For me, Street Fighter isn't meant to be played on a console. End of story.
I just can't accept that the game that I spent so much of my time playing in arcades, fixing in the arcade I managed, watching being played in hole-in-the-wall bars, has been reduced, yes reduced, to something you sit on your couch and play.
Certainly the bulk of my stubbornness comes from missing the culture that surrounds arcade Street Fighter, but I've also never found a retail stick that lived up to my expectations. Now Mad Catz is promising to deliver that stick for Street Fighter IV with its official Tournament Edition FightStick. Let's see what hours of time spent playing with, and taking apart the stick showed me.
High End Parts: Inside the solid case are some of the best pieces and parts money can buy. You've got your Sanwa ball handle joystick and low-profile 30mm Sanwa buttons.
Sturdy Design: All of those high-end Sanwa parts are packed into a solid case that while heavy enough to stay put during table-top gaming sessions still feels fairly comfortable on your lap.
Layout: This is very important to me. You can have the best parts on the market, but if they're crammed into a case that's too small you can't rest your hands anywhere. Too big and it gets cumbersome. The Tournament Edition FightStick finds the perfect balance.
Precision Controls: The design, the parts, they all add up to a controller that seems to react to every nuance of movement. I learned Street Fighter on Cherry switch-backed controllers, but it didn't take me long to not only get a handle on this controller, but to almost start to prefer it.
Aesthetic: It's a pretty controller. Sure, the art work may not be your cup of tea, but that's pretty easy to swap out. The design though, is a sheer delight.
Easily Customised or Repaired: When I popped open the FightStick I was disappointed to see that the stick's Omron microswitches were all soldered in place to the PCB. This is done by Sanwa, not Mad Catz, but it still makes doing single microswitch replacement painful, fortunately replacing the entire set is much easier now. The buttons are all easily accessible, and don't feature soldered wires, which is nice.
The Little Things: There's a headset plug hidden away on the front of the controller. The cord packs away nicely in a storage compartment on the back. There's a switch to disable button presses and another for turbo mode for use when playing other games. You can also decider what the stick controls — right thumbstick, left thumbstick or the D-pad. Finally, there are pre-drilled holes in the bottom of the case to make mounting it to a table or stand easier.
Two Extra Buttons: I know I can ignore those two far right buttons, they're there for people who can't manage to press the other three on the top or bottom at the same time. But this is supposed to be a Tournament Edition stick, so why include it. Occasionally, I found my hand accidentally slipping one button over because of them. My own failing, but sort of annoying.
Price, Limited Stock:The US$150 price tag is right on the line. If you were to buy the stick one step down from Mad Catz and do your own upgrades you'd be looking at about US$130. But buying and then upgrading a Hori Fighting Stick EX 2 will cost about US$100. Of course the case on this one is different than both. So it depends on preference. But, the fact that Mad Catz decided to produce the first run in such a limited quantity, ensuring a healthy and absurdly over-priced grey market, is sort of a raw deal.
This is the only stick I've used to play Street Fighter on a console that actually made me feel like I could pull off all of the same moves, with all of the same timing as when I play in an arcade. There's a bit of a learning curve for those not used to convex buttons and the tiny, precise movements of the Sanwa stick, but this is a purely arcade controller. It doesn't even dip down into the realm of most console sticks.
Official Street Fighter IV FightStick Tournament Edition was made by Mad Catz, and will be released on Feb. 17 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 for US$150. Played Street Fighter IV on Xbox 360 with FightStick for 12 to 15 hours over three days.
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