hugley keen on this so instead I just used my phone charger as the Zero has a standard micro USB connection. I go roughly 8 hours out of the Zero before I needed to charge it.
The controller also comes with a wristband. While this might seem superfluous, it’s actually a really good inclusion as the thing is so small it’s easy to misplace. While this may not be a huge issue at home, it’s suck if you’re on the train or bus playing and drop the Zero only for it to be crushed underfoot. The band stops this from happening.
So far I’ve played Streets of Rage 1 and 2, Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Phantom 2040 and Ristar while using the Zero. None of these games really stressed out my use of the Zero. At no time did I feel that my fingers were getting in the way of themselves despite the controller’s small size, and I noticed no input lag whatsoever. The only real issue I noticed was that sometimes performing actions that require the pressing of two buttons simultaneously, such as the backward strike in SoR, can be tricky, although I quickly learned to use my thumb to press both buttons at once. Similarly, I noticed making diagonal directions in Ristar and Phantom can be a little cumbersome, but I put this down more to the fact that the Zero’s D-Pad is angular rather than the original Mega Drive’s circular D-Pad.
It should be noted too that 8Bitdo have a heap of different controllers. If you want to play games build in 3D, there are controllers with analogue sticks. They have ones inspired by Nintendo’s Game & Watch handhelds, the Super Nintendo, arcade sticks and, finally, one inspired by the mighty Mega Drive itself (which I will certainly be getting!)
While it might be small, the Zero is a wonderful controller. If you’re looking for an easy and affordable way to play retro games you could do a lot worse than this little beauty. I’d highly recommend anyone who is interested in playing their favorite retro games on their phone or tablet consider the Zero as it’s by far the best wireless controller for smaller-screened devices I’ve come across.
*I’ve only used MD.emu on Android devices. I’m not sure if it’s available for iOS or not, but if not there is probably something equivalent out there.