Making A Left-Handed NES Controller

The controller for the original Nintendo Entertainment System is a classic, but perhaps not best known for its adherence to good ergonomic principles. Regardless, it can grow awkward to use for long stretches of time. To help alleviate this, [Taylor] whipped up an easy way to convert a NES controller to left-handed operation.

The mod board in question, installed on a NES controller PCB.

The crux of the hack is simple, with the controller’s buttons swapped left-to-right to enable the controller to be flipped upside down. In this orientation, the D-pad is used by the right hand and the action buttons by the left–the opposite of the usual way. Thus, left and right on the D-pad must be switched, as well as A and B, so all the controls are otherwise in a logical layout.

This is achieved through the use of a little mod board of [Taylor]’s own design. The original HD14021BP chip is desoldered from the controller’s PCB, and installed in the mod board instead. The modboard can then be soldered back into the controller, rerouting the traces to swap the buttons. There’s also a version that [Taylor] designed that can flip between right-handed and left-handed operation thanks to some onboard DIP switches.

It’s a tidy hack that could save the thumbs of some dedicated Tetris players. Alternatively, you can always make your own NES controller from scratch. Video after the break.

18 thoughts on “Making A Left-Handed NES Controller

  1. The funny thing is, arcades switched from a right-handed joystick to a left-handed one to make the games harder. Now we’re so used to dpads/sticks on the left-hand side, that left-handed people want them on the right :D.

    1. I was going to say, surely this is a right handed controller!

      As far as I can tell Nintendo were the first to standardize on the left handed controller with their Game & Watch, which was copied for the NES and every machine that followed.

      Growing up with computers I always used a one button joystick with the stick gripped in my right hand. After years I managed to get somewhat used to left handed gamepads but still find right handed sticks give me more control.

  2. Nice. Having worn out and rebuilt several Atari joysticks way back when, I still prefer either dead simple or PC keyboards with an occasional detour into the oddness that was the IBM track mouse thing (whatever it was called)

    1. Well, I don’t know about that. I’m right handed, and even though I use a mouse with my right hand, I can only really use a joystick with my left hand. It’s a real feat of mental contortion to switch to a right handed joystick.

      1. That just means you prefer left handed joysticks. The real question is, does that mean you would prefer this d-pad setup here? Or prefer both left handed d-pads and left-handed joysticks?

        Most people prefer to use their dominate hand for fine motor control skills, and use their off-hand when little to no finger movement is needed. That requirement is completely reversed for joysticks vs d-pad based controllers.

        A joystick, being a one-handed device, needs one hand to operate the stick and one hand to be idle and hold the device in. Thus you hold it in the off hand and move the stick with the dominate hand.

        With d-pads, you support the controller with both hands and operate it with fingers from both hands as well. There, the d-pad requires almost no movement or fine motor control to use. But the buttons require a long travel range of the fingers, and being able to mentally aim finger(s) to hit the right ones, which most people find difficult if not done with their dominate hand.

        Of course with enough training and practice the brain can learn the most bizarre motor control skills put to it

        1. combination of what dissy said and the opposite…

          in some nintendo games u keep ur hand perfecty still over A and B buttons, holding one and “clicking” the other, very quickly. on the other hand, many games require A and B with EXACT timing, or no go.

          these days i use vintage controllers for anything BUT games, the chip inside is an off-the-shelf standard logic chip. i swap buttons in software. pity they were never designed for adult sized hands.

          unfortunately, its really hard to do three-key combo-moves with just one wet hand while cycling offroad at night!

          PS: tac/micro swithces(buttons) always die after only a few days in high-moisture andor frost, at least the way i used em. something about the part of the manual/datasheet that mentions max90%-non-condensing AND NO RAIN… kept replacing em.

          vintage yes, but at only 5$ cleaned and tested, NOT rare.

      2. Which hand requires the most complex movements, the hand on the stick/d-pad or the hand on the buttons?

        The buttons never move, you just place your fingers over them and keep your hand still. An exception is controllers with lots of buttons where you don’t have enough fingers.

        The joystick/d-pad requires constant precise movements and re-aligning your fingers.

        So it seems to make sense to put the joystick in your dominant hand.

        Now you also get arcade controllers with no joystick, just up/down/left/right buttons…

  3. I pretty much held those controllers upside down/reversed anyway. Way easier for repetitive button mashing (I’m looking at you super mario bros) when the controller was being pushed against the palm, instead of against a couple of fingers.

    1. Good point.

      Lunar Lander games used to have a reverse option for left/right, also.

      This was because of the player’s logic.
      Some players used the arrow keys to move left/right,
      while other players wanted to fire the left/right thruster with them.
      (Firing the left thruster moves right, firing the right moves left.)

  4. Cool! I’m also left- handed – when browsing hackaday.com

    That way, chances are much lower to accidentally touch the “Report comment” in the comments when using a tablet/smartphone.

    Because, scrolling with the right hand’s finger has a high chance touching it by accident. :(

  5. I never really played one of these beyond the first 5 minutes. Ever heard of the expression “he’s all thumbs”? Left or right the thumb is for grasping that’s all, the fingers do it much better. That “classic” ergonomic pad was just a way to get really cheap. A joystick has to be clamped to a desk for the joy to happen, that’s not going to happen on the carpet in front of the 25 inch console TV. The Paincross is a no go for me. 3 motions instead of reversing one to reverse, there is nothing ergo about that.

  6. Since the communication protocol of these controllers isn’t that complicated, why not make an adapter for the cable that switches the controls?
    That way you can use ANY controller, and no need to open up the thing :P

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.