Joy-Cons are the Switch’s weakest feature. The two itty-bitty controllers have caused a plethora of issues for players — and Nintendo itself — since the Switch first came out in 2017, tarnishing the sheen of an otherwise fantastic hybrid console. Stick drift was the main problem and it became such a widespread phenomenon that Nintendo faced a class-action lawsuit over it, and the company is still offering free repairs for all busted Joy-Cons, even outside of warranty terms.
The left Joy-Con on my Switch went wonky about a year ago, but I also had a Switch Lite and a few Bluetooth controllers, so I never bothered to get it fixed. And now, I never have to. The Nitro Deck is a handheld frame for the Switch screen, complete with Hall effect thumbsticks and incredibly clicky buttons. It’s so, so much better than the standard Joy-Con setup.
The Nitro Deck comes from CRKD, a new company founded at Embracer Group’s Freemode incubator lab. The Nitro Deck is a simple idea executed well: Slide your Switch screen into the frame and it acts as a self-contained, beefed-up gamepad. It feels like the offspring of a Switch Lite and a Steam Deck, and it comes in black, gray and white as default colorways. Limited edition styles include mint, GameCube purple and SNES-y gray. (The hottest versions come from a collaboration with Limited Run, but these transparent lovelies are sold out).
The Nitro Deck includes a stand for Bluetooth play, but it really shines as a handheld. The D-pad is responsive and face buttons are crisp. They have a satisfying weight and pop back up quickly after each press. The shoulder buttons are clicky, the triggers are buttery-smooth, and though I haven’t actually found a use for the four back-panel buttons, I’m happy with their positioning and the way they feel.
The analog sticks are the star, though, simply because they’re such an upgrade from the standard Joy-Con experience. Hall effect joysticks mean there’s no chance of drift and they offer a wide, accurately tracked range of motion. The Nitro Deck carry case kit includes two spare sticks with different textures, and it’s incredibly simple to pop one out and replace it with a new one.
As evidenced in my Steam Deck review, my hands are on the smaller side, and the Nitro Deck fits just fine in my palms. I have a touch of anxiety over the distance between the right thumbstick and the face buttons directly above it, but it hasn’t actually affected my ability to play any games. Tiny Hands Gang, I think this one’s OK.
The most jarring aspect of the Nitro Deck is its rumble function. The rumble on this thing isn’t particularly powerful in terms of physical feedback, but it’s certainly loud. This was especially noticeable while playing Mario Kart 8, which activates rumble with every drift, crash and off-track tire touch, sometimes for seconds at a time. The noise generated is obscene. It sounds like a ghost with a cold groan-screaming into your hands, and it doesn’t offer any subtlety. That said, it’s easy enough to turn off the rumble completely. That’s what I did, and I didn’t miss it.
Hades is the game I’ve spent the most time with on Switch and Switch Lite, and playing it on Nitro Deck was a refreshing experience. The Nitro Deck supports a larger screen than the Switch Lite and its inputs are much better than the classic Switch, making the game look and feel like something new. I’ve been playing with a traditional Switch screen, but the Nitro Deck also supports the OLED model.
While I’ve been putting off getting my weird Joy-Con fixed for free, this device might be the final push I need to actually drop some cash on an OLED Switch. With clearer visuals, a slightly bigger screen and updated controls via Nitro Deck, the complete package would feel like a brand-new, end-of-cycle refresh.
The Nitro Deck costs $60 on its lonesome, or $90 with the carry case. The case itself is worth the extra $30, in my opinion: It’s sturdy and thick, and it comes with two swappable thumbsticks, a screen wipe and an eight-foot USB-C charging cable. Nitro Deck pre-orders placed before September 18 are currently shipping, and any units purchased from now on should be sent out this week or next (more detailed information can be found here).
The Nitro Deck improves the Switch in ways I didn’t know I wanted. Truthfully, I may never connect the Joy-Cons to my Switch again. This is simply my Switch’s final form: bulbous, purple, loud and, more than anything, satisfying to play.