During the third and fourth generations, arcade sticks were available, but high quality arcade sticks were uncommon. Most people remember the NES Advantage for the NES, or the Power Stick for the Genesis. Aside from being joysticks, those both had features that made them appealing, such as adjustable turbo fire. The Turbo Grafx-16 had the Turbo Stick, a rough equivalent of the aforementioned sticks. There were plenty of subpar offerings here, but virtually no options existed that would be considered high-end. The Japanese received several excellent options. I will highlight four arcade sticks released for the PC Engine that are excellent options for use, even today.
The Ascii Stick
The Hori Fighting Stick Multi
This stick has six action buttons, and as the name implies, its design is intended for fighting games, (probably Street Fighter II'). The joystick has microswitches, which was common in Japanese arcades, but completely absent in American arcades. The buttons are a tad mushy but serviceable. Turbo function is available for each button individually, but not adjustable. There is considerable weight to the stick, so it feels secure and stable in the lap. The stick has detachable cables specific for the PC Engine, Mega Drive (Genesis), and Super Famicom (SNES). The value proposition is high, considering the quality and versatility.
The Hori Fighting Stick PC Engine
This stick is the very definition of heavy duty. Encased in steel, it is as solid as they come. It is the heaviest stick for the PC Engine that I have come across. The stick has micro switches, and the throw distance is very short. The stick tension is rather light, as was common in those days. The buttons are snappier, an upgrade over those in the multi stick. Individual turbo switches are present. Playing on this stick gives gameplay an entirely different feel, especially vertical shooters. This model was also released for the Super Famicom and is identical except for the button colors and labels.
The Denpa XE-1 Pro HE
If the the Hori Fighting Stick was a tank, this is a Ferrari. It is fairly small in construction, has a very tight, micro switched joystick with adjustable four or eight way gate. This is joystick is the most precise of all the sticks reviewed. There is absolutely no slipping, no dead zone, and no physical lag. The button panel angle can be rotated, which I never though I needed until now. The buttons are micro switched, with adjustable turbo rates. There is even an led that lights up at the same rate that the buttons are pressed. An unexpected feature is that the stick doubles as a turbotap! You can connect four additional controllers to it for some multiplayer action!
Although I don't like small arcade sticks, due to needed some kind of support underneath, this stick stands out as premium. Similar models were produced for the Famicom (playable on an NES with a controller adapter cable), Mega Drive/Genesis, Super Famicom/SNES, MSX computer, and others. Due to their rarity, they command a higher price than most arcade sticks of the era.
Since these are all Japanese imports, they all have cables that are fairly short. They would be fine for play on a table top if have a CRT or screen close by, but if you are playing on a couch you are most likely going to need a controller extension. As mentioned, the sticks of smaller stature would be more comfortable to use on a lap desk or similar hard support.
I wonder how products like these would have fared if they were released here back during their original run. Would American consumers be willing to pay premium prices for these arcade sticks? My thought is probably not. Nintendo would have done their homework when test marketing the NES Advantage, and they targeted that level of quality here. Perhaps these would have been a success and we are underestimating the dedication of the hardcore gamer, or the number of people willing to pay that premium. Either way, these can be found now through online international sales, auctions sites, proxies, etc., and that is a good thing.