After shutting down its repair centres over two months ago as a result of the pandemic, Nintendo is starting to reopen them again, which is good news for Switch owners still dealing with Joy-Con drift. Hacker Matteo Pisani came up with a different solution: a Switch without joysticks is a Switch that never experiences drift problems, so he upgraded his console with a touchpad instead.
It’s an idea that was not only inspired by an embarrassing hardware gaffe from a company otherwise known for quality consoles, but by the unorthodox approach to gamepads that Valve took with its now-deceased Steam Controller. In addition to a single joystick, the Steam Controller featured a pair of vibrating haptic touchpads that Valve promised provided as much precision as a mouse and keyboard. The Steam Controller didn’t take the gaming world by storm, but it did show that using a touch-sensitive control scheme for action games wasn’t a completely awful idea.
Pisani hadn’t actually experienced the Joy-Con drift problem with his Switch yet, but he figured this hack – which he’s exhaustively detailed in a Medium post – would ensure it was a problem he’d never encounter if he managed to pull it off. Starting with a transparent green Joy-Con housing (an unnecessary upgrade but one that certainly adds some retro charm for those who owned the lime green Donkey Kong 64-themed N64) he transplanted the guts of his Switch’s left Joy-Con while removing the joystick components in the process.
The electronics were upgraded with a digital potentiometer, a capacitive touchpad wrapped in a custom 3D-printed enclosure, and an Arduino Pro Mini (among other bits) which is used to translate the digital signals from the touchpad to analog joystick signals the Switch is expecting. The hacked Joy-Con isn’t as pretty as Nintendo’s original hardware, but Pisani plans to optimise and miniaturise the added electronics so that everything fits inside the Joy-Con enclosure, allowing it to be used either attached or detached.
Gamers used to the tactile experience of ramming a joystick in all directions will probably turn their nose up at this one, as will anyone who’s struggled to play an action game on a touchscreen device like a smartphone using virtual joysticks. The one advantage Pisani’s hack has is the touchpad’s circular design which provides tactile limits so you can feel when your finger has reached the edge, preventing it from accidentally moving out of range as often happens with virtual on-screen controls. It’s not perfect, but one thing’s for certain: it’s never going to experience annoying drift.