I think at this point pretty much everyone who has a Switch knows what joycon drift is. It has become so fundamentally linked with the Switch that it seems impossible to talk about one without the other (I mean, duh, of course you can’t talk about joycon drift without talking about the Switch). Nintendo came so close to making arguably the perfect console, but joycon drift and possibly how easy the screen is to scratch have permanently put an asterisk at the end of any praise the console receives. Joycon drift changes the way you play games. And not in a good way like how the wiimote changed the way you play games. Not even in a mediocre way like how the DK bongos changed the way you play games.
I have become something of an expert at playing games with joycon drift. My right joycon started drifting pretty early on. Before I even remember everyone talking about it so much. My response was to buy a new right joycon which very quickly began having almost identical issues. I can’t afford to drop money on a pro controller right now, and I’ve just recently mustered up the courage to try sending one of my joycons to Nintendo for repair (read: replacement). I’ve mastered the fine art of using a controller that just blatantly does not work. I’ve heard that it manifests a little bit differently for everyone. In my case, it specifically causes the analogue stick on the right joycon to pretty much always default to pressing down, and sticking when I I move it to the side instead of resetting to neutral. It’s a handicap that has potential to affect what games you should buy. So it feels like it’s worth having a conversation about what games fair the best and worst when played with joycon drift.
Now, sure, the best way to play these games is to get rid of the drift. I’ve heard there’s quite a few cheap third party controllers that are at least good enough to be usable. I’m also aware that there’s ways to fix a controller by spraying under the stick with pressurized air, but that sort of do it yourself fix always makes me a little nervous. I offer an alternative for the person who goes through this problem thinking, “Hm, maybe this isn’t that bad and I can just push through it.” That person is going to be frustrated, but hopefully I can help to ease some of that frustration. When it comes to customer service, I’m here to do what Nintendon’t
I feel like I should start with the sort of default game: a 3D game where the right stick controls the camera. This covers a ton of games on the Switch from Mario Odyssey to Breath of the Wild to even first person games like Skyrim or Doom. These games fall in a weird sort of middle ground. A camera constantly shifting down is bad, but not game ruining. Camera controls have sort of always been bad to the point where sometimes I’m actually not even sure if the camera moving is due to my joycon or just because the game thought that’s what I wanted in the moment. It does lead to a lot of instances of looking at the game from a top down view, and let me just say, that’s probably one of the least appealing ways to look at a 3D action game. First person games cause you to involuntarily look down at your feet instead of ahead of you, which is a habit I’ve had now for the last 25 years, so not only am I totally used to it, it creates a sense of unintentional realism just short of a VR game. Overall these games are ok. If you have the option to play them somewhere else, you’re almost definitely better off doing so, but I wouldn’t discourage anyone from playing Breath of the Wild just because of the camera. I might discourage someone from playing Mario Odyssey because of the camera. Platforming games are very dependent on being able to see exactly where you’re going, and that’s the one thing that really suffers. Weirdly enough it might be worth giving a special shoutout to Doom. Not the 2016 game. I’m talking about the original 1994 game which was recently ported to the Switch. That’s a game with no ability to look up or down. I haven’t played the Switch ports, so I don’t know if they mapped some other feature to the stick, but in theory it should work perfectly.
I feel like the Switch has become the “definitive console” for a lot of games and genres. In my personal opinion one of the things the Switch is best at is being the definitive roguelike console. The portability combined with the sheer number of them available both new and old, makes it a perfect match. Or at least it would be if drift wasn’t ruining these games. One of the most popular roguelike sub genres as well as one of my personal favorites is the roguelike twin stick shooter. I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into games like Nuclear Throne and Enter the Gungeon. I still find myself coming back to them on the Switch but I never fully dove into these versions like I knew I could. Aiming in full 360 range with a drifting joycon is impossible. I feel like a five year old child blaming my lack of skill on a faulty controller. Only this time I know it’s the controller and not me because there’s a class action lawsuit. It forces me to compensate for the handicap with how I play. In Nuclear Throne I find myself only able to tolerate shotguns with their wide spread not requiring precise aiming. Occasionally if I can find the perk that gives crossbows homing properties, I can throw those into the mix as well. In Enter the Gungeon, as soon as I enter a room, I glue myself to the Northernmost wall to compensate. It’s miserable. Once again I would like to bring up a notable exception: Binding of Isaac which uses the face buttons to shoot in the 4 cardinal directions. Just don’t ever pick up the power up that gives 360 degree aiming. Not even roguelikes without constant shooting are safe. Much like everyone else, I have been immensely enjoying Hades. It’s almost a perfect game. Actually, it is a perfect game, but there’s just one issue: the right stick can be used for menu selections. I’ll be playing with no issues for hours, then all of a sudden I find that I didn’t actually select the boon I wanted, I selected the one at the bottom of the list. This is a game with bosses that demand pinpoint precision and the hardest part of the game is navigating the menu to purchase upgrades. I can only imagine that such a great collection of games being made so unplayable was the result of someone’s twisted monkey paw wish. The monkey’s finger curled as every indie developer simultaneously thought “We should put this on the Switch. I can’t imagine any downside to that.”
By now, I’m wondering if there’s anything exempt from these issues. There’s a few things I’ve found that are safe bets. RPGs are usually totally fine. I mentioned in a previous blog post that I’ve been going through Final Fantasy X. That game requires the right stick exactly once and it’s when you use Lulu’s overdrive… which is already bad, so it’s all fine. Take into consideration that most of the Final Fantasy games on Switch are from the PlayStation era when right sticks had not yet been discovered, and it’s a pretty safe bet that any game in the series is good to go. Other RPGs usually work perfectly too. I’m quite fond of Battlechasers, which is problem free. I was able to make it through Indivisible without any issues in the game, but the issues surrounding its development are so monumental that they’re worth their own story. Just don’t buy that game, ok. I think you can buy Skullgirls. If I understand things correctly, you can still buy Skullgirls without needing to feel guilty about where your money is going. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong about that.
Actually any fighting game should be fine. Well, Smash Ultimate is going to give you issues with random smash attacks popping off, but I believe you can go into the options to turn that off. Really any genre that hasn’t changed much control-wise since the 90’s. If you have an online subscription you get a bunch of NES and SNES games that are guaranteed to work perfectly. The list of games you can compromise with is long if not a bit niche.
Maybe one day Nintendo will fix this problem. They’ll start making the joycons better and then when we mail our old ones in we’ll get new ones that work for good. Maybe this is an issue that won’t get resolved until the Switch Pro becomes a real thing. All I know is that for right now it sucks to have to work around this, but shouldn’t stop you from enjoying your Switch. The Switch is actually just that good. Oh, and God forbid your left joycon starts to drift. Not being able to move without fighting against the controller? Terrible. Just throw your Switch away at that point. Get a Gameboy Advance or something.
Are there any other drift-proof games? Any games that are affected so badly they deserve mentioning? Please let me know below, and thank you for taking the time to read this.