Fighting games are one of the few game genres that aren't perfectly suited for play on the default Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 controllers. Street Fighter's one-joystick, six-button legacy control scheme comes from its arcade cabinet roots, but the home consoles have evolved with the gamepad. The first-party gamepads have enough inputs to map to the game's controls, but the physical interface and button layouts don't translate perfectly. Analog sticks have too much play to pull off moves effectively, and the directional pads on the Xbox 360 and PS3 controllers have their own issues that make them less than ideal for the quarter-, half-, and full-circle moves in the complete street fighter's repertoire. The Sixaxis/Dual Shock 3 has a recessed D pad that doesn't offer enough surface area for the thumb, and the Xbox 360 controller's D pad performance is so poor that the Internet explodes whenever rumors about an improved D pad surface.
The good news for fighting game fans is that peripheral manufacturers have prepared new premium console arcade sticks to coincide with the launch of Street Fighter IV on the consoles. Japanese manufacturer Hori has brought its popular Real Arcade Pro joystick line to the PS3 and Xbox 360, and longtime peripheral manufacturer Mad Catz has entered the market with two Street Fighter IV FightSticks that have the potential to upgrade how gamers view the Mad Catz brand.
We got our hands on the Hori Real Arcade Pro EX and the two Mad Catz FightSticks for some Street Fighter IV testing. We also pulled out our Hori Fighting Stick EX2 to see how the now-classic controller compares to the new sticks.
Mad Catz Street Fighter IV FightStick Tournament Edition
- PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
This official Street Fighter IV joystick is the closest you can get to the arcade experience without importing a Japanese cabinet and setting it up in your living room. Mad Catz has not only utilized the exact same Sanwa joystick and button hardware used in Street Fighter IV arcade machines, but it has also recognized that you may want to modify the stick even further. The stick internals are easy to access, but Mad Catz warns that the product warranty goes poof as soon as you take an Allen wrench to the case, so make sure that you know what you're doing before you start modding. Inside you'll find a universal mounting plate in case you want to swap out the joystick, and you'll find labeled, color-coded pin-outs for all of the buttons for easy replacement.
In addition to the authentic Sanwa button and joystick hardware, Mad Catz threw in a lot of other really nice features that help to make the controller even more special. The stick can be toggled to function as the left or right thumbsticks or as the controller D pad. The start, select, and PS/Xbox guide buttons sit out of the way in the top left corner, and the control panel also has a lock switch that disables the administrative buttons during combat. The control panel lets you enable two turbo speeds for individual face buttons. The stick also has a small compartment built into the back of the case to store the cable when you need to take the stick on the road. You can even remove the rubber pads underneath the controller and bolt it down using the predrilled holes if you want to build a serious stand for the stick.
When put to a field test, the FightStick TE worked as advertised. The Sanwa hardware responded exactly as you would expect it to, and we were uppercutting tigers and pulling off spinning pile-drivers with no problem. None of the game's special moves were particularly difficult to pull off with the Sanwa joystick, and the extra-sensitive buttons made it easy to start up Chun-Li's hyakuretsukyaku lightning kicks and E. Honda's hundred hand slap. The two extra buttons at the end gave us some problems--they're set to mirror the functionality of all three punch or kick buttons by default in case you're unable (or too lazy) to hit the three buttons the old-fashioned way, but our testers accidentally hit the bonus buttons more than a few times in-game. Disabling the buttons through the game menu proved to be a quick fix, but we're sure players can adjust to the extra buttons given enough practice time. The Street Fighter IV FightStick Tournament Edition is a faithful companion that will ward off hadoukens throughout the Third World Warrior Tournament and beyond.
Hori Real Arcade Pro EX
- Xbox 360
The Hori Real Arcade Pro EX is roughly the same size as the FightStick Tournament Edition and shares many other similarities. The Hori stick comes equipped with an authentic Sanwa joystick for exceptionally precise handling and arcade-style buttons with an eight-button layout—albeit slightly more splayed than the FightStick TE. One big difference is that the button hardware comes straight from Hori.
The case features a raised headset plug and an Xbox guide button near the joystick, and back and start buttons above the eight-button layout—though the headset plug placement is a bit odd, Hori thoughtfully included ties to make sure your cable doesn't get in the way. The button assignments lead off with the left and right triggers, which makes navigating around the menus difficult to get used to—but they shouldn't affect your ability to fight, because you can reassign buttons from within the game menu.
These quirks aside, the Hori Real Arcade Pro EX is an excellent competitive-level arcade stick. While you don't get bonuses like turbo settings or the ability to assign the functionality of the stick between the thumbsticks and the D pad, the stick positively shines in combat. The buttons didn't feel as sensitive as the Sanwa buttons used in the FightStick TE, but they didn't give us any problems and they emulated the arcade experience fairly well. The less-sensitive buttons meant that we had to press down a little bit further to get the taps to register, but we didn't have any problems after we got used to them. We were able to perform many complicated moves, like Vega's bloody high claw ultra, instantaneously without a hitch. Bottom line: If you're looking for a high-quality joystick, look no further. At $129.99, it's a bit of a hit to the wallet, but it's still more affordable (and perhaps more available) than Mad Catz's comparable stick. And if you've got a PlayStation 3, don't feel left out--Hori makes a comparable controller called the Real Arcade Pro 3.