Nyko has offered up some pretty darn handy battery and charge dock solutions for the Wii U GamePad this year, and that’s particularly welcome because let’s face it—the GamePad isn’t exactly a marathon man when it comes to battery life. Nyko’s Uboost pack doubles the GamePad’s battery life, and their Charge Station U lets you juice up your GamePad and two Wii remotes at the same time. But Nyko isn’t putting all their attention on the GamePad; Wii U has the more traditional Pro Controller available as well, and Nyko is offering both a charging solution and an alternative to Nintendo’s more orthodox first party controller.
First, let’s look at Nyko’s answer to Nintendo’s Pro Controller. Dubbed the Pro Commander, Nyko’s controller shares a lot in common with a few of their previous pads, specifically the Raven for the PS3. Thankfully the comparisons are only in design and not connectivity: the Pro Commander syncs directly to the Wii U console and can be paired just like the first party controller, so it doesn’t require any kind of wireless USB dongle. In my time with it I’ve found Nyko’s pad to be just as responsive as Nintendo’s, with no noticeable lag, latency or other connection issues. Kudos to Nintendo for being easier to work with than Sony or Microsoft when it comes to third party wireless connectivity.
The Pro Commander has the same hooked, swooping contours of the Raven and the same basic button and stick layout. Nyko offered two versions of the Raven for PS3—one with standard layout that had both analog sticks at the bottom like a regular Dualshock 3, and an alternate model that emulated the Xbox 360’s staggered analog stick placement.
The Pro Commander follows the alternate layout—one stick on the upper left, the other on the lower right—and I have to say I like that a lot more. I’ve never been a fan of the stick placement on Playstation pads, it’s always felt cramped and too close together, and while Nintendo’s decision to put both sticks up top on both the GamePad and Pro Controller is novel and unique, that makes the sticks feel too far apart for me. The staggered layout has always been the most comfortable for me ever since the GameCube and Nyko’s decision to use it on the Pro Commander made me favor the controller right from the start.
So the layout is nice, but how does the Pro Commander feel in your hands? Surprisingly comfortable, if a little different. Many third party controllers try to squeak by on superfluous flash and style, incorporating bulky rubber grips, oddly shaped buttons or sticks, garish colors or even transparent shells packed with gaudy LEDs. Nyko however has always found a perfect marriage of style and function and the Pro Commander doesn’t change that trend. It is coated in a satiny-smooth rubberized finish that gives the controller a dusty matte-gray color and also makes it feel great to the touch. It’s a far sight better than the Pro Controller’s shiny gloss black surface, which is eye-catching but attracts dust and fingerprints even more than a first-generation PS3.
The feel of the control layout is a bit different than the Nintendo standard Pro Controller. The analog sticks stand slightly higher and have a barely perceptible stiffer throw than the ones on Nintendo’s pad. The Plus and Minus buttons are rectangular and rubberized, while the Home button is a lot bigger and the power button is completely out of the way, on the bottom of the controller and recessed. The face buttons are arranged in the industry-standard diamond configuration but they follow the layout Nintendo has been using since the SNES: A on the right, B at the bottom, Y at the left and X up top. This is different than the layout pioneered by Sega on the Dreamcast—and subsequently ripped off and used by Microsoft on all three Xboxes so far—and it does take some getting used to if you’ve been using a 360 controller. That said the Pro Commander’s face buttons are perfectly comfortable, although they’re just barely mushier than the Nintendo pad’s buttons.
The D pad is also just a tad softer than the Nintendo one, but is set into a cross-shaped cutout on the controller shell and has worked perfectly during gameplay so far. It’s much better than that god-awful hunk-o’-plastic rocker pad that’s been on the standard 360 controller for 8 years, and Nyko’s tech is head and shoulders above most other third party D pads out there. I’m not sure why, but Nyko seems to be one of the few companies besides Nintendo that can produce a solid, functional D pad, one that doesn’t register incorrect inputs or fudge one direction press into another. I know analog sticks are the main draw on a controller anymore but if you want to play a fighting game or anything retro, a reliable D pad is a must.
The triggers and bumpers were the only area where I ran into complications. They aren’t necessarily bad,
just…curious. The bumpers have a softer throw than the Nintendo ones and their placement made them just a bit tougher to wrap my fingers around, but having the face buttons closer to the top of the controller certainly helped in that regard. It’s the triggers that are interesting. They’re rubberized like the controller body and very springy and comfortable, but they have the same analog range as the triggers on a 360 pad. Both Nintendo’s Wii U GamePad and Pro Controller only have digital triggers—a curious and troubling choice to be sure—so I wonder why Nyko equipped its Wii U controller with full analog triggers.
Maybe it’s a design element it inherited from the PS3 Raven, or perhaps Nyko hopes Nintendo eventually comes to their senses and puts analog triggers on their Wii U controllers. I certainly hope so. All in all the Pro Commander is a slightly acquired taste compared to the Wii U Pro Controller but the 360-style analog stick placement and grippy rubber surface give it advantages over the Nintendo standard. It’s certainly more affordable at $35, compared to the eyebrow-raising $50 Nintendo is asking for the Pro Controller. The only thing the first party Pro Controller has on Nyko’s pad is its insane battery life—up to 80 hours on a full charge. The Pro Commander managed a respectable 20 hours in my time with it, so you’ll be charging it more often, but that brings us to the next piece of Nyko tech we’re looking at in this review.
Ntko is also offering a charging dock for the first party Pro Controller, called the Charge Base Pro, and it retails for a reasonable $30. It shares many design elements with Nyko’s cradles for the PS3 and 360, specifically the Charge Base 2 for PS3 controllers, however the Charge Base Pro stands upright rather than lying flat. It has a small folding stand that flips back to stabilize it, and the dock itself sits at a backward-slanting angle.
You charge a standard Wii U Pro Controller by first slotting a small transparent adapter onto your controller, which fits snugly into the standard USB mini port on the top-back of the pad. This adapter has small gold contacts on its top and magnetically clicks into one of two docks on the Charge Base Pro, holding your controller suspended while it juices it up. Once the controllers are attached you turn the Charge Base Pro on and off with a basic power button on the top of the unit.
There are indicator LEDs above each controller that glow orange when charging and green when the controller is fully charged. The base of the unit also flashes green when you turn it on, and glows solid when all controllers are fully powered. The Charge Base Pro has its own AC adapter and plugs into any standard outlet, meaning the AC power charges your controllers much faster than USB, but at the cost of taking up another outlet on your wall or surge protector. You can expect the Charge Base Pro to fully charge your Wii U Pro Controller’s monster 80 hour battery in just 2 and a half hours, which is impressive but also brings us to my only concern with the unit.
The Charge Base Pro is not compatible with the Pro Commander. Trust me, I’ve tried, but the adapter clips just don’t fit on the Pro Commander; the shape isn’t right and what’s more, the USB mini port on the Pro Commander is upside down
compared to the one on the Nintendo Pro Controller. This is an interesting dilemma, as you’ll no doubt be charging the Pro Commander a lot more often than the Nintendo Pro Controller because its battery life is significantly shorter.
I’m honestly a little conflicted on how to score these two devices. They’re both excellent at doing what they are designed for but it’s really a shame they don’t work with each other, especially considering they are made by the same company. If you have two or more Nintendo Pro Controllers and you play a lot of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, New Super Mario U or Resident Evil Revelations then the Charge Base Pro is a really handy thing to have around. However since the Pro Controllers can go 80 hours between a charge I only see using the Charge Base Pro once every week or two, depending on how much mileage you get out of your Pro Controllers.
Conversely, the Pro Commander is an excellent third party alternative to the Nintendo Pro Controller with several of its own strengths, but you’ll have to resort to charging it through USB. Really, I cannot stress how big a deal it is to have a third party controller that not only works but works well,
especially in terms of D pad and overall ergonomics. That’s a solid win for Nyko all on its own. But man, would it be nice to see my first party Pro Controller and Nyko’s Pro Commander both clipped to the Charge Base Pro, powering up at the same time. Hopefully Nyko will release a custom adapter clip for the Pro Commander so it works with the Charge Base Pro, and including such an adapter with future releases would be a big improvement.
Both of these devices have very few drawbacks and they each do exactly what they’re supposed to do. I’m sorely tempted to give them both a 9.0, but the lack of inter-compatibility really frustrates me so I’ll have to concede with an 8.5 for both. They are both very solid and reliable products, just don’t expect them to play nice together.
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