It’s not easy choosing the right arcade stick, or to understand what features to look for. Here we go to the absolute basics. If you just want to compare arcade sticks, check the comparison chart.
The deeper you delve into researching different options, features, modding possibilities, prices and value for money, the more confusing and complicated it gets.
Perhaps you’ll start questioning if it’s even gonna be worth the trouble trying to learn a whole new way to control your favorite fighting games. The prices are quite hefty, too.
If you are new to arcade sticks, here are some key points to think about:
- Platform(s). Are you gonna play it with Playstation, Xbox, Nintendo, or PC? All of them?
- Size and weight. Do you have big hands, do you keep the arcade stick on the table or on your lap, do you travel with it?
- Cable length and management. How far away are you from the console, is there a place to store the cable in?
- Modding and parts. Do you want to swap the buttons and joystick down the road, or even the artwork?
This basic guide is meant to help you choose and buy your first arcade stick.
Compatibility With Different Platforms
Most arcade sticks work on PC, so it has the largest selection. Xbox has a small selection currently, while Nintendo Switch has the smallest.
Most arcade sticks, however, only work with one console brand. So either it works with Playstation 4, Playstation 3 and PC. Or it works with Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC.
There are some universal fightsticks, such as Mayflash F300 and Mayflash F500, which supports all of the above.
There’s a catch, though:
Your controller needs to be connected to the arcade stick with a USB cable. It’s an inconvenience for sure, but how big? You must decide.
Size and Weight of the Fightstick
The size matters. For example Hori Fighting Stick Mini 4 is extremely small, while Hori Real Arcade Pro 4 Premium VLX KURO Fighting Stick is a humongous arcade-like beast.
If you have large hands, a small case won’t leave much space for your hands to rest comfortably. Especially your left hand might struggle to find a comfortable position, if the area to the left of the joystick is narrow.
Weight might matter also:
A light case might not stay on its place if you use it aggressively. Hopefully the case has rubber feet or padding that prevents it from sliding on the table. But bigger concern is if you prefer having the arcade stick on your lap; that’s where a light and small, or unpadded one usually has trouble holding in place properly.
If you plant to carry your arcade stick around much, like to your friend’s house or travel with it, then a big one can be troublesome to carry.
Manufacturers are sometimes quite stingy with this information beforehand, and especially weight is not often mentioned. Or if it is, it’s only the weight of the product box.
Cable Length and Cable Management
If your console is far away from where you sit, make sure the cable is lengthy enough to reach your couch/chair. Almost none of the fightsticks have a detachable/changeable cable.
What if the cable is too short?
You could use a USB extender cable. There shouldn’t be any compatibility issues with extension cables, nor does it cause increased lag to button presses (unless you go to extremities). Except one thing:
Make sure the USB cable works for data transfer too, as some cables only work for charging – not transferring data.
“In-built” cable management is also a good thing to consider.
Where do you put the 10 feet (3 meters) long cable if you travel with the arcade stick often, or need to stash it somewhere? Wrap it around the stick? Many of the bigger arcade sticks actually have a separate compartment inside the case where you can tuck the cable nicely.
If you’re completely new to arcade sticks, modding probably sounds intimidating and is the last thing you want to think about. Yet you keep encountering that word all the time when reading about arcade sticks, and people mentioning Sanwa buttons or joysticks.
Gates, octagons, different size buttons, joysticks, JLFs, restrictor plates, actuators, Sanwas, battops, plexis, boards.
All that sounds difficult and confusing.
Don’t worry too much.
Modding: It simply means replacing parts of the arcade stick, usually the buttons and the joystick, to better ones, like Sanwa or Seimitsu brand. Most sticks are made this customizability in mind, so usually all you need is a screwdriver to do the job.
You want to, and are going to, think about modding somewhere down the line if you like using a fightstick. You can swap better parts, and make a cheap stick feel infinitely better with quality buttons/joystick. Or you can try out different types of buttons that have a different feel to them. There’s even more silent joysticks, or you can buy dampeners for the buttons if their clacking sounds bother you.
However, what buttons and joysticks are “the best”, is subjective to some degree. Sanwa Denshi brand is the golden standard; their buttons and joysticks have been used in arcade cabinets all over the world for ages, so most old arcade players find them the most familiar. But there are other manufacturers like Seimitsu and Hori Hayabusa. In the end, it’s a matter of taste what kind of buttons or joystick type feels best for you.
Modding is not as difficult as it sounds
Most basic “button mod” goes something like this:
- Turn the arcade stick upside down
- Remove the backplate with the help of a standard screwdriver
- Disconnect the cords from buttons
- Pull old buttons out
- Snap new buttons in
- Connect the cords
- Put the backplate and screws back in
No soldering or special skills required. Razer Panthera and Razer Atrox offer an even easier way: both of them have a button in the front panel, which opens the top cover of the case and gives you easy access to the buttons and joystick.
Want to know an additional benefit?
You can easily repair the fightstick yourself if a part breaks. They are pretty simple devices, and replacement parts are readily (and cheaply) available from certain dealers, such as Arcade Shock and Focus Attack.
However, there are things to keep in mind about modding
Warranty. Modding is a great way to enhance your initial purchase, but you run the risk of voiding the warranty when you open the case. Some cases have those “warranty void if removed” stickers before you can open up the case. Such is the case with Hori. Despite a stick being mod-friendly, a manufacturer isn’t necessarily condoning it.
Generally, modding voids the warranty – but there are some exceptions, like Razer’s arcade sticks
It depends on the warranty laws of each country, but these “warranty void if removed” stickers could possibly be disputed, and argued what is and what isn’t under warranty if something breaks in the arcade stick and is clearly a manufacturing fault, even if you have modded it. But there’s no guarantees over this, so always assume the warranty is voided if you mod your fightstick.
At least Razer is different, namely their Panthera and Atrox; there’s a simple button that opens the top cover that gives you the access to the innards of the case. They are being marketed as moddable, and as such are allowing you to do it without voiding the warranty.
From Razer’s FAQ:
“What kind of modding is acceptable without voiding the warranty?
Basically anything that does not involve opening and modifying the PCB.”
With Razer you are on the safe side.
A Cheap Fightstick Made Good by Modding, or a Good but Pricier Stick from the Get-go?
If you want a good stick – and don’t want to risk voiding the warranty by modding it – you should buy a good arcade stick right away that has known good parts. Best and cheapest examples of these would be Hori’s various Real Arcade Pro models (a.k.a. RAP).
If you can afford it, consider Razer Panthera or Atrox. These two are free to be modded without voiding the warranty.
But if you can’t afford the above sticks, and you think you absolutely don’t want to void the warranty of any stick? Is it worth it to get a cheap stick and not mod it?
In my opinion, better would be to save more money until you can afford a good stick.
But otherwise, get a cheap stick, like Mayflash F300 (see the review). Just don’t overestimate the cheapest sticks; they can suck the joy out of learning and playing if you get serious – even if you don’t have a point of reference. Also, weigh in on the modding possibilities some more.
Okay, let’s say you would be prepared to mod a cheap stick… if only it didn’t void the warranty.
Think of it this way:
Arcade sticks are rather simple devices.
In most cases it’s either the joystick or a button that’s broken if there is a defect – exactly the parts that you were about to swap anyway! You can change those parts easily to working ones, except the PCB (printed circuit board).
So, Which Arcade Stick Should I Buy?
See the top 5 recommended arcade sticks for each platform.
To get a quick overview of the most important features of all the arcade sticks on all platforms, check the Arcade Stick Comparison Chart. The features are listed in a handy table for you to compare the sticks more easily.