For as long I can remember, the subject of arcade stick vs. controller has been a long-running subject in the realm of the fighting game genre. And with good reason – with a genre where precision is just as important as gameplay fundamentals, one can argue that either peripheral would bring them to the upper echelon of fighting game supremacy.
It’s also easy to mention that either peripheral has had their own share of players who have seen success in the fighting game tournaments over the years – and while most of prominent names are seen using arcade sticks, there are also a good number of “pad players” that have made names for themselves.
So where do we go from here then? Maybe these realms of thought might help the reading audience and fighting gamer aficionados decide.
You should first be comfortable with whichever one you choose.
This is the most important point of consideration, if you ask me (and before you start flipping bills out of your wallet. You’re going to be using this product for extended periods of time, logging in hours and hours of training room sessions, long sets with peers, and the ever popular ranked matches online. If you’re going through this, you might as well do it with the peripheral that you find yourself most comfortable using.
The advantage controllers have is that they are not bulky – they sit nicely in your grip and all inputs are accessible in your fingers. Not only that, you also have the option to use either the directional pad or the analog stick for movement, and for inputting fighting game-standard moves (quarter-circle motions, charge moves and the like).
The arcade stick has it merits in the realm of comfort, too, surprisingly. You won’t have to worry about your peripheral sliding around when you play because arcade sticks have a solid base fitted either with felt or rubber, thus keeping either your floor or lap scratch-free.
What happens, though, when the controller or arcade stick you love become outdated due to newer consoles? Do you throw it out? Absolutely not! You may want to consider a game controller adapter to carry it over to the next generation platforms!
Can you pull off the moves?
This aspect has been a subject of debate in the past couple of months, especially after Rising Thunder, a fighting game that assigns your character’s special moves into buttons, became available for mass consumption. And as much as you still need to find a way to pull off these moves in-game, there is still a bit of execution required to effectively pull this off as a means of improving your chances of winning your games. This is where the arcade stick shines the most (especially for those who grew up playing on arcade cabinets). The control mechanics in fighting game mechanics actually have a way to simplify execution of supposedly-harder inputs using techniques like double-tapping (pressing a button twice) or charge buffering (holding back on the stick for 2 seconds, dashing forward then quickly holding back again) – things you would generally be unable to do on a controller. But wait, it’s not like it’s hopeless if you’re a pad player, no siree! Pad players can rely on both muscle memory and frame awareness. Recent games have gone through in-depth analysis of each character’s attack buttons and special moves, noting down things like how long til the button starts a command, stays active in the command, and recovers from the command – all in number of frames in a second (current games measure these with 60 frames per second as the rule of thumb). Having knowledge of this as you play will play to muscle memory so that you can execute command inputs easily later on.
Of course, we cannot disregard price and availability
To this day, I have not really seen an arcade stick bundled with a gaming console – it has, and has been a convention for a long time, always been a controller. Controllers follow a standard PCB that is manufactured by console’s brand, which makes it much easier to produce and ship for public consumption. When you head over to your local Target or Best Buy to buy gaming accessories, you will always be able to find an array of gaming controllers (both stock/OEM or copied) available for purchase. The price point for controllers is very reasonable, too, often the equivalent price of an actual game. Arcade sticks are not carried by electronic stores as often as controllers, unfortunately. Purchasing them, majority of the time usually means going to an online store like Amazon (which carries a whole lot of products and offers reasonable shipping terms) or to the manufacturer’s store, like Razer. Pricing would also vary for arcade sticks depending on your region, and unless you are able to get a really good deal on any of these stores, expect to be paying a little more than $100 on your stick. And of course, if parts start to go dead, you’ll need to pay for things like replacement sticks, restrictor plates, buttons, cords and PCBs (which is usually the last to go, since arcade stick PCB’s are pretty sturdy). An arcade stick is an investment – a good one, but a pricey one.
So where does this leave us in this long-standing debate?
As the infamous Ryu from the Street Fighter series had been quoted saying in all iterations of Street Fighter 4, “The answer lies in the heart of battle.” Choosing between arcade stick and controller comes down to your personal preference. If we all thought about it, with some ingenuity and control remapping, you could effectively use either peripheral to suit your playing style in fighting games (and in other genres, essentially). There’s a lot to be said about how stick or pad “feels natural” for you, and that can be found in your history of playing games – do you love playing at arcades and hearing the subtle clicks and taps on the cabinet? Then by all means, get an arcade stick. If you’ve been a console player from the very start and understand the precision and the required muscle memory in pulling out inputs in a timely manner? Then you serve yourself best to play on a controller.
Whatever the case, see what feels right for you. Try out either first and see which works best for you in comfort, execution and price, and the subject of arcade stick vs. controller will be a much easier decision to make.
This by no means ends that discussion, by the way! Do you prefer arcade sticks or controllers? Let me know in the comments section!