In Third Person’s Newbie Buyer’s Guide to Arcade Fightsticks
Over the last few weeks, the traffic to my arcade fighstick posts have skyrocketed. With Marvel vs. Capcom 3 hitting store shelves, it appears as though you’re all looking for as much fightstick information as possible before you spend your hard-earned cash on a new fighting game weapon of choice.
As a public service to you (and as something I would find fun to write), I’ve put together a newbie buyer’s guide that covers my knowledge of arcade fightsticks. This post features some general things you should know, mini-reviews to a few of the major fightsticks on the market and links to my older posts where I go into more detail on each product. I’m by no means a fightstick connoisseur, but I do own a bunch of them and spend a ton of time using them.
If you’d like to learn more, click through to the rest of this post!
Fightsticks can vary wildly in price, depending on how high-end you want to go and what promos are available to you. Entry level sticks, such as the Intec Combat Arcade Stick, can run you as little as $30, while the Hori VLX (pictured above) can run you as much as $300. If you’re looking to commission someone to make a custom fightstick for you from a vendor like Project Giant Sword, the price could easily go over $500 depending on what you want in it. There is definitely a difference of quality between an entry-level fightstick and a top-of-the-line one, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a good experience from an entry-level stick, especially if you’re just starting out.
If you’ve never bought a fightstick before and wanted to dip your feet into the waters, you’re probably better off going with an entry-level stick first, just to see if you’ll get comfortable with it (more on that later). Entry-level sticks will likely also work fine if you’re a casual fighting game player that doesn’t plan on putting many hours into it. The trade-off here is that the cheaper fightsticks generally don’t last as long as the high-end ones.
The two brand names you’ll hear the most are Mad Catz and Hori. Mad Catz historically has specialized in making cheap and poor-quality peripherals, but they completely changed their business model with their TE and SE line of fightsticks. The SE is known as a decent starter stick, while the TE line is often hailed as the all-around best on the market. Hori has been in the fightstick scene for a long time. Their product line covers the gamut from entry-level fightsticks to the most premium items on the market. If you go to any store or online retailer, the majority of fightsticks you’ll find come from them.
Where To Buy
I don’t know what the market is like for buying fightsticks around the world, but it’s really difficult to purchase one in Canada. Hori products aren’t carried at regular retailers here, and EB Games/Gamestop (the exclusive brick and mortar retailer for Mad Catz products in Canada) stopped carrying TE sticks over a year ago. Unless your Chinatown has the hook-up, online retailers are the way to go. Amazon.ca always has a few Hori and Mad Catz fightsticks available. Amazon.com usually has a better selection to choose from and they ship many of their fightsticks to Canada. Last year, they had some awesome deals on TE sticks, which I took full advantage of. If you’re looking for something very specific from Japan, Play Asia is the way to go. Just keep in mind that your purchase is going to be extra expensive with the overseas shipping.
As a life-long pad player, switching to a fightstick last year was a very daunting task. Getting used to this method of control can be really difficult and disheartening at first. If you’re just starting out on a fightstick, get used to the fact that you’ll still be better on a controller even with weeks of practice. You’re just going to have to work out the kinks in your technique till it feels good. For some people, it never feels good, which happens all the time. However, finding that out after you’ve spent $200 on a fightstick isn’t ideal. If you’re unsure about how far you’ll go with a fighstick, try a friend’s stick or purchase a cheap one to start.
Price Range: $30-50 US (Buy Now From Amazon.com)
This cheap and popular starter fightstick was my very first fightstick. Compared to some of the other sticks on this list, this one is a bare-bones as it gets. It’s really small and light (which isn’t necessarily a good thing) and only features six action buttons. I’ve read a number of reviews that said this was a decent starter fightstick, but my experience with it was horrible. One of the buttons died within an hour of me using it. I can’t recommend this one to anyone, based on my terrible experience with it.
Price Range: $30-70 US (Buy Now From Amazon.com)
Of the Hori starter sticks available, I’d say this is the better of the two. This one features eight buttons and the wider base makes it sit more stable on your lap than the EX 2. I have one of these for XBOX 360 and one for PS3. While I’d say these are better than the EX 2, both of mine are now dead. The PS3 one died after 100 or so hours of Super Street Fighter IV. The spring in the joystick wore out, which makes any sort of precision movement virtually impossible. At the price I paid for it, 100 hours of use is pretty good. The XBOX 360 one however, did not last nearly as long. After about 20 hours of use, one of the buttons stopped working. A lot of major retailers still have these available for really cheap, which makes them an appealing first choice. Just note that if you plan on playing any fighting game seriously, you’re going to wear this one out eventually.
Price Range: $150-200 US (Buy Now From Amazon.com)
The Mad Catz TE line of fightsticks are easily the most popular fighting game controllers on the market. They come in all sorts of different designs now, but the quality is consistent across all of them. This stick is notably bigger and heavier then the previous two, which makes it ideal for using on your lap. This also features authentic Sanwa parts, which are the same ones used in Street Fighter IV arcade machines. I have three TE fightsticks in my house because they’re awesome to use and are built to last. Having put in hundreds of hours into my TE sticks, it’s amazing that I haven’t noticed any sort of wear and tear. If you’re looking to graduate to a top-of-the-line stick, any TE from the line is an excellent choice.
Price Range: $130-150 US (Buy Now From Amazon.com)
I have not used the V3 SA myself, but one of my coworkers (who is also a hardcore fighting game player) bought one of these when the TE market dried up in our area. He’s used both my TE and the V3 SA and he prefers his stick over mine (no innuendo intended). This one also has a sturdy base and the same Sanwa parts, which makes it another great choice for fighting game enthusiasts.
UPDATE June 4, 2011: After I initially wrote this post, I have used a Hori Real Arcade Pro V3 SA. It’s definitely a step up in quality from the EX2 and the limited edition Tekken 6 stick, which were alright at best and terrible at worst. The nice case and the Sanwa parts put it roughly on par with the TE. I had some weird input issues with dragon punch motions, but I think it’s mostly due to the condition of the stick rather than the product line as a whole. If you’re looking for an alternative to the Mad Catz TE at roughly the same price, then the V3 SA is probably the fightstick for you.
Price Range: $150-200 US (Buy Now From Amazon.com)
This relatively unknown brand has put together an awesome fightstick that’s been popular with the tournament crowd of late. Besides sporting a solid case and Sanwa parts, the Qanba Q4 RAF supports the XBOX 360, PlayStation 3 and PC right out of the box. If you actively participate in tournaments or need a fightstick that supports multiple platforms without having to mod anything, the Qanba Q4 RAF is the way to go. Be warned: tracking one down will not be easy, as they’re not sold in regular stores and most online retailers are sold out at any given time. However, if you need a fightstick that works on multiple platforms, the Qanba Q4 RAF is worth the extra money and effort. I recently got one of these and I love it. When my full review is ready, I’ll update this post to link to the it.
For all you fighting game players looking for information on sticks, I hope this post helped!