Street Fighter IV Fight Sticks (and X-Arcade Modding)

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 Street Fighter IV FightStick Tournament Edition (TE) [PS3]
Mad Catz Street Fighter IV FightStick Standard Edition (SE) [PS3]

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.

Hori Real Arcade Pro 3 Fighting Stick [PS3]

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.

Here’s a big list of controller brands and custom builders.

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?

Parts Suppliers
Lizard Lick Amusements (has all of the above)
Groovy Game Gear (has most of the above; owner seems very knowledgeable and helpful)

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)
Happ/iL FAQ/discussion
Another Happ vs. iL discussion
Street Fighter IV FightStick FAQ

8 thoughts on “Street Fighter IV Fight Sticks (and X-Arcade Modding)”

  1. Nice breakdown! I have a similar dilemma as I have a X-Arcade Dual Joystick for MAME which I have been researching to mod for use on Xbox 360. I’ve found the XFPS which allows connectivity to a 360 but still suffers from the dreaded lag issues… not an option!

    If I don’t come across a Mad Catz Tournament Edition Fightstick or Hori HRAP within reasonable price then I may dive into the X-Arcade and swap the joystick/buttons and hack a wired or wireless controller to replace the PCB.

  2. I just checked ebay and the HRAP 3 is going for $180 and the TE is going for $300-350! Man, I wish I knew the controller vendors would be so cluelessly unprepared. Could’ve made a few bucks.

    One custom builder (forget who) said they halted production on a 360 fight stick because the controller worked fine at first, but failed after 20 minutes of play. Toodles has a PCB that will hook into a wireless PS3 pad (like the Dualshock) so you won’t need a USB cable. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen a 360 version.

  3. Gah. I’m stuck in the past.
    There’s some things (Street Fighter, Mario Cart) that I can only do real well with an SNES controller.

  4. @ZBalance
    Yes, I recall the days of “one hit on you means I win” at your place. But you’re not as stuck in the past as I am. The arcade sticks I need pre-date the SNES. Actually, you’re probably the most qualified person I know for custom joystick building. You should consider it – I’m sure you’d be even better on an arcade stick. It’s naturally easier. Your thumbs have limits.

  5. Nice breakdown. From what I understand, most vendors have April listed as the restock date for the tournament edition sticks.

    MadCatz has actually been quoted as saying that the ebay and craiglist prices are ridiculous and that they intend to provide everyone who wants a SF4 stick with one, at retail price.

    Honestly, you can’t beat the TE stick, as far as quality goes, its the exact same components used in the japanese arcade units. And for 150 bucks, you’re pretty much pushing that with jerry-rigging an X-Arcade unit with the same quality components.

    I understand the people who would rather do it themselves, more fun that way, but for people like me who just want a kick ass stick, and want it to work well, just hang around until april, check some vendors through google, and put in your preorder. HELP IS ON THE WAY!

  6. Thank you. My aim was really to help those who fall into one or more of these categories:

    a) don’t want to wait for the restock or for an overwhelmed custom builder to catch up
    b) have an X-arcade already or can get one dirt cheap
    c) prefer the American-style components
    d) like modding
    e) don’t need Xbox 360 compatibility

    I can wait, but I do prefer the American sticks – it’s just what I grew up with in the ’80s and ’90s. If you prefer the Japanese-style sticks (or it’s important to you that you have a replica of the SF4 arcade controls), and you’re patient, then waiting for next run of FightSticks sounds like a good idea. I’m sure they’ll work out their QC and engineering problems by then.

    The burning question is where can you buy empty arcade stick chassis, like an X-Arcade (or better) without the guts? Since it’s just vinyl-coated MDF, it shouldn’t be too bad. Very sturdy plastic could work.

  7. I don’t do much electronics anymore. I did the analog PSP joystick upgrade, by swapping it with an ps2 stick, but that was only because I cant play GTA with that little piece of garbage.
    My current inventions revolve around taking my slothhood to a new level.
    You should see my recliner with swing arm flat-screen hideaway monitor that tucks away completely into the armrest. No lazy, out of shape, wife neglecting, kid ignoring, father should be without one!

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