This past weekend I got to play Street Fighter IV on an Xbox 360. I only played two matches before deciding I must get this for my PS3. It also seemed like a good time get my X-Arcade stick out of hiding for this. For some ridiculous reason, though, I thought I’d see how the old stick stacks up against the new crop coming out. I learned a lot and I’m sharing it here before I forget it all.
The following is a summary of the sticks to buy for fighting games and the parts to use to mod/upgrade your X-Arcade stick for SF4. At the end, I’ll list any references that I don’t link in-line.
First, I got my X-Arcade Solo for MAME on my PC, so I only have a PC connector. This is really a PS/2 keyboard connector, and I found the pass-through did not work very well with my Microsoft Natural Keyboard. I had to swap the two back and forth, which became a pain. At the time, dealing with MAME and finding game ROMs was also a pain, and eventually I loaned it to a friend.
Connecting it to my PS3 requires a PS3 connector, which also requires the Playstation 1 & 2 connector. This is about $40 with shipping and seems rather steep to me.
I assumed I’d just shell out the money for it, but decided to first do a little research to see how my stick stacks up against the current offerings. I started going through the forums and articles and began wondering why X-Arcade was not being included in the fight stick roundups. It’s very sturdy, has a lifetime warranty, and got tons of praise when it first came out.
It turns out that as sold, it’s not a very good fight stick. For most MAME arcade games on your PC it’s fine, but for fighting games there are issues. Here are the most common complaints:
- The joystick component is an inferior knockoff of a Happ Competition joystick. A frequent complaint is that diagonals often “miss”. Getting them right is required for moves like the Dragon Punch (which frankly I always found a little difficult).
- The pushbuttons aren’t bad, but also inferior to Happ’s. Some don’t like the layout. The start button proximity is a common complaint, and a few prefer an ergonomically angled button layout.
- The dual sticks have the controls placed so closely that you’re literally shoulder to shoulder with your opponent. This is easily solved by only playing against hot babes. Or by getting the tankstick, which throws a trackball in the middle as a spacer. Xgaming will allow you to return your dual/tank stick for a Solo (plus the difference) when they are back in stock.
- The control board (PCB) has lag issues on consoles. There is some debate on this, though; perhaps you have to be at a certain skill level to notice.
- You can’t connect it to an Xbox 360 because Microsoft is being a dick about allowing 3rd party controllers. It will connect to an Xbox, but MS is also being a dick about running MAME.
Here are some solutions:
Buy a Whole New Stick
Basically, if you don’t already own an X-Arcade, and you’re buying it to play fighting games on a console, you may want to get something else. I say “may” because the best sticks are hard to find without a markup right now, and modding a used X-Arcade is probably cheaper. Here are the most frequently lauded sticks:
Mad Catz makes the official SF4 sticks, but they have some issues, particularly a metal washer problem. Also, unlike the X-Arcade, opening these up voids the 90-day warranty. And they use Japanese-style controls instead of American, which might not be your preference.
The Hori sticks are probably the most popular for fighting games, and the above stick is their best.
Alternatively, you can get a custom stick made by companies like MAS Systems and Arcade in a Box. If you search the forums, you’ll quickly discover who the reputable custom builders are. Of course, this requires you to know exactly what you like.
Mod an X-Arcade Joystick
So if you already have an X-Arcade stick, or you can get one cheap, modding doesn’t appear to be that hard, or that expensive. As you’ll see, it’s really more like upgrading components in your PC. I figured since they were charging $100 for the controller, which is mostly MDF, plastic, and a simple PCB, the real cost is in the joystick. Ha! Replacements are typically $8-10! Buttons are $1.50-2.00 each.
There is a sub-debate over joystick components. Many swear by the Sanwa or Seimitsu Japanese-style joysticks. These have a ball top and less tension. The Happ Competition is the American standard with a “bat” top and more tension. There is no clear winner, it all comes down to preference. For more info, see the Sanwa and Seimitsu FAQ.
Personally, I grew up playing Street Fighter 2 in American arcades, and would like to duplicate that feel. Therefore, Happ Competition parts are what I want. Luckily, they are the drop-in replacement for the X-Arcade!
Happ recently switched manufacturers and there were some quality control problems. I don’t know if they still exist. The Happ Competition stick is slightly cheaper, but I’ve seen most people recommend the iL 8-Way Eurojoystick as a safer bet. iL (Industrias Lorenzo) was the original mfr. and as such their stick is exactly what most American arcade players are used to. Since they’re technically built to the same specs, it’s also a drop-in replacement.
If you really like the Japanese style sticks, the Sanwa JLW (not JLF) can be easily modded (slight trimming of the plate) to fit the X-Arcade.
The Happ Competition buttons come in both concave (American-style) or convex (Japanese-style) – your preference. The cool part about replacing the buttons is choosing your own colors. I’ve seen red/white/blue, but (patriotism aside) I think green/yellow/red better match the light/medium/fierce of SF.
The last thing to replace is the PCB. Now I haven’t soldered since high school, so this seemed like a big deal. Then I read about the Toodles Cthulu PC/PS3 Board. It essentially replaces your X-Arcade serial port with a USB port, which you can directly connect to a PC or PS3 without an adapter. The consensus is that there are no console lag problems with this PCB, unlike the original. The big sell for me that it’s a solderless board with screw terminals – you can wire it up with just a screwdriver. And it’s only $40 – just $10 more than the PS3 adapter from Xgaming (although you have to add the cost of the long USB cable).
Unfortunately, when you add it all up, the parts come to about $70 plus shipping – the same price as the FightStick SE. But that’s assuming you can find one for retail. For now, I’ll wait until some of the SF4 frenzy dies down. If this includes my own frenzy, I’ll have saved $70. If not, well, who can put a price on reliving those Street Fighter 2 glory days?
Forum Threads and Articles
Shoryuken – Street Fighter blog and forum
Arcade Controls – Tons of good info on hardware, esp. Happ. Great forums.
X-Arcade Mod: Installing Eurojoystick
X-Arcade Mod (shows tools)
X-Arcade Mod thread
X-Arcade Joystick review with emphasis on fighters (discusses lag)
Another Happ vs. iL discussion
Street Fighter IV FightStick FAQ