How to Fix or Replace Your Nintendo 64 Controller's Joystick (And Why It Broke)

Spoiler: Mario Party did it. Mostly.
Zach Zach (248)
5 minutes

Anyone who's owned a Nintendo 64 knows that the controller's analog joystick, or "Control Stick", is the Achilles' heel of an otherwise indestructible system. After years of play the joystick become a limp, unresponsive, hollow shell of its former self.

Most aftermarket controllers don't feel quite right. With used OEM controllers often running $50+, why not repair your old controller instead?

This short guide will show you how to replace your N64's thumbstick assembly in minutes, restoring glory and playability.

I created both a video and text/photo version of this guide, so be sure to check out both! :)

Watch the video, or scroll down for the text/photo instructions

Watch the video:

Screwdriver, Phillips ×1
N64 replacement joystick assemblyN64 replacement joystick assembly ×1

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Why does the N64's control stick break so often?

The biggest reason for control stick failure is a design flaw whereby the joystick physically wears on the thumbstick assembly. As you can see in the attached photo, this plastic-on-plastic action literally grinds the thumbstick into a powder, widening its original channels and rendering it irreparable. Also, Mario Party.

Mario Party: the destroyer of controllers

Before GoldenEye 007 was released in 1997, developers for the game wanted to add a cool feature that would allow you to reload your gun by removing the Rumble Pak from your controller and re-inserting it. This would essentially be like reloading the magazine on a gun. However, Nintendo shot this idea down, afraid that it would wear down or otherwise break the controller.

Somewhat ironically, Nintendo then released Mario Party: the destroyer of controllers. Mario Party's minigames required you to spin or toggle the thumbstick repeatedly, potentially for hours on end. This was such an issue that Nintendo offered protective gloves to Mario Party players as part of a settlement with the New York Attorney General after children reportedly injured their hands.

Anyways, my [unscientific] theory is that Mario Party ultimately contributed to the demise of your controller. Here's some napkin math to back this theory up:

Sold in North America:

  • Mario Party 1-3 games: 3.22M
  • Nintendo 64 consoles: 20.63M

Probability your controller played Mario Party based on total games played in:

  • Single-player mode: 15.6%
  • 2-player mode: 31.2%
  • 3-player mode: 46.8%
  • 4-player mode: 62.4%

So there you have it: slightly scientific proof that Mario Party might have destroyed your controller. But I digress..

Moving on: Open your controller

Let's move on with the replacement thumbstick assembly.

Using a small Phillips-head screwdriver, remove the 9 screws from the back of the controller.

Clean that bad boy out

This step is optional: while your controller is open, you might as well clean out the years of Cheeto crumbs and skin flakes that have accumulated around the edges and on the shoulder buttons. Rubbing alcohol and a Q-tips go a long way here!

Carefully remove the Z-button circuit board

There's a small circuit board connected to the joystick assembly that is used for the Z-button (the one on the bottom of the controller). Carefully pull one of the plastic clips to the side and remove the circuit board.

Remove the old joystick assembly

Disconnect the joystick's 6-pin connector and remove the 3 screws holding it in place. A small flathead screwdriver works nicely to remove the connector, but is not necessary.

Install the new assembly

Put the new assembly into place, replace the 3 screws, reinsert the Z-button circuit board, and connect the 6-pin connector.

Reassemble the controller

Replace the 9 screws on the controller and you're good to go! Now your friend can't blame the controller for repeatedly losing at Super Smash Bros., and then buy you a replacement joystick for Channukah. I'M LOOKING AT YOU, NATE.

Do you have a friend who sucks at N64 and blames their skills on a limp joystick? Share this with them, get those sticks fixed, and then find out who the true champion is.

It's dangerous to go alone! Take this.
Zach Zach (248)
1 hour

What is the AdventurePi? The AdventurePi is a DIY portable retro gaming rig that uses RetroPie to emulate a variety of classic video game consoles.