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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.

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