The N64 Hori Mini Pad is considered to be the holy grail of N64 controllers by many enthusiasts, but does it really live up to its reputation?

Designed by esteemed gaming-peripheral maker Hori, the N64 Hori Mini Pad was released exclusively in Japan late in the N64’s life. It has since become a highly sought-after controller for serious N64 collectors as a result of its quality. Given the controller’s exclusively Japanese origins, finding one nowadays is usually difficult and expensive. Nevertheless, players the world over praise the pad for its bespoke design and joystick.

N64 Hori Mini Pad - face buttons

Should you sink your hard-earned cash into one of these exotic pads? The short answer is yes, provided you accept both its relatively high asking price and that it is not the be all and end all of N64 controllers. While it does have a great design and more comfortable joystick, it doesn’t work as well as it should with some games. The official N64 controller may not be as durable, but it’s certainly more reliable in terms of accuracy and usability across the N64’s software library.

The design

The N64 Hori Mini Pad was released in 11 different colours, but all these variants are functionally identical.

One of the most noticeable things that sets the N64 Hori Mini Pad apart from the official N64 controller is that it only has two handle prongs as opposed to three. As a result, some of the face buttons are re-located: the joystick nows sits to the left, the D-pad is in the centre, and the Z-button is in fact split into two shoulder buttons on both the left and right side.

The N64 Hori Mini Pad's shoulder buttons

These Z-buttons sit underneath the L and R buttons, and you only need to press one of these Z-buttons at a time (we assume there are two to give you a choice). The other buttons are positioned in the same way, albeit closer together due to N64 Hori Mini Pad being smaller.

It’s worth highlighting just how small the pad is both in comparison to the original N64 controller and in general. Gamers with large or long hands may find they have to claw their hands slightly to hold the pad and use all the buttons. Thankfully, the shoulder buttons are quite pronounced, meaning you can easily press them with the lower part of your index fingers if need be.

N64 Hori Mini Pad and official n64 controller size comparison

The D-pad’s central location is a plus for games that use it in addition to the joystick. It’s not ideal, however, for games that depend on it as the primary control, such as many fighting and puzzle games. Moreover, its small size and spongy feel mean it’s not as accurate as the more robust D-pad you’ll find on an official controller.

An expansion port for an N64 Rumble Pak or N64 Controller Pak is located on the underside of the controller and works exactly the same way that it does on all conventional N64 controllers.

The joystick

This is where the N64 Hori Mini Pad really stands out from other N64 controllers. The joystick is made from rubber and is similar to the Nintendo GameCube controller’s joystick, albeit larger and taller.

N64 Hori Mini Pad GameCube-style joystick

One of the great things about this design is that it’s not subject to the same wear and tear that traditional hard-plastic N64 controller joysticks are. We’ve had our N64 Hori Mini Pad for well over five years, and it’s still working just as well as the day we got it despite considerable usage. It’s much more comfortable against your fingers, and you can even perform the notorious Mario Party palm-spin without fear of getting blisters or grinding the stick into oblivion.

While the stick feels nicer to use, it’s unfortunately not as accurate when it comes to certain games because it’s more sensitive. When using this for player movement, it’s usually fine – 3D platformers, such as Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, play really well with the N64 Hori Mini Pad. In some instances, the over-sensitive nature of the joystick actually enables you to move or turn faster than you normally would be able to (such as fast-running in one of Goemon’s Great Adventuree town areas).

N64 Hori Mini Pad - bottom of controller and expansion port

Problems arise, however, when playing games (or parts of games) that require very precise control. Aiming in GoldenEye 007 or Perfect Dark is incredibly difficult because you turn more rapidly, while manual aiming by pressing the R-button becomes almost useless. We encountered a similar problem in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron and Star Wars Episode 1: Battle for Naboo, although not when it came to Star Fox 64. Therefore, it varies depending on the game, which presents another problem: the only definitive way to determine whether a game is N64 Hori Mini Pad-friendly is to try it out.

Should you get one?

Whether or not you get an N64 Hori Mini Pad depends on two things:

  1. What types of games do you play?
  2. How much are you willing to spend on an N64 controller?

As we’ve already noted further up in our review, if you typically play platforming games or games where intricate precision isn’t required then this controller is a great investment. It’s comfortable, sports a more modern design and the stick is considerably more durable than that of the official N64 controller.

Hori N64 Mini Pad with a Rumble Pak inserted

However, you won’t get favourable results with all games, typically first- and third-person shooters, fighting games and 2D-sidescrolling games. This is because of the joystick’s high sensitivity and the D-pad’s size and central placement on the face of the pad.

On top of this, the N64 Hori Mini Pad is not a cheap investment, nor is it easy to get hold of one. At the time of writing (May 2017), you can expect to pay around £75/€85/$100 USD for an unboxed N64 Hori Mini Pad on eBay (Buy It Now listing), and auction listings climb up to similar prices too. Moreover, most of these pads are still found in Japan, meaning you may end up having to pay an import/customs tax on top.

The N64 Hori Mini Pad is an interesting part of N64 history, and an item that’s no doubt very appealing to hardcore collectors and enthusiasts. It looks and feels great, and solves the durability issue of the original N64 controller’s joystick, while introducing a whole new problem: over-sensitivity. It’s still a great controller, but it’s fair to say that it doesn’t live up to its revered status in the N64 community, and you should definitely consider the caveats we’ve raised before purchasing one.