YEARS AGO, THIRD-PARTY gaming controllers were dirt cheap and notorious for their poor craftsmanship—especially the eggshell-plastic MadCatz knockoffs. Every household had one. It was reserved for kid siblings and houseguests you maybe didn’t like that much. Those kinds of controllers gave third-party gamepads a bad name—one that persists to this day.
In recent years though, companies like Scuf and Astro have donned their armor and unfurled their banners on a quest to rebuild the reputation of “off-brand” gamepads, one controller at a time. We’ve tried a bunch of them in the past couple of years, and these are our favorites. Here are the best gaming controllers, official and unofficial, for Switch, PS4, Xbox, and PC.
Be sure to read our guides to the Best Gaming Headsets, Best Gaming Mouse, and Best Gaming Laptops for more recommendations.
Best for PC and Xbox
What’s nice about PC gamepads is that they’re usually compatible with the Xbox One. The Scuf Prestige is no exception. It’s a well-built controller, with a matte black finish and grippy underside. It feels premium, and it also has a number of features that set it apart from competitors.
The paddles on the back are my favorite. There are four that can be mapped to 14 different controller functions. The paddles themselves are like hair triggers that rest right underneath your fingers, so you don’t need to adjust your grip at all to use them. They come in handy for games like Destiny 2 and Overwatch, when you have to juggle class abilities.
Best for PS4
Astro Gaming C40 TR
Astro’s C40 TR (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is another high-quality gamepad with buttons on the underside, but this one is custom designed for the PlayStation 4. You can pop off the faceplate and rearrange the locations of the two joysticks and the D-pad—even replace the joysticks with longer ones for finer control. It has paddles and hair triggers you can configure, too.
In addition to being more customizable and having more buttons than the average PS4 controller, it also has much better battery life than the standard DualShock 4 gamepad from Sony. It’s refreshing to play PS4 games with a gamepad that lasts for 12 hours instead of the three to four you get out of the official ones. On the downside, it’s expensive and cannot turn the PS4 console on.
Best for Nintendo Switch
Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
First-party controllers are often quite good. They’re usually well-built, feel great, and do everything a controller should do. Still, it’s rare for a first-party controller to feel as nearly perfect as the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller. This controller might top every category if you could use it as easily with PC, Xbox, and PS4 as you can with the Switch.
There are no other gamepads on the market that feel as comfortable, responsive, and tactile as the Pro. It is the king of controllers. If you use your Switch in docked mode, you owe it to yourself to invest in one of these gamepads. It’ll spoil you for all other controllers. Check out our Nintendo Switch Accessories guide to learn more.
Best for Retro Play
8Bitdo SN30 Pro Controller
No, you’re not hallucinating. This is an SNES-style controller with joysticks. And Bluetooth. And support for PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC. Functionally, it’s not unlike a PS4 controller, with the sticks at the bottom, flanked by buttons and a directional pad. But in the hand, it feels very different. The familiar flat profile of a classic SNES controller makes it a perfect choice for playing retro games, but it’s fully functional with modern titles. So if you’re looking for a retro gamepad for the classic Nintendo games available on the Switch or just something to spark some nostalgia, you can’t do better.
Best Accessible Controller
Microsoft Xbox Adaptive Controller
The Xbox Adaptive Controller is a sleek machine. Designed to offer a wide variety of options for gamers who may not be able to comfortably use a traditional gamepad, the Adaptive Controller essentially deconstructs all the inputs in a gamepad and lays them out in a way so anyone can create a controller layout that works for them.
Games are for everyone, and this controller does a hell of a job ensuring that anyone can play Xbox and PC games. The Adaptive Controller is just the base station, though. It’s compatible with a number of buttons, switches, and foot controls, which plug into the adaptive controller, letting you customize your gamepad down to the smallest detail.
Best for Fighting Games
Hori Real Arcade Pro.V Kai
I grew up playing fighting games on a standard gamepad, but many serious fighting game enthusiasts say you can’t beat an arcade stick. They’re quick, responsive, and facilitate the kind of fast-twitch performance you need to get a leg up on the competition.
Even for the casual Mortal Kombat player (me), using an arcade stick like the Hori Pro.V Kai feels remarkably quick. Simplifying the movements your hands have to make when you’re fighting—down to stick twitches and button taps—feels like magic. I’ve never been very good at fighting games, but after winning a couple of online matches with the Hori Pro.V Kai, I felt like SonicFox taking home the DragonBall FighterZ world title.
Scuf Infinity4PS Pro
There’s something comforting about the plain old DualShock silhouette. It’s familiar and feels great in the hand, but it isn’t without its flaws. Mostly battery life. Those things die in just a couple of hours. Scuf has a solution for you though: the Infinity4PS Pro controller. It has better battery life and a shape familiar to any PlayStation fan. Plus, there are a couple of customizable paddles on the backside of the gamepad for fast-twitch performance. This is a controller for anyone who wants to have their cake and eat it too. It works best with PlayStation 4, but it’s compatible with PC as well.
A Question of Tradition
Mouse vs. Pad
If you tell teammates on Overwatch that you play with a gamepad, a couple of them will probably quit. There is a huge stigma against using gamepads in online games, particularly on PC. Hardcore gamers cite lack of precision, slow reaction times, and clumsy aim as justification for dumping on gamers who use controllers instead of a mouse and keyboard.
There are two things to unpack here. First, the gamepads on this list are designed to banish that stigma. The Scuf Prestige, specifically, is designed for competitive use even in PC games. Customized correctly, a gamepad isn’t going to hold you back. Second, there’s a question of accessibility. Not everyone can use a mouse and keyboard, even if they want to. The perception that someone could never perform as well as their mouse-and-keyboard-using compatriots is false, at best. It’s gatekeeping, plain and simple, and who has time for that anymore? Games are for everyone.