CRKD Nitro Deck review: a flawed solution to the Switch Joy-Cons
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Featured Image Credit: CRKD
I’ve been hands-on with the CRKD Nitro Deck for a few weeks now, using it as my main “dock” for my Switch OLED. I’ve long had issues with using the Nintendo Switch in handheld mode, finding my hands begin to cramp after prolonged use, crumpling my average-sized hands as small as they can go to ergonomically fit around the tiny joy-cons. Because of this, I’ve often chosen to play in docked mode, or if I’m on the go, attach a pair of the awesome Hori Split-Pads. The only issue with those is a lack of rumble features, and a “where the hell do I put these in my Switch case or bag” conundrum.
The Nitro Deck’s approach is different to the Split-pads in that it takes a more “dock-like” approach (while remaining handheld). It’s essentially one entire piece that you can slide your Switch body into, offering a much more sturdy and secure connection. It brings the feel of Nintendo’s handheld closer to that of the Steam Deck, and this mostly works in its favour.
Unfortunately, some confusing choices stop the Nitro Deck from being the perfect Switch accessory. The positioning of the right thumb stick is beyond baffling. As the handheld doesn’t have any palm rests to speak of, like a normal controller, the lower-down joystick is at times painful to reach – especially in games where navigating between the buttons and the stick is a constant. The Steam Deck solved this issue by moving the joysticks to the top of the console, offering a surprisingly elegant solution. But weirdly, even though it’s in a similar position to the Nintendo Switch Joycons, the issue doesn’t seem anywhere near as egregious there. A solution could have been similar to the Hori Split-Pad, and move the stick closer to the screen, offering more room for thumbs to reach, or raising it up closer to the buttons. Maybe this will be updated in any potential future Nitro Deck models.
In a move to seemingly combat this, the Nitro Deck comes with four programmable back paddle buttons, similar to those seen on the Xbox Elite Controller. I have long been a fan of this style of triggers, offering first-person shooter players the ability to constantly keep their thumbs on the sticks, never having to move away to press A to jump or X to reload, instead mapping those to the back.
By adding these paddles, it gives the user time to adjust to the awkward joystick positioning and never have to worry about using the main face buttons. It’s not an elegant solution, but it works in this scenario.
As mentioned above, the Nitro Deck also contains an in-built rumble, which in any normal circumstances would be a welcome addition, but my lord are they loud and aggressive. Playing the latest DLC for Pokémon Scarlet, I found the vibration whilst gliding with Koraidon a huge distraction. The Joy-Con rumble is one of the best features of the Nintendo Switch, offering a tactile rumble that hasn’t been replicated on a console handheld since. If you remember the ice-cube mini-game on 1-2 Switch, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been replicated here, offering seemingly just one level of incredibly powerful and noisy vibration. Not a… vibe.
It’s hard to stay too angry at this though, as for £59.99 (or £89.99 with the case), it's around £15 more than the Hori Split Pads. The product feels well-made and solid, giving the Switch a much more secure feeling in the hand. There’s also the swappable thumbsticks, allowing you to shift between more round tipped and concave sticks. The Nitro Deck is really going for that ‘Elite controller’ vibe while also staying handheld.
It feels weird leaving the most touted feature to the end, but it’s one that most will only notice after months of play, or more likely, not at all. CRKD claim the Nitro Deck will never suffer from stick-drift, a problem that has plagued not just the Nintendo Switch, but consoles for generations. The product is built with Hall Effect Thumbsticks, a type of stick that Windows Central tells me uses magnets and electrical conductors to track the positioning. This means there’s no physical connection between any of the moving parts, the main issue with standard thumbsticks that causes drift over time.
I can confirm that I’ve never experienced any stick drift, but as it’s only been a period of a few weeks, it will only be seen through the passage of time whether this claim holds up.
The CRKD Nitro Deck is an ambitious product that tries many things, which it mainly succeeds in. It’s easy to complain about the rumble issues, but for the price and what the product offers, its clear corners will have been cut to keep the RRP down. What is tough to justify is the right thumbstick position. Maybe a child who is prone to wearing out or losing joy-cons with smaller hands will find the positioning fine, but an adult man will very likely struggle.
To test this I handed the console to various members of the GAMINGbible team to find out how they felt about it…
GAMINGbible editor Ewan Moore found no issues with the positioning, comparing it to that of a GameCube controller, which he has spent countless hours playing Smash Bros. with. Journalist Sam Cawley found it slightly uncomfortable, agreeing that the position should be shifted. Kate Harrold, journalist and Horizon Forbidden West fan echoed Ewan’s opinions and found no issues with the position. Instagram and TikTok Lead, Will McCue instantly found the positioning too low and uncomfortable, as did our junior channel manager, Callum Weiss.
It seems to be a combination of hand-size and console history. The only way to work out if you have issues would seem to be going hands on with the product yourself before making the jump.
The CRKD Nitro Deck was sent to GAMINGbible for review and is available now at select retailers.