Revisiting the Hyperkin Cadet Controller (NES)

Back in July, I reviewed Hyperkin’s Cadet Controller, a controller in the style of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) controllers; depending on which model you purchase, the controller is designed with different cables for use on the official NES and compatible clone consoles, the NES Classic Edition (Wii connector), and computers (USB connector). I posted both a detailed video unboxing the Cadet, trying it out, and opening it up, as well as a written summary with pictures. TLDR: I loved it.

I was surprised, nay shocked, given Hyperkin’s terrible RetroN 5 controller, and the track record of third party controllers in general–typically, the main thing companies fail at is in replicating Nintendo’s D-pad. No matter how faithful the recreation (I’m looking at you, 8Bitdo), they just can’t get it right even though it’s a little piece of plastic that has been around for more than 30 years. On the other hand, most companies can’t manage to fix the same audio, video, and compatibility problems plaguing “Nintendo-on-a-Chip” knockoff consoles that have been around for decades either.

What’s the problem with the D-pad? It seems the biggest issue is the size and shape of the pivot in the center of the D-pad. Without one, you can press the D-pad down and trigger every direction at once. With a crappy one, you will still trigger unintended diagonals, which is devastating to your performance in games requiring precision, i.e., pretty much NES game that isn’t an RPG, sports title, or board game adaptation–particularly in platformers and shmups that have tight controls. My usual test: Can Mario slide under blocks in Super Mario Bros. 3 easily?

The Hyperkin Cadet controller I reviewed in July, which I still use regularly, passed that test with flying colors. I liked the design, which is comfortable in my hands, and the A and B buttons are also snappy and responsive. When I opened it up, I found that the PCB was much higher quality than virtually every other third-party controller out there; where most use glob top on their board, that controller had an actual chip. I loved the controller so much, it actually replaced the Hudson Soft Joycard Sansui SSS as my favored NES controller, for a time. The only issues I had with the Cadet were the tight fit of its plug in an NES (it fits fine in a Hyperkin RetroN 5, which sounds about right), and the buttons were a little louder, which is only a problem when I’m live streaming.

Then a few weeks ago, user zedeighty commented on my YouTube video that the Cadet controller packed in with their RetroN 1 (Grey) didn’t work, and upon tearing it down they discovered it had a different board with a glob top!

I wish I had something positive to say about this controller but unfortunately the pad I got with my Retron HD was broken out of the box. I can’t get it to work with the clone it came with or a genuine NES (weirdly, the select button works but nothing else). Interesting thing is, I took one apart for curiosity’s sake and found that the circuit board inside mine is totally different to yours (it even has a glob top instead of a proper chip).

They linked me to a YouTube video that showed a PCB from another controller identical to theirs, posted by Gam3Tat0 on July 3, 2017, a couple of weeks before I posted my video. (So much for being the first!)

Source: Gam3Tat0 (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8dUT90-qr8QQ4Ck_QAZc_Q)

Source: Gam3Tat0 (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8dUT90-qr8QQ4Ck_QAZc_Q)

No black glob here! Just a real chip and a pretty clean looking PCB.

The PCB from my first Cadet controller.

Note the glob top and different circuits on the button pads! It seemed clear that there were different production runs on the controller or a change in manufacturing. Perhaps the pack-in controllers with the consoles were cheaper versions for some reason, or earlier production models, or they’re made in different factories…???

But no. I happen to have a second Cadet controller; I had liked the first so much, I was planning to buy the black model when it was released in August, but then I won a contest on Twitter so Hyperkin sent me one for free! When it arrived, I had no reason to believe it would be different from the first one, so I didn’t do another teardown, and in fact I didn’t even bother testing it and didn’t have a chance to use it. So, inspired by all this new information, I cracked the seal on the black controller, opened it up, and discovered it does not have a glob top! It has a chip just like my first Cadet controller; however, it has an entirely different D-pad from my other Cadet. :-o

At first, everything looks okay and consistent with my other controller.

At first, everything looks okay and consistent with my other controller…

This is perhaps even more significant, because when I reassembled the black controller and finally tested it, I found it performs completely differently from the first controller: The D-pad on the black controller is so awful, it is basically unusable. Not only did it fail the slide test in SMB3 miserably, but I couldn’t even hold the Down button to make Mario duck for long. He kept walking to the right instead! That’s no good.

D-pad from the black Cadet controller. Note the extremely narrow pivot in the center.

D-pad from the black Cadet controller, received for free from Hyperkin. Note the rounded pivot in the center, which actually looks like the one in an NES controller, and most third-party knockoffs.

 

D-pad from the white Cadet controller, produced at least a few months earlier and purchased from Castlemania Games. Note the narrower, almost pointed pivot.

D-pad from the white Cadet controller, produced at least a few months earlier and purchased from Castlemania Games. Note the narrower, almost pointed pivot. This is definitely a different mold.

 

Silicon conductive membrane from the black Cadet controller.

Silicon conductive membrane from the black Cadet controller.

9 Comments

  1. pennilessgoldfish

    “Or maybe we should just stick with 30-year-old original hardware.”

    I’m currently keeping an eye on eBay for good clean examples. Hoping to pick up ones that will last me a long time, but for the future, do you have any recommendation for suppliers of quality replacement silicone pads?

    Reply
    1. ecmyers (Post author)

      I bought a pack of 10 for $13 on eBay from “Nintendo Repair Hut”: https://www.ebay.com/itm/Lot-of-10-Nintendo-NES-Controller-Repair-Kit-Replacement-Conductive-Pads-/171548326537?

      I used them to refurbish a Famicom controller (I swapped the PCB with one from an NES so I could use it on an American system), and honestly, I don’t love it — the buttons all feel pretty mushy, but they do work. However, I did a lot of research beforehand, and as far as I can tell, this is as good as they get.

      I once planned to buy a bunch of official NES Classic controllers for $10 each and use them to make old controllers basically brand new, but then they ended up being nigh impossible to find. If Nintendo re-releases the NES Classic in the summer and makes more of the controllers available, that’s probably the best option.

      Reply
  2. Steven

    I’ve found the fix for these controllers and wanted to share. If you look closely at the d-pad membrane you’ll see that they’ve forgotten to punch out the centre, because of this when you use the d-pad the centre pivot pushes the entire membrane into the PCB causing the ghost inputs. I corrected this by removing the centre of the membrane with a 6mm (1/4″) leather punch, this has 100% fixed the issue.

    Reply
  3. James-F

    Not all is lost, the Cadet can be made great again (like America).

    You can fine tune the diagonal functionality with a small square of additional plastic paper divider on the PCB beneath the pivot point, but punch/cut out the center of the d-pad rubber membrane first, as it is not punched from factory and the pivot point height changes with pressure.

    Just stick (masking tape) some thin plastic divider pieces to the PCB directly below the d-pad pivot point, close and test.
    Repeat until the d-pad response and feel of all 8 directions functions correctly without unintentional pressings, in games like Contra.
    I managed to get almost perfect results, even better than the original NES controller.

    Not all manufacturers can get the D-Pad feel right because every 100um (0.1mm) additional height below the pivot point along with the shape of of the rubber membrane can greatly change the responsiveness and feel of the D-pad and its 8 directions.
    Official controllers have like a million prototypes till they get it right, something a cheap Chinese manufacturer don’t have the luxury of.

    The Hyperkin Cadet is a fantastic wired 3rd party controller once the pivot point is fine tuned.

    Cheers!

    Reply
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  5. Brandon

    Following this, I have just purchased 2 new Cadet controllers to see for myself what has changed.

    I too have an early run Cadet that I consider to be one of the best newly made stand-ins for an original NES controller. Heck… as soon as I opened and tested it, I started Battle Kid and continued to exclusively use the Cadet through the process of beating the game for the first time (at least a month long process). I then started Battle Kid 2 with the same controller and made it about half way through before my son was born. The controller performed nearly flawlessly. There are rare occasions with the diagonals are slightly too sensitive on the D-pad, but I could always adjust right away and it never bothered me enough to reach for another controller at the time (of which I do have a two recently purchased new old stock NES-004E controllers from E-bay. And if those controllers aren’t really oem and brand new, then they’re the best refurbs/knock-offs I’ve ever seen.) Point being, my originally bought Cadet is fantastic.

    Flash forward to today when I brought home two new Cadet controllers and they turn out to be as terrible as everyone has been saying. The D-pad registers diagonals for days. Especially while trying to hold up or down. The select and start are somewhat mushier, but whatever, they work.

    I have not opened them yet to take a peak inside and honestly am not sure if I will even keep them to do that. However, I have noted some physical differences that may or may not help identify a bad Cadet. Most important may be the item number change on the package and sticker on the back of the controller. The new is M07246/1022P08 and the old is M07246/0564P08.

    I have gone back through a few of the early glowing reviews and confirmed that (at least a few that I could pause to see) show the same M07246/0564P08 item number as my originally purchased Cadet. I may not be on to anything new here, but it would be nice to know if this number means anything.

    I have inquired to Hyperkin about what changes in manufacturing/part supply/quality control might have happened throughout the past year. Again, it seems like the great Cadets came from an early run. My email was nice and long so I expect to get no answer from them. We’ll see.

    I did also purchase two GN6 6 button genesis controllers at the same time. And the quality control for that model doesn’t seem to be much better than the recent Cadet. Again the D-pad is where they seem have the worst design. One controller is actually pretty good, but one has a D-pad that stands what seems like twice as high as the other and can be pushed in like one big button. This registers all directional buttons at once (yikes). The other controller has a perfectly serviceable D-pad with what feels like a decent center pivot. All other buttons on both Genesis controllers feel pretty OK if not a bit stiff (the kind you can only hope to “break in”).

    I forgot to mention that both new Cadet controllers have the exact same flaws and feel almost identical to each other. These are from what I’m considering for now a bad batch (M07246/1022P08).

    It would be nice to be able to track down some of the good Cadet controllers as I too find it somewhat important to have newly available replacement controllers as the old originals die out.

    I loved the first Cadet I bought so much that I didn’t rush out and buy another one immediately…

    Perhaps when the NES Classic is re-released at the end of the month, Nintendo will supply enough of those 10 dollar extra controllers so we can all stock up for controller board swaps…

    Reply
    1. ecmyers (Post author)

      Thank you for the intel and investigative work! The item number on my crappy black controller is M07246-BK/1000P08, which matches the number on the box’s barcode. My original Cadet, which was good, is also M07246/0564P08.

      Reply
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    Reply
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