Friday, March 2, 2018

Arcade Sticks for Retro Consoles

A Classic
Arcade sticks have been widely available for home consoles since the third generation. My first stick was the NES Advantage, as probably was for most. While a very aesthetically pleasing method of control, a stick's features can elevate its utility. Shoot'em ups on the NES were nearly impossible without turbo. Before I got the Advantage, I would give up playing 1943 in the middle stages as my fingers would be too tired. Playing Zanac without turbo? Good luck. The NES Advantage was a revelation. While the joystick was a bit wonky for tight platformers like Super Mario, it shines with shoot'em ups. The turbo dials were adjustable, which is you didn't know that you needed until you tried the highest turbo setting, only to shoot off four shot bursts, with a too long of a wait before more shots would be allowed. Example: in Contra you could only shoot four bullets on screen at one time). The build quality is top notch, you could drop it and nothing would happen. The solid metal base provides a nice heft.

Ascii Stick - PC-Engine: A Clone of the NES Advantage?
The PC-Engine, known in the west as the Turbo Grafx-16, also had a similar arcade stick. Actually, it was so similar that They feel nearly identical, and sport the same features. The ball top, the button resistance, the general design; I would be willing to bet that Ascii produced the NES Advantage, as a second-party. Interestingly, most shoot'em ups for the PCE had rapid fire shot by defaut, negating the need for a turbo function on a controller, so I actually don't used the turbo dial. One minor  complaint/gripe I have is that the base is not that large, so you have to balance on/between your lap, which gets uncomfortable after a while. I suppose it was meant to be placed on a coffee table, but the cord is not long enough, so that's impractical. Maybe set it on a large book on your lap? Since the NES Advantage has the same dimensions, same goes for that. Anyway, it's a great stick if you are into the PC-Engine.

Genesis Arcade Power Stick

During the 4th generation of consoles, most shooters for had rapid fire by default, lessening the need for a turbo function. The Genesis Arcade Power Stick was designed with the same ideology that carried the Genesis to success. It was large, built for adult hands, emphasizing that Sega was the next step after kids have grown out of Nintendo. The balltop is at least twice as large as on the NES Advantage, more akin to an actual arcade joystick. There is a comfortable grove for the left hand, although its not really necessary - probably more for aesthetics than purpose.  It has a decent weight as well, and

Genesis Arcade Power Stick, now with 6 buttons
Eventually arcade sticks increased the number of buttons, as fighting games (specifically, Street Fighter II) became popular, and many required six buttons. Sega released a six button version of their Arcade Power stick, which is identical to the previous model in all other aspects.

The SNES Super Advantage 

The SNES Super Advantage was manufactured by Asciiware, as this time it says so right on the front. This suggests that Asciiware was also responsible for the NES Advantage, since the legacy is there and the build characteristics of the Super Advantage and NES Advantage are similar. This is another solid stick, and has many of the same attributes that the prior sticks mentioned have. I don't use it as much for some reason. Maybe because there aren't a lot of shoot'em ups on the SNES, and if I want to play Street Fighter I play it on the Saturn. Nonetheless, it has good build quality.

Hori Fighting Stick Multi - PC-Engine, Genesis, SNES
The Hori Fighting Sick Multi is a unique entry here. It comes with three swappable cords, which make it compatible with the PC-Engine, Genesis, and SNES. What a value! It has a micro-switched joystick, which bring the it closer to the arcade experience. The buttons are a bit less solid than the ascii sticks; more spongey. The wider base is more comfortable to set in the lap. It is a bit less dense, but still does not feel cheap. My only concern is the tightness of the cord connection, I feel as over time it gets looser, and does not hold the cord in as tightly, possible resulting in it falling out during gameplay. With that in mind, I keep the PC-Engine cord attached, and use it primarily for that console. If you were looking to downsize your collection, this is the one to keep due to its versatility, just be gentle with the cord.

Add captionVirtua Stick (Japanese)
When the Sega Saturn was originally released in Japan in 1994, Virtua Fighter was all the rage in arcades. The home port, despite being a bit buggy and apparently rushed, sold at nearly a 1:1 ratio with the console. People could not get enough Virtua Fighter, and this was the controller touted as the only way to play it at home (truth be told, the Japanese Saturn controller was excellent in its own right). An arcade phenomenon needed an arcade stick to complement the experience. The American and PAL version is all black, and does not have a microswitched joystick, settling for rubber contact pads instead. The base is wider than the Sega Genesis Power Sticks, and it feels a bit lighter. This is a decent stick, but I were to own one stick for the Saturn, this would not be it.

Hori Fighting Stick SS - Saturn
The Hori Fighting Stick was one of the first sticks I bought for the Saturn. I was in a Capcom Fighting game craze, and even though the Saturn pad does a marvelous job, I still prefer to pull off dragon punches with a joystick. It has microswitches on the joystick, and eight buttons, including the L and R. It is very solid, and has a great feel to it. The buttons require a tad more pressure to press, but its only noticeable from changing from one stick to another. This is a quality mid-range stick, that usually costs more to import it than its asking price.

Virtua Stick (HSS-0136) - Saturn
For the Saturn, this is the best stick out there, and unfortunately it is named the same as the lower tier model. This model is import only. The design is similar to that of the Japanese arcade Candy cabinet design, with bright colors. The joystick is microswitched with minimal dead zone. Aside from it not being attached to an arcade cabinet, it is arcade perfect.  The buttons are light, press evenly, and are clicky. I have heard about people modding these with upgraded parts, but I don't feel like it needs it. This is the one.

Hori Fighting Stick PS - Playstation and PS2

The Playstation had its fair share of fighting games, and so arcade sticks are necessary here as well. Playing fighting games with the Playstation controllers is an exercise in frustration, in my opinion. The analog sticks are excellent for what they are designed for; which is not 2D gaming. The D-pad is an abomination, a shoddy design to get around the existing patents that other consoles have on superior designs. To play any fighting game on the original Playstation or PS2, a stick is necessary. There were a lot of sticks made, but the Hori Fighting Stick PS is the one I prefer for Playstation 1-2. It is a replica of the Fighting Stick SS shown above, and identical in every sense sans color scheme. While not at good as the Virtua Stick (HS-0136), it is the best mid-tier option. I have seen pictures of a Playstation 2 Virtua Stick, but they are are exceedingly rare, and thus priced to match. These appear to be the same build as the Virtua Stick (HS-0136), with a different color scheme. I can only imagine that it feels just as good. There were a few Mad Catz sticks produced as well, but I can't speak to those.

Ascii Arcade Stick (modded with Sanwa parts) - Dreamcast
The Dreamcast was not long for this world, as it was devoured by the PS2 juggernaut in just over a year. Despite this, it managed to release some some truly awesome arcade ports. Many of these were fighting games and shoot'em ups. As such, an arcade stick is necessary, given that the standard controller is garbage when it comes to the d-pad, in my opinion. While the stick had decent microswitched components, much better than typical rubber-padded membranes, I tried my hand at modding it. I purcased a Sanwa JLF stick and button set, and followed some wiring diagrams I found online. Instead of soldering anything, I used a quick disconnects and wire crimpers to secure the leads inside. Its not anything worth bragging about, but it works, and you can't tell how ugly the innards are from the outside.

So there are are the arcade sticks I have for retro consoles. Some are integral to the experience of the particular consoles, some aren't.  Either way they are collectable and fun to play around with.