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Getting started: Input and controls

Game controllers

RetroArch is intended to be easily controlled with a controller. RetroArch uses the overall term controller which encompasses all input hardware that could be described by the terms joypad, gamepad, joystick, and others.

Map controls by controller, core, or game

RetroArch allows users to configure a controller once for many cores instead of having to configure each core individually. RetroArch also provides the freedom to configure specific cores and even individual games differently if the user wants.

What is a RetroPad?

RetroArch controls map real-world controller inputs to a virtual controller called a "RetroPad". A RetroPad does not exist in real life, it's a concept only within RetroArch. A RetroPad has an ABXY layout like a SNES gamepad plus four shoulder buttons and dual analog sticks like a Sony DualShock.

You don't have to map all of the RetroPad buttons to a real world button. If your real controller has less buttons than a DualShock, then the virtual RetroPad also has less buttons, that's perfectly fine.

RetroPad Conceptual Diagram

Controller autoconfiguration

Many controllers should work out of the box via the RetroArch autoconfiguration profile database. If the controller can be autoconfigured the OSD will inform you of the autoconfiguration event.

Manual RetroPad binding

Not all controllers have autoconfigs. If that is the case for your controller, please refer to the Manual RetroPad binding section below.

Keyboard controls

RetroArch provides a remappable set of bindings between a keyboard and the RetroPad abstraction as well as between a keyboard and RetroArch's hotkeys. Please refer to Default RetroArch keyboard bindings in this doc as a reference.

Cores with direct keyboard input

Please be aware that some cores, for example arcade emulator cores and vintage computer emulator cores, can also be configured to directly read the keyboard or controls that use a keyboard interface. If you are using a core configured for direct keyboard access, it is recommended that users unbind the RetroArch keyboard-to-RetroPad and hotkey bindings or use the Game Focus mode to disable those bindings while using the keyboard device. Otherwise, keyboard input may result in multiple conflicting simultaneous actions by the core.


Controls with keyboard interfaces can also benefit from defining a Hotkey Enable button in RetroArch which is required to be held down in order to activate the other hotkeys.

Manual RetroPad binding

If your gamepad does not have an autoconfiguration or if you would like to change its default RetroPad binding, use the Input settings menu.

Screenshot of input binding

  • Navigate to Settings
  • Navigate to Input
  • Navigate to Input User 1 Binds
  • Select User 1 Bind All
  • Press the buttons as required


If you have several different controller types you may want to use the User 1 Save Autoconfig followed by User 1 Bind Default All options after binding in order to achieve hotplug functionality

Controls for multi-player

If you want to set-up local multi-player with games that support it:

  • Navigate to Settings
  • Navigate to Input

Here you will find the option to set binds for multiple users, "Input User 1 Binds", "Input User 2 Binds" and so on.

So lets set-up User 1's controller:

  • Navigate to Input User 1 Binds
  • Select User 1 Device Index

From here using the left/right buttons, select which currently plugged-in controller will be assigned to what player. While here you should also bind the controls to this player by pressing them on the assigned controller, Select User 1 Bind All to do this.

After you finish, go back, select Input User 2 Binds and repeat for user 2.


Hotkeys are combinations of buttons you can press in order to access options such as saving, loading, and exiting games. Hotkey binds can be configured at SettingsInputInput Hotkey Binds. If you map Enable Hotkeys to a button, it will require that button to be held in order to trigger any hotkeys.


To unbind (effectively, disable) a hotkey, press Del on your keyboard or the Y button (the left one of the 4 buttons) on the RetroPad. To reset a hotkey to its default, press Space on your keyboard or the Start button on the RetroPad.

Remapping controls for individual cores or content

Core Controls Remapping alters how the core receives input rather than how the gamepad is coded, for example you can tell an individual core to switch button A and B on the RetroPad for gameplay, but you can still use "A" to select in the RetroArch menu and "B" to go back. This is opposed to changing the gamepad bindings in RetroArch itself which would swap "A" and "B" in the core but would also make "B" select and "A" back in the RetroArch menu.

How to remap the controls for a single core or game:

  • Start content with the core for which you want to remap controls
  • Go to Quick Menu and then Controls
  • Configure the buttons the way you want
  • Select Save Core Remap File
  • OR, if you want to save this remapping for the current game only, select Save Game Remap File

Default RetroArch keyboard bindings

Keyboard gameplay controls

User 1 Keyboard Default RetroPad Mapping
Up Arrow RetroPad Up
Down Arrow RetroPad Down
Left Arrow RetroPad Left
Right Arrow RetroPad Right
Q RetroPad L1
W RetroPad R1
Z RetroPad B
X RetroPad A
A RetroPad Y
S RetroPad X
Shift RetroPad Select
Enter RetroPad Start

The keyboard inputs shown here are active only when SettingsInputUnified Menu Controls is disabled (default). Otherwise, only Retropad inputs are used.

Keyboard Input Retropad Input Menu Action
Up Arrow RetroPad Up Move cursor up
Down Arrow RetroPad Down Move cursor down
Left Arrow RetroPad Left Move cursor left
Right Arrow RetroPad Right Move cursor right
Page Up RetroPad L1 Scroll one page up
Page Down RetroPad R1 Scroll one page down
Backspace RetroPad B Return to the previous screen
Enter RetroPad A Select Item
Del RetroPad Y Scan content / Remove highlighted input bind
/ RetroPad X Search
Shift RetroPad Select Help
Space RetroPad Start Reset to default
Home RetroPad L3 Scroll to top
End RetroPad R3 Scroll to bottom

Hotkey controls

Hotkey binds can be configured at SettingsInput → 'Input Hotkey Binds'. If you map Enable Hotkeys to a key, it will require that key to be held in order to trigger any hotkeys. This can be useful in avoiding keyboard mapping conflicts between RetroArch and cores cores that use the keyboard for input.


Hotkeys can also be mapped to RetroPad buttons.

Keyboard Input In-Game Action
Esc Exit RetroArch
Spacebar Fast forward toggle
L Fast forward hold
P Pause
P Frame advance
E Slow motion
R Rewind
H Reset
F1 Menu toggle
F2 Save state
F3 Show FPS
F4 Load state
F5 Desktop menu
F6 Decrease current state slot
F7 Increase current state slot
F8 Take screenshot
F9 Mute
F11 Grab mouse
+ Volume Up
- Volume Down
F Fullscreen toggle
M Next shader
N Previous shader
I Netplay toggle play/spectate
U Cheat toggle
Y Next cheat
T Previous cheat

Platform-specific controls

Nintendo Switch

USB keyboards and mice: All keyboards seem to work. Not all mice seem to work. Mouse compatibility sheet.

Touch mouse emulation: The Switch touchscreen can be used for mouse control like a laptop touchpad. The following gestures are supported.

Touch Input Effect
single finger drag move the mouse pointer (indirectly like on a touchpad)
single short tap left mouse click
dual finger short tap* right mouse click
dual finger drag drag'n'drop (left mouse button is held down)
three finger drag drag'n'drop (right mouse button is held down)

*: hold one finger, short tap with another