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How to use Nintendo Joy-Cons on PC

Take advantage of Steam’s improved Nintendo Switch controller support

A Steam Beta update has made it far easier to use Nintendo Joy-Cons on a PC. Before this update, it was technically possible to employ the Nintendo Switch’s detachable controllers as Windows gamepads, but getting them working required some relatively tricky third-party software. Now, you’ll still need to pair your Joy-Cons over Bluetooth, but Steam will handle the complicated bits itself – just like it does when using a PS5 DualSense controller on PC. If you’ve got a set of Joy-Cons at the ready, this guide will show you how to connect and use them with your PC games.

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First, though, a word of warning. Although the Steam Beta client itself is nicely stable, I have experienced a non-zero level of jank while trying out Joy-Cons on PC for myself. Their wireless range, for instance, seems shorter than every other Bluetooth device I’ve paired to my PC, and even holding them above my wooden desk (with the PC on the floor below) seemingly caused too much signal interference for the connection to handle. It also took me a few attempts to pair the right Joy-Con to Bluetooth, though this may be an issue with my particular controllers rather than a widespread Windows issue. Certainly not a Steam one, anyway.

Hopefully a combination of software and firmware updates will smooth out these kinks, as while they’ll never replace the best gaming mice and best gaming keyboards, Joy-Cons can still be fun little alternatives to Xbox and PlayStation controllers – especially for smaller hands.

A set of Nintendo Joy-Cons laying against an Nvidia graphics card.

How to use Nintendo Joy-Cons on PC

Besides the controllers – which you can connect separately, or as a pair – you’ll also need Bluetooth connectivity on your PC. Gaming laptops and a lot of motherboards have Bluetooth built-in, but if your rig is ‘toothless, any USB Bluetooth receiver should do the job. They’re typically less than £10 / $15 on Amazon.

Also, because this whole methold relies on Steam’s Steam Input feature to turn Joy-Con button presses into inputs that Windows games understand, they’ll only reliably work in Steam games. They may or may not work in games launched through, say, EA Play or the Xbox app, but they'll be prone to sluggish performance or will fail to remap custom inputs properly.

With those caveats out of the way, here’s how to get Joy-Cons set up for PC play.

Step 1: Opt into Steam beta updates if you haven’t already. This is easily done: open up Steam’s settings, and check the Beta participation section of the Account tab. If you’re not opted in, click “Change”, then select “Steam Beta Update” from the drop-down list. Click “OK” to confirm, then restart Steam.

Step 1 of how to use Nintendo Joy-Cons on PC: Opting into the Steam Beta client through Steam's account settings menu.
You can switch back from Beta to the stable client at any time, though obviously you'll lose access to any Beta-only features.

Step 2: Hold down the Sync buttons on each Joy-Con – those are the tiny round buttons between the SL and SR buttons – until the four LEDs next to them start flashing. This will confirm they’re entered pairing mode.

Step 2 of how to use Nintendo Joy-Cons on PC: Holding the Sync button on each Joy-Con until they enter pairing mode.
Joy-Cons have no wired connectivity, so Bluetooth is the only way to go.

Step 3: Open Windows’ “Bluetooth & other devices” settings menu, then click “Add Bluetooth or other device” at the top.

Step 3 of how to use Nintendo Joy-Cons on PC: Opening Windows' Bluetooth menu and adding a new device.
You only need to perform this setup process once. After pairing, the Joy-Cons should reconnect to your PC automatically when you press the Sync button within Bluetooth range.

Step 4: Select “Bluetooth” from the “Add a device” menu that pops up, then (assuming that the Joy-Cons are still in pairing mode) look for each controller in the list of available devices. Click one, wait a few seconds for it to finish connecting to your PC, then click "Done" to confirm. You’ll need to connect both Joy-Cons individually like this, though you can use them as a pair once they’re all Bluetoothed-up.

Step 4 of how to use Nintendo Joy-Cons on PC: Bluetooth pairing each individual controller with the PC.
If a Joy-Con doesn't show up HERE, try connecting it back to your Switch and resetting it.

Step 5: Start playing! Not every game is a natural fit for gamepads, let alone anything as dinky as the Joy-Cons, but Steam Input should let them work in Steam games like a more conventional controller. That includes input remapping, in the games that support it.

A pair of hands holding a set of Nintendo Joy-Cons.
For games without many inputs, like simple 2D platformers, you could just use a single Joy-Con instead of a pair.

Most features introduced in Steam Beta eventually make it to the main Steam client, so you probably won’t have to wait long to get this added Joy-Con PC support on the most stable branch as well. And it’s not the only upgrade for Nintendo controllers, either: the same Beta update that enabled Joy-Con compatibility also significantly improved support for the Nintendo Classic controller series. These are also Switch controllers, but are based on the original NES, SNES and N64 pads.

Also in using-the-controls-of-a-handheld-device-to-play-games-on-a-desktop news, why not trying using the Steam Deck with Steam Remote play to transform it into a PC controller?

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