Back of an Xbox Elite Series 2 controller with paddles in focus.
Syafiq Adnan/Shutterstock.com

Rear paddles are an increasingly common inclusion on game controllers, but they’re not included on the controller that comes with your Xbox or PlayStation. So what’s the big deal with paddles, and is it worth investing in a new controller to get access to them?

Why Bother with Rear Paddles?

Rear paddles are (unsurprisingly) found on the back of the controller and operated with the fingers you usually don’t use while holding a game controller. Instead of simply gripping the controller, you can use your index or pinky finger to hit a paddle, which can be mapped to a different button on the controller.

These paddles are usually easy to remap on the fly, which means you can quickly change which input they correspond to depending on the game you are playing. Some controllers have profiles that allow you to save your setup. You might find controllers have a single paddle on each side, while others have more than one.

Rear paddles on the Xbox Elite Series 2
Xbox

These paddles are ideal for mapping face buttons in first-person shooters but have all sorts of utility. One good example is to map jump or duck (slide) in a fast-paced title like Apex Legends. This means you can keep a thumb on each analog stick while still being able to access buttons for jump, melee, reload, or duck that would normally require you to move your right thumb.

This can give you the edge in competitive multiplayer, particularly in twitch shooters that feature sliding, jumping, and wall-running. Paddles can also be useful in other games for comfort or accessibility reasons. There are no hard rules to follow which is why these inputs are easily reprogrammable.

In PC games, paddles may be used as additional inputs to increase the total number of buttons available but this is dependent on the controller.

Some Controllers with Rear Paddles

You can find controllers that feature paddles on just about every major platform. Perhaps the most famous example is the Xbox Elite Series 2, which works with both Xbox One and Xbox Series consoles and also computers running Windows, macOS, and Linux.

Xbox Elite Series 2 Controller

The ultimate Xbox controller features adjustable tension thumbsticks, additional rear paddles, customizable button mapping, replaceable components, and 40 hours of (rechargeable) battery life.

Sony produced the DualShock 4 Back Button Controller Attachment for PlayStation 4, but no such attachment exists for PlayStation 5. PS5 owners instead will need to use a controller like the SCUF Reflex Pro or similar third-party controller if they want to make use of paddles.

We’ve talked about how the Hori Split Pro makes portable Nintendo Switch play more comfortable, but the Joy-Con replacement (that lacks rumble, gyro, and wireless features) also has two user-programmable buttons on the back that work a lot like paddles. There’s also the PowerA Fusion Pro for those who want something for docked play.

HORI Split Pad Pro

Hori Nintendo Switch Split Pad Pro (Black) Ergonomic Controller for Handheld Mode - Officially Licensed By Nintendo - Nintendo Switch (Renewed)

Replace your Joy-Con with the HORI Split Pad Pro and enjoy a more comfortable and ergonomic Nintendo Switch handheld experience. Ideal for those who find the Joy-Con uncomfortable, imprecise, or impractical for long play sessions.

Nice But Not Essential

Paddles are a nice add-on, but they’re not essential for most games. They shine in competitive multiplayer titles, especially cross-play titles like Halo: Infinite where you might be playing against PC users with a mouse and keyboard.

If you mostly play single-player titles or don’t find yourself inconvenienced by your thumb position then you probably don’t need to worry about paddles.

Looking for a controller that’s perfect for retro gaming on your PC or Raspberry Pi? Check out our picks for best retro controllers.

The Best Retro Controllers for PC and Raspberry Pi of 2022

Best Retro Controller Overall
8Bitdo Pro 2
Best Budget Retro Controller
8Bitdo Sn30 2.4G Wireless Gamepad for Original SNES
Best Wired Retro Controller
Retro-Bit Official Sega Saturn USB Controller Pad (Model 2)
Best NES-style controller
8Bitdo N30 Bluetooth Gamepad
8Bitdo Wireless USB Adapter 1
Best SNES-style Controller
8Bitdo Sn30 Pro Bluetooth Gamepad
Best Megadrive/Genesis Controller
Retro-Bit Official Sega Saturn 2.4 GHz Wireless Controller
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Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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