A quick overview of arcade sticks

An overview of Hori and MadKatz’s arcade stick hardware lineups.

With the release of Super Street Fighter 4, a friend of mine asked me about my thoughts on the various crop of arcade sticks out there for PS3/360. So, here’s my quick review of the main contenders out there.

As far as arcade sticks and pads go, the MadKatz (yes, bear with me) FightPads are rather good for the price if you want to take the controller route. The pad is easy to use, can pull off 360s easy enough if you’re a Zangief-style player, and is pretty easy on the hands. For $40, you could do a lot worse. Downside is the art on the pad itself – you either love it or hate it. Personally I wished they had released an unbranded version, but I’ll take what I can get.

If you’re looking for an arcade stick, you’ve got a few options.

First, Hori has about 3 different grades of stick, depending on how much coin you want to spend. Their base Fighting Stick model is decent and runs about $50. It’s not the best stick in the world, but it’s smaller and easier to store. If you’re not sure you’re going to go hogwild over fighting games, this might be your best option – especially considering that the button layout isn’t to spec with arcade cabinets. The other grade that’s probably in your budget is the Real Arcade Pro series. Runs about $145-160, and is a very large, solid piece of gear. If you get this, know that you’re going to want to change out the buttons almost right off the bat. The ones that come pre-installed are spongy. All depending on what you grew up with and your play style, you may also want to get an 8-way gate for the stick instead of the stock 4-way. I find the 8-way to be smoother, but it’s all preference. I’ve got this model for my 360, and have really got a lot of enjoyment from it after modding it. Downside of the Real Arcade Pro is availability – super hard to find in stock. The newer “V3 SA” model has a case form based on the Taito Vewlix arcade cabinet style, and has Sanwa buttons standard – there’s no need or reason to mod this one; it simply looks amazing.

The VLX edition of the Real Arcade Pro runs a whopping $500 and is essentially the control panel ripped off of a Street Fighter 4 arcade cabinet. It’s an exact copy. Granted, it looks AWESOME, but unless you’re going to mount this on something, it’s WAAAY too big to even consider.

Second option is MadKatz and their FightStick line. AVOID the base level FightStick or wireless FightStick. They’re prone to wearing out quickly, however the same rules apply here as they did with Hori’s low-end. This would work just fine for a casual, non-pro player. If you do decide to go with MadKatz stick and want a bit more out of it, just get a Tournament Edition. The parts and build quality is simply better for the price difference. You can probably find a few in local retailers for a lot less than what they were going for when released. I found a PS3 Marvel Vs Capcom 2 stick for $100 at my local GameStop, for instance. Your mileage may vary – really depends on the hype around fighting games at the time you go shopping. Considering the newer TE sticks for Super Street Fighter have gotten a case styling change, you might be able to find an older model easily and for less.

One other thing to keep in mind is if you don’t take the wireless route (hint: DON’T TAKE THE WIRELESS ROUTE), you can pop the joystick into your computer and play MAME and other arcade emulators with it. A little extra validation on top never hurt.

Oh, one more thing. I’d be remiss in not mentioning the Virtua Stick High Grade from Sega for the PS3. I’m not going to go into too much detail on this, not because it’s a bad stick – it’s a fantastic piece of kit – but because you can’t find it anywhere. I’m not going to tease you with impossible-to-find gear.