No you do not need the wheel joy cons to play. I'd say mixed reviews over the wheel, I've had someone tell me they dont prefer to use because it hurts their thumb or finger while playing (my mom aka gradma). While on the other my kids. Love the wheel, it doesnt seem to have any extra effects, just a placeholder for the joy con really. But the kids honestly dont care. They will play with or without the wheel.. it does depend on how many players you would like to play the game, id prefer my kids to have wheel or connector so they are not using the joy con alone with possibility of throwing, dropping it. Hope this helps.