How to Use Nintendo Switch Controllers on a Mac

If you game on a Mac (not common, but we do exist), there are some games where you might prefer to use a controller over the keyboard and mouse.  The Nintendo Switch controllers are compatible with the Mac because they use Bluetooth to connect wirelessly to the Switch console.

What You’ll Need:

Required:

Optional:

  • Controller Button binding application:  If your game doesn’t natively support a controller, but want to use it anyway, you’ll need to find a binding or button mapping application.  For this one, we’ll be using Joystick Mapper from the Mac App Store.
  • USB-C cable or adapter:  The Switch Pro controller uses USB-C to charge, and comes with a USB-A (traditional) to USB-C cable to charge with.  If you’re using a USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 MacBook you’ll need either a USB-A to USB-C adapter, or a new USB-C cable to connect it to your Mac.  This is not required to gaming, but can be useful for better response times.

Before You Begin:

Joy-Con users:  If you use a Joy-con, the detachable controllers that come with the Switch, then each Joy-Con is seen as a separate device on the Mac; there is currently no way to use them in tandem as a single controller on the computer in the same way you can on the Switch.  This is fine for some basic games or 2D platformers, but other games like first-person games, racing games, etc. will become more problematic.  Likewise motion control with these is currently not supported either.

Turn on Bluetooth:  While you can use the Pro-controller with the USB-C cable, it may be more convenient to use it wirelessly.  Likewise the Joy-Cons are only wireless, meaning you’ll have to use Bluetooth for them.  To enable this, go to System Preferences, go to the Bluetooth section, and make sure Bluetooth is set to “On” in the left sidebar.

Connect the Pro Controller:

Pull out your Switch Pro controller and set it by your Mac.  Open up the Bluetooth settings in System Preferences.  At the top of the controller, need the charging port, press and hold the sync button.  You can let go when you see the indicator lights at the bottom of the controller.  2020-03-31 18.42.19

Back on your Mac, in the Bluetooth settings, you should see a new item appear labelled “Pro Controller”.  Hit the “Connect” button next to the title, and wait for it to connect, where you’ll see a spinning gear icon.  Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 6.48.24 PM

If it successful, then the spinning icon will go away, the Pro Controller will move further up the list, and have an “X” next to it if you want to disconnect.  Some games will now be able to use the controller in their respective settings.  For other games or systems, continue reading to see how to use it.

Connect Joy-Cons:

To connect your Joy-Con, turn it on its side and find the Sync button in between the SL and SR buttons.  Hold down the button until the lights next to it start moving back and forth.  2020-03-31 18.42.35

Back on the Mac, open System Preferences and go to Bluetooth settings.  In the right side window, you should see either Joy-Con (L) or Joy-Con (R) depending on which Joy-Con you’re trying to connect.  Hit the “Connect” button in the window, wait for the spinning gear icon to go away, and then you’ve got a connected Switch Joy-Con.  To start using it with games, keep reading.

Binding Buttons or How to use the controller in your game

While it is fairly easy to connect the controllers to the Mac, you may need to do some work to get them to work with your games.  We’ll show you how to do this in Steam and through Joystick Mapper

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 7.47.27 PM

Steam: If you have a Pro controller, Steam already has Switch Pro controller support built in.  Not every game in Steam has controller support, but this is useful for those that do.  To enable this, open up Steam.  Then go to “Preferences” in the Finder Bar, where a new window should pop up.  In this new window, look for “Controller” in the left sidebar.  A new window should pop up, and let you select the controller options.  Toward the bottom should be “Switch Pro Configuration Support”.  Check the box next to it.  You’ll also notice a new option pops up under it labeled “Use Nintendo Button Layout”.  I recommend selecting this option to, so that button mapping works as listed on the controller, rather than the default Xbox/PlayStation style controller.

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 7.46.43 PM

Other games:  If you have games outside the Steam store, want to play games that don’t have native controller support, or are wanting to use the Joy-Cons, then you’ll need a button binding application, also known as button mappers.  These let you set your input from the controller to a corresponding button on the keyboard and mouse.  For example, the “A” button on your controller for jump to the spacebar, and the right trigger to the left click on the mouse button.  I like using Joystick Mapper from the Mac App Store.  It supports many versions of Mac OS, has a lot of support for different keybindings and mouse options, and is only $4.99.  I find the price worth it for the experience.

Once you open up the app, you can create presets.  You can tailor these to be for different games and controllers.  So I was able to make a basic Joy-Con layout, but also a Minecraft layout for my Switch Pro controller.  The apps have some presets you can activate, though none explicitly for Nintendo controllers.  You can customize these and repurpose them for your use, or create your own from scratch by hitting the “Add a new Preset” button, then going through and binding each button on the controller you’ll be using to a key on your keyboard.  Some will likely be fairly universal, like the left joystick binding to WASD for movement, but others you may need to customize per game.  You can bind the sticks, pressure on the sticks, the triggers, and buttons to keyboard buttons, mouse movements, scrolling (either in increments or in chunks), and more.

And that’s basically all there is to it.  If you prefer the directions in video form, we’ve got a video up top that you can check out.  If you want to connect a PS3 controller, then you can check out our video how to do that.  If you’ve got any other recommendations or advice, be sure to let us know.
 

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