GameSir Nova controller review: one step forward, one step back, but still a quality budget controller

 GameSir Nova.
GameSir Nova.

GameSir Nova controller: One-minute review

The GameSir Nova controller drops the ‘Lite’ part of its companion gamepad. Given that and its slightly higher price tag, you’d expect the Nova to be better than the GameSir Nova Lite. However, this isn’t necessarily the case, as while the Nova does do certain things better, it’s undoubtedly worse in other areas.

There are some very welcome upgrades here, including superb-feeling digital triggers, phenomenal HD Rumble implementation, and some lovely customizable RGB - all of which are rare for gamepads this cheap. However, one puzzling aspect of the GameSir Nova is the downgrade in overall build quality compared to its cheaper counterpart.

What we’re left with is a budget controller we’d still highly recommend, but it’s one that feels more like an alternative option with its own advantages and drawbacks, as opposed to being flat-out better than the Nova Lite.

GameSir Nova
GameSir Nova

GameSir Nova controller: Price and availability

  • $34.99 / £39.99

  • Exactly $10 / £10 pricier than the GameSir Nova Lite

  • US and UK availability

Despite being more expensive than the GameSir Nova Lite, the standard GameSir Nova still falls well within that 'budget' price bracket. It’s $34.99 / £39.99 and can be purchased either from the brand’s website or its Amazon store page.

There are two colorways available for the GameSir Nova, both at the same retail price. They have a decidedly retro-inspired look, with one calling on the design of the US Super Nintendo Entertainment System controller with its white plastic and purple face buttons. The other is a pleasing translucent blue/green, bringing to mind similar Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Color models.

It’s a price point that’s to be expected from the GameSir brand. Elsewhere, the GameSir T4 Kaleid, which ranks on our list of the best PC controllers, is similarly affordable at $41.99 / £41.99.

GameSir Nova controller: Specs

GameSir Nova
GameSir Nova

GameSir Nova controller: Design and features

The strangest thing about the GameSir Nova is that while it’s about 3.5oz (100 grams) heavier than the Nova Lite (likely because of the HD Rumble and a larger battery), it feels rather listless due to a hollow build. Give the controller a solid tap and you can feel that hollowness echo its way through the shell of the gamepad.

While not quite a deal-breaker for the controller, it does feel less sturdy and solid than the Nova Lite despite being slightly weightier. It leaves overall build quality feeling like something of an afterthought, which is disappointing given the brand’s pedigree of solidly built budget controllers.

While we also criticized the (otherwise excellent) GameSir X2s Type-C mobile controller for its cheap-feeling plastic, we can point to both the Nova Lite and the T4 Kaleid as examples of GameSir absolutely nailing build quality. So the standard Nova does disappoint somewhat on this front.

Thankfully, the Nova makes up for this with some lovely aesthetic flourishes. I adore both the translucent and SNES-inspired colors and find them much more appealing than the Nova Lite’s basic black or white. The purple face buttons complement both, too. There are also some eye-catching RGB rings around both analog sticks. So while build quality is a bit of a bust, the GameSir Nova certainly has the looks.

In terms of modules, the GameSir Nova fills out the standard Nintendo Switch Pro Controller layout with asymmetrical sticks and a Home and Screenshot button in the center alongside the Start and Select buttons. There are some noteworthy extras here, though, including two remappable buttons for secondary inputs on the rear, a Function button to customize various aspects of the controller (more on that later), and comfortable digital triggers that work excellently on Nintendo Switch.

GameSir Nova
GameSir Nova

GameSir Nova controller: Performance

While the GameSir Nova is compatible across multiple platforms, I found it to be the best fit for Switch overall, given its option for Bluetooth connectivity and the inverted A/B/X/Y button layout that Nintendo Switch controllers are known for. That said, it’s still perfectly serviceable on PC and mobile devices, making for a versatile gamepad so long as you’re not fussed about it lacking PS5 and Xbox console support.

What really surprises me with the GameSir Nova is the phenomenal implementation of HD Rumble. While I don’t think it’s quite the same tech as Nintendo uses in its official controllers, GameSir’s attempt is incredibly convincing. It feels especially immersive in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, seemingly traveling the vibration across the controller during drifts and shaking forcefully when being hit with an item.

Super Mario Odyssey feels exceptional here, too, with the HD Rumble bouncing pleasantly in line with the plumber’s acrobatics. It’s my favorite feature the GameSir Nova brings to the table, and this alone makes it worth considering over the Nova Lite. It’s impressively tactile and the closest thing you’ll get to the DualSense’s haptic feedback on Nintendo Switch.

As is the case with most of the brand’s controllers, the GameSir Nova features Hall effect analog sticks and triggers. These are fantastic and achieve two key things: preventing stick drift over long-term use and ensuring it’ll have a longer lifespan than gamepads that don’t utilize the tech.

The digital triggers, too, are sublime, at least on Nintendo Switch where pressure-sensitive trigger inputs are practically non-existent. These are an excellent fit for Splatoon 3’s simple shooting mechanics as well as swift item usage in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

GameSir Nova
GameSir Nova

The initial pairing sequence is a little tricky, so I’ll save you from having to dig out the manual by explaining it here. On Nintendo Switch, you’ll need to go to the Change Grip/Order controller menu and hold down a combination of the Home and X buttons for a few seconds. It should successfully pair with no issues after that. Pairing to mobile devices is Home and the B button, while for PC, it’s Home plus the Y button.

As with the Nova Lite, the GameSir Nova features a robust Multifunction button that can customize several facets of the controller. With it, you can assign secondary inputs to those two back buttons (L4 and R4), calibrate the analog sticks’ dead zones, and customize the gamepad’s RGB colors and patterns. Unlike the Nova Lite, the standard Nova supports motion controls. Thus, gyro calibration can also be done through the Multifunction button by laying the controller on a flat surface.

Sadly, battery life isn’t particularly exceptional with the GameSir Nova. Despite having a 1,200mAh battery in comparison to the Nova Lite’s 600mAh battery, I got around 12 hours from the Nova on a full charge; that’s only a couple of hours more than its counterpart. Mileage may vary here, of course, and the addition of HD Rumble, gyro support, and RGB lighting will eat into the battery life more. Still, it falls short for a console that’s known for controllers with impressively high battery lives, such as the 8BitDo Ultimate’s 20 hours or the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller’s astonishing 40-50 hours.

Should I buy the GameSir Nova?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

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Want to learn about a broader range of top Nintendo Switch and PC controllers? Consider the following options, which are some of our favorite alternative picks.

How I tested the GameSir Nova

  • Tested for 15-20 hours

  • Tested with Nintendo Switch and PC games

  • Stacked up against the GameSir Nova Lite and other popular Switch controllers

I tested the GameSir Nova across both Nintendo Switch and PC for approximately 15-20 hours in total. I covered a broad range of games with the controller, including big Nintendo Switch hits like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, alongside titles that heavily feature gyro aiming such as Splatoon 3. On PC, I ran through some stalwarts in my Steam library via a Type-C wired USB connection, including Tekken 8, Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising, and Final Fantasy 14 Online.

I was especially keen to know how the Nova stacked up against its Nova Lite counterpart. Here, I learned that despite the additional features, the Nova isn’t necessarily better given its relatively cheap build quality. Overall, I see the Nova as a good sidegrade to the Nova Lite, and both offer something that makes them worth considering individually.

Read more about how we test

First reviewed April 2024