A lot of people ask me “Remy77077, you play fighting games a lot, what joystick should I get?”.
Well okay, only a couple of people have asked me that.
But since I’ve written about joysticks in the past too, I felt that this was a worthy topic for an update to the current situation. As that old article atests, I believe if you want to play fighting games properly, you do need to invest in a joystick.
The situation with multi-format sticks is still sadly pretty murky, and pretty much the same as documented before. I’ve not researched that further though, as I’ve given up on that ‘dream’ myself, and have gone with standard format sticks. Most pre-manufactured joysticks these days are USB connections, and so will work on your console of choice – the gamer’s XBox 360 or the one-handed blu-ray fondler’s PS3 system – as well as on your PC. And the PC functionality is really not to be scoffed at. As I’ve discovered recently purchased a new PC that can actually run GGPO, whilst the PC fighting game scene is not nearly as well subscribed as it is for consoles, there is actually a huge amount of choice and options out there to play. If you’re a fighting game player with a decent PC I seriously recommend giving GGPO a try if you haven’t already. Then of course there’s games like Street Fighter IV, and other Japanese titles. Although a lot of Japanese titles will need Japanese OS support to run unfortunately. Trawling shoryuken forums would be the first place to look if you want to know more about this. The PC compatibility and USB-ness also gives you huge potential for future-proofing your stick use as well, although of course it cannot be guaranteed, as who knows what new consoles or new PC solutions will come along.
So if you’re willing to spend the cash on a really good joystick with manufactured-for-the-arcade parts, the ones I’d go for are either the Madcatz Tournament Edition stick (the ‘TE stick”) or the Hori Real Arcade Pro (the “HRAP”). I’ve played on the 360 versions of both and I rate them both the same really. The TE stick is slightly bigger, but the HRAP is actually a lot heavier due to it’s metal base. I honestly couldn’t choose between them, and while I currently own a TE stick, I’ll quite likely invest in an HRAP as my next potential stick. It really just comes down to looks & a personal feel (ooo-er). The TE stick does have some snazzy extra features like turbo commands etc, but those are only for online cheaters anyway, and so should not interest you at all. One advantage of the TE stick being far more widespread is that it’s almost the de-facto tournament standard in the UK. So, like I did, you can potentially go to a tournament run on a console you don’t own a joystick for, borrow a sticks off a different kind person each round, and still get a stick you are familiar with to play on the whole time. 🙂
I had better state though, whilst I can vouch for the PS3 version of the TE stick as much as the 360 one, I can’t do the same for the PS3 version of the HRAP, as it is actually a slightly different model. The 360 version is called the Hori Real Arcade Pro EX, whereas the PS3 is known as the Hori Real Arcade Pro 3. Their design is actually visually quite different, although they may well be the same parts.
If you’re buying these sticks from the UK, here’s some current links for them on amazon:
Remember, all of these will work fine on a decent PC too.
If you want to go for a cheaper stick then it’s a whole different ball game though. These will always be smaller and much lighter than the pricier sticks discussed above. For many players, that’s a deal-breaker immediately. Also bear in mind cheaper sticks will use replica parts rather than true ‘arcade parts’. This doesn’t mean they are that much worse – such sticks can be perfectly functional (David Sirlin himself defended the Hori EX2 and indeed used it to get the #1 ranking on SF2HDR for a time), it’s just that they won’t feel as good, the stick and buttons will feel slightly less responsive if you are really used to playing with the best kind of parts, and also, they are far more likely to break due to wear & usage.
I would personally recommend the Hori EX2 for the XBox 360. I just sold my old Hori EX2 to agoners’ own Navan Daughn actually, as that was exactly what he wanted to get himself started. The PS3 version of this stick is again slightly different; the Hori Arcade Fighting Stick (HAFS??) which in limited use I’m afraid I didn’t like at all; it may have simply been an overworn old stick, but in my limited use it seemed a lot worse than the EX2 for the 360, hence my concern with HRAP for PS3 too (but it could potentially be better for all I know!). Similarly I have had bad experiences with the Madcatz Standard Edition (the “SE stick”), so I cannot personally recommend it even as a budget stick.
If you’re actually into modding a stick, then I’m afraid I cannot offer much advice other than to explain a few of the basics. The main difference between different arcade parts is Japanese style arcade parts, or American style arcade parts. Both are just as good it really just depends on your preference, which is why if you have limited real-life arcade experience I wouldn’t start modding your stick immediately without trying some out.
For buttons, Japanese style means convex (bumping out, the centre of button is the highest point), and USA style is concave (dimpled inwards, so their edges are highest). USA buttons are also traditionally laid out in a straight line, whereas the Japanese button layout is slightly curved with the lengths of your fingers.
For the stick itself Japanese means a ball-top, whereas American means a bat-top. You can also get specific 8-way gates and 4-way gates. True 4-way gates are sticks that will only go into the up/down/left/right positions and so are actually generally specialised ones for retro games like Pac Man or certain shumps, not really for fighting games, assuming you actually want to be able to jump forward or crouch block. 😉 But you can also get specifically shaped gates underneath the stick too. Japanese style gates are generally square, meaning the ‘four corners’ can easily be felt if you slide the stick around. eg. you can feel down/back and down/forward, whereas the straight back and straight forward are slightly harder to find. An octagonal gate means that there is slightly stronger impression for all 8 directions, but it may feel relatively harder to find the corners. Some USA parts also offer ‘optical 360’ sticks which have a true round gate and use optical readings of the stick position to determine which angle it is closest too rather than microswitches.
There are different manufacturers of both Japanese and American parts for both the sticks and the buttons. I am not knowledgeable enough to discuss their various merits or difference, but I can tell you the most popular ones I have seen referenced are Sanwa and Seimitsu for Japanese style parts, and HAPP for USA style parts.
You’ll notice that all of the pre-manufactured joysticks mentioned above are all Japanese style in terms of stick, buttons and layout (and also gate shape on all I’ve tried). For this reason, the main reason to mod these days, is if you have a preference for a specific manufacturers parts, or want even a partially USA style stick at all.
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Update: Well, I’m getting really into this now. I’ve got an HRAP EX, and am currently ordering some Seimitsu parts to upgrade it.
Some things to note, the HRAP EX only has a proper Sanwa stick in it, the buttons are actually Hori buttons (non-arcade). They feel the same as the ones on the Hori EX2. ie: decent, but noticeably not as good.
There is an HRAP EX SA with full Sanwa parts, and an HRAP EX SE with Seimitsu parts, however I have been unable to source either in the UK. These had very small runs and are likely so expensive to make, it’d be cheaper to do what I am doing which is getting the HRAP EX standard model, and modding it yourself.
Links for modding:
Where to order: http://www.gremlinsolutions.co.uk/index.htm
Useful guides for HRAPs: