Arcade Stick vs. Controller: Which is Better for Fighting Games?


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What happens, though, when the controller or arcade stick you love become outdated due to newer consoles?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?


razer-atrox-review-quarter-angleThis 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!


  • Daniella says:

    Hi Raphy,

    Great article, I really enjoyed reading it.
    My son is passionate about games, I will show him your website and I am sure he will love it!
    I have some questions though, maybe I missed them in the article, but I would like to know how many of them do we need to play with the whole family ?
    We are 4 persons together, is it possible two persons on one controller?
    Thank you and I look forward to hear from you

    • Raphy says:

      Daniella, if you’re looking to play fighting games with your family? That’s great! Gaming as a family was a key part of my years growing up, so I’m sure you guys are in for a great time – just as long as the kids are constantly reminded that they only hurt each other in the game, not in real life. LOL!

      Fighting games usually require 2 at any given time – 1 for each player. As for whether you wish to use a controller or arcade stick, it’s really up to you guys. My personal preference is for arcade sticks because of the larger range of motion and the ability to increase chances of game execution (of course the feel of arcade cabinets is a perk, too!). There is a learning curve to it, though, so there’s a lot of time required in order to get good at using an arcade stick.

      My advice is to try using 2 controllers for now, since consoles usually come with 2 controllers to begin with. Then later on, when you see that someone in your family’s getting better at fighting games, see if you can get an arcade stick from either MadCatz, Razer, Hori or Qanba and let that person try it out. Hopefully that proficiency will help them get over the learning curve and get used to arcade sticks from thereon out.

      Happy gaming!

  • Dave Sweney says:

    An interesting article where you bring up the advantages and disadvantages for both style of controllers. I found myself chuckling as I read further, because I have used both, as I am sure many readers may have…

    I found that for some games one or the other works better, so I have both to use. Now this is an area where the money you spend does not always correlate to quality or ease of use…

    I try to get reviews on the net (like coming here, lol) and then try the item out in a gaming store prior to buying one or another. I have made mistakes, and I have a drawer full of these in my office, lol….unused but still operational…

    Thanks for speaking to the value of both, I think it will help readers move in one direction or the other….I like coming by here for the latest and also just the discussion…

    • Raphy says:

      Dave you are spot on with my goal in this article – the convex vs. concave debate has gone on silently yet relentlessly over the years that somebody’s got to look at this more objectively, lol!

      There’s a definite tendency to go with convex sticks because of the popularity in its usage back with the DualShock 2, and I for one have a lot of great memories with that iteration of the convex stick. The thing, however, is that gamers have evolved so much over the years that what generally worked nicely is not the case in current times. In my experience, convex works better for shooters, while concave gets more love on racers.

      Even with the amount of improvements either stick has gone through, it still comes down to preference and utilization – go with what suits you best for your need. Otherwise, it’ll be like bringing a knife to a gunfight.

      Thanks for writing in!

  • Dzmitry says:

    Pretty interesting article. But there are so many sticks and controllers, which one should I choose? Might be an idea for the next article! Also, there are almost no visuals. If you scroll down the page, you can’t find any useful info. You can google some videos on the topic so I’m sure that it will be simple to add them! Best wishes.

    • Raphy says:

      I’ve actually written about arcade sticks in the past, the brands featured in that one are the most prominent in fighting games. I’ve got a couple that are worth mentioning on the controller side of things, and I’m acknowledging this recent topic about the Xbox One controllers as disabled gamers might see this as a way to level the playing field for them.

      I don’t mind putting in some videos to support this topic and to add more content – I disagree that this page is devoid of information as this was meant to be a primer to which control method is more suitable to someone who wants to pick up fighting games. I’ve personally tried both methods, and I can go on about what you can do on both, but that would probably serve better as another post on this site. Thanks for the feedback, though.

  • Paul says:

    Great comparison article on arcade sticks and controllers. I honestly don’t even remember the last time I used an arcade stick, it’s been so long — probably when I was very very young. I do know that nobody really talks about them outside of, perhaps, the fighting game genre. I’m so used to controllers now that arcade sticks would probably feel foreign to me. It’s definitely an option to think about, though. Thanks.

    • Raphy says:

      It’s definitely hard to think of other applications of arcade sticks outside of the realm of fighting games, but classically-designed platform games are a perfect sample of one. A great example was a couple of years ago when a gamer named Floe took on I Wanna Be The Guy, a game that still gets streamed a lot on The arcade-perfect editions of Tetris is still being played in Japan, and the more proficient players use arcade sticks because of how similar they are to the Tetris machines.

      For me personally, you should only take the leap towards investing in arcade sticks if you have intentions of being close to decent (read: competitive) in fighting games. It gives a whole lot of freedom in movement when playing and there are input methods that make timing for moves and combinations far easier than that of when you play on a controller. If you wanna give it a shot, you can either check out these recommended products or take a leap on the MadCatz TE2 for PS4. Either one is a great choice moving forward.

  • Brandon says:

    Arcade stick and the controller.. I like them both. I think the arcade stick is perfect for a game setting where there is not a lot going on…Something like Pacman or Galaga. But the controller is great for games like Call of Duty, Halo…I like how the controllers now a days give you that option to click in the joystick and it does something like crouch.

    • Raphy says:

      Part of controller innovation can be credited to seeing how best to map controls to any possible input – this is most definitely seen when they included pressing on an analog stick (L3 or R3 on a PS controller). It’s a built-in input, so really a plus.

      Some arcade sticks actually allow you to remap the stick to use the left or right analog, so you can actually use your stick for that purpose. Can’t obviously press down on the stick for L3/R3, but nothing a little remapping can do, too. If you’re an arcade stick user, you just have to make sure that the PCB of the stick supports this feature. The MadCatz TE2 definitely has this along with legacy versions of the TE stick, and I highly recommend this stick, but you have to order soon while supplies last!

  • Bautista says:

    i will choose Mixbox controller. I play on PC but I want to be able to visit my friends and play on their Playstation.
    Mixbox is perfect! I like keyboard movement but for punches and kicks the buttons are too small and hard to hit at the same time.

    • Raphy says:

      Mixbox is an excellent version of a stickless arcade stick – it’s very handy for people who are so used to playing on a keyboard, especially because of the familiarity with the cursor keys and the mech switches.

      I see you’re concerned with the ergonomics from its layout, though – have you looked at stickless arcade sticks like the Hitbox, as well? The nice thing about this button layout is that the “up button” is easily accessible for both thumbs. At the same time, the recommended 30mm OBSF from Sanwa are a good size and not as hard to press.

      Also, if you’re looking at playing your friends on the PS4 but still use your controller on the PC, you could look at products from Brook accessories. They’re received very warmly and have minimal to no lag at all on these products.

      Happy gaming!

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