New to fighting games? Here are 4 cheap arcade sticks to help you get started.

Fighting games have, over the past 10+ years, seen a rise in consumer interest and acceptance – and for gamers who are looking to really immerse themselves into playing fighting games will often consider getting an arcade stick for reasons like “familiarity with the arcade”, “more fluid and natural motion for fighting games” and even “because serious players use arcade sticks”. The problem, however, is that these products are very expensive and is quite an investment when you look at the +$250 pricepoint.

Which begs the question, “Are there any cheap arcade sticks out there?” To further that, is this even worth getting into? Let’s look at a recent major world tournament to back this up.

 

Fighting Games in the E-Sports world has drawn more (gamer) numbers.

Last month’s Evolution 2016 had a significant increase in interest from the year before – with over 14,000 competitors in different main and side games as well as over 200,000 viewers each from Twitch and ESPN2, it definitely shows that fighting games are becoming a larger draw year in and out. This pull of numbers was brought about by a strong following of Super Smash Bros Melee and the rise of new and hungry competitors in Street Fighter V (which made its debut as the main event game of the weekend).

It’s notable that with SFV’s maiden voyage in the world tournament, its over 5k registrants can be owed to a factors such as platform accessibility (from being cross-platform with PC and PS4), a clean slate for both new players to make their mark and seasoned vets to re-establish themselves as the best in the game, and a more intuitive gameplay that shifts away from heightened execution barriers (making it less intimidating for new gamers to pick it up and attempt to be good).

It is also interesting is that Capcom has really bought into positioning the game similar to a software-as-a-service model compared to how the previous installment had been built on being software-as-a-product. Whereas the latter drove consumers nuts for having to buy a version of a game and then pay for the upgrades later on, the former allows the developers to deploy updates based on user feedback.

So what does this mean?

To put it simply – SFV has been set up for the publisher to have a better way of listening to their players to not only improve the gameplay experience, but also makes it so that learning the game mechanics, controls and character strategies are easy to understand and help a new player get into the game faster. As an example – one of the earlier updates included a feature that guides a player through basic and advanced game mechanics, as well as character guides and “trials”, where a player can get a better idea of what combos and moves work depending on in-game situations.

When you have a game that services a player this way, it definitely makes it easier to pick up. And for a player who really wants to invest time and resources to becoming better and competitive at fighting games, this service does go a long way in getting them up to speed on gameplay, while at the same time getting more accustomed to controls and execution with the most recognized peripheral for this game genre – the arcade stick.

evo2016-finals

EVO 2016’s final day was held in a venue normally seen in PPV Boxing or MMA. Definitely a larger audience compared to previous years.

 

General limitations with an entry level arcade stick

From my personal experience, there is probably no other game genre that can be as peripheral-demanding as fighting games because of an arcade stick. Strategy and shooters make use of a mouse which can be reused for other computing purposes, and the keyboard is virtually part of any computing system anyway. Racing wheels and music-based products (dance pads, Guitar Hero/Rock Band guitars and drum set) can be in the similar vein as an arcade stick for being single use, except for the fact that arcade sticks can be customized in look and feel that add another layer of investment.

Of course in most cases, controllers can often get the job done for other gamers. But using peripherals like an arcade stick really heighten the experience and performance for a gamer.

Diving into fighting games with an entry-level arcade stick, you will likely notice a couple of things:

A smaller base/frame – Because of the lower price point, an obvious aim is to focus on the control inputs rather than the overall frame. This puts the input controls (stick and buttons) in a standard position as with a standard arcade stick, but the frame size is significantly smaller, shifting to the most minimal and optimal surface area. It does become even lighter, too.

Button set is different from standard – With the smaller frame comes the need to only have parts that are needed more than others, so you will find that the entry-level stick will have less buttons, opting for the 6 most-used instead of the standard 8 on a Viewlix layout. Buttons would other functions would likely be smaller, and in the case of other sticks, all buttons will be much smaller across the board with 24mm’s instead of the more-accustomed 30mm.

Quality of arcade stick parts are different – Don’t be surprised either if your rookie arcade stick would have different-feeling sticks and buttons from what you would find in the more expensive models. At the same time, do not feel as if these parts are defective or ineffective. Rather, you will still be getting some decent mileage on these parts, and will probably last long enough to get you used to playing stick. Not to worry, you can replace these parts later on.

cheap-arcade-sticks-serenelife

 

Entry level arcade sticks have their perks, too.

These limitations should not discourage anyone from buying these kinds of arcade sticks, though. In fact, there are a couple of valid reasons as to why this would be a good initial investment if you were to seriously consider a foray into the world of fighting games.

It’s a lighter product – Compared to the standard size of an arcade stick, these products are much easier to lug around. They’re made of much lighter material and is far more compact as well, which is an excellent way to ease the load on your shoulders and arms when lugging this around.

Extremely portable – The trickiest thing about traveling with an arcade stick is that it is not a flat object… the extrusion due to the joystick’s shaft makes it challenging to fit snugly in a travel bag, while at the same time brings concern about the stick holding up through bumps and rolls. And while companies like MadCatz have also made a travel bag available that is meant for arcade sticks, it’s definitely more convenient to place your stick in the same bag as your valuables instead of having a separate bag on its own. An entry level stick gives you that convenience.

Less surface to work = better weight distribution – With its smaller surface area, it is much easier to put weight on these sticks without worry of tipping over due to sudden shifting of weight. And although you are losing space to rest your arms on, at least you are also preventing sweat and grime from sitting on the top of the stick. It also does not take up too much space, which is great if you play in a cramped area.

Price point, price point, price point – I can’t stress this enough! These products are far cheaper than the fuller versions, so while you might not last you a long time, it will give you an immediate gauge for if and when you decide to continue learning to get good at fighting games. Should you decide to mod it, the overall amount shelled out is still much less than if you had bought the full-sized stick.

 

The notable four.

Now that we have covered the general features of these more affordable, entry level sticks, let’s look at four of the more known products available in the market:

 

The silent star in the background

Product Name: Mayflash F300 cheap-arcade-sticks-mayflash-f300

Product Dimensions: 22 x 13 x 11 inches

Price: USD 58.65 (from Amazon)

Although not overwhelmingly popular in terms of brand name, Mayflash has been a viable manufacturer for arcade sticks for a long time. I personally remember using some of their products in the past while playing casuals with other people – it was sturdy plastic with a joystick and buttons that were almost Sanwa-like in nature, and it definitely got the job done. The F300 carries that same attitude.

For its size, the Mayflash F300 definitely packs a punch – it’s compatible across 5 platforms (PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4) and provides both turbo and d-pad/analog stick switching. And while you do need to plug an Xbox One or PS4 controller into the stick before playing, the fact that the PCB comes with this multi-platform capability adds so much more value to the product.

If you’re looking for the most inexpensive stick in the market that you would not mind modding later on, the Mayflash F300 is a good choice for you.

 

 

The big name’s little brother

cheap-arcade-sticks-madcatz-fightstick-alphaProduct Name: MadCatz Fightstick Alpha

Product Dimensions: 11.8 x 6.3 x 9.8 inces

Price: USD  54.83 (from Amazon)

The Fightstick Alpha was announced not too long ago along with the manufacturer’s SFV line consisting of the TE2, the TE+ and the fightpads (all of which are PS3/PS4 compatible), which meant the same kind of quality can be seen across the board despite it’s smaller frame. Compared to other entry-level sticks, this one is far has a more sleeker design with curves and slanted edges that actually provide more comfort when resting your forearms as you play.

Much like the rest of the arcade stick line from MadCatz, the Fightstick Alpha also includes a lock switch to disable the Options/Share/PSHome buttons as well as switching the d-pad/analog stick based on what you need. And while the 6-button layout provides you with much bigger buttons to use, some players who get a lot of mileage from the other 2 shoulder buttons may not be impressed with those being positioned alongside the Home and Share buttons. The Fightstick Alpha is not that easy to modify either, with the buttons being soldered onto the frame instead of having switches, so additional know-how with a soldering iron comes in handy.

All in all, a very competent starter stick. It’s got the same responsiveness and performance that you can find in the full-size sticks you would find in a quality MadCatz product.

 

 

The perennial contender’s offering

cheap-arcade-sticks-horiProduct Name: Hori Fighting Stick Mini

Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 5.9 x 7.9 inches

Price: USD  39.99 (from Amazon)

Of the four featured here, this by far is the smallest one. One of my starter sticks in the past where roughly the same dimensions, if not smaller. All the same, HORI has done a good job migrating its trademark craftsmanship to a much smaller frame.

The FS Mini is pretty basic with a PS3/PS4 switch and discreet PS/Options/Share buttons, but it does have a full 8-button Viewlix layout which is helpful for players who utilize all 8 buttons when playing. It is as it’s labeled, though – the FS Mini has smaller buttons than the standard 30mm buttons (I think theirs is 24mm even) so every button press has to be precise. For those who looking to mod a cheaper stick, you may need to look somewhere else – just like the Fightstick Alpha, all the buttons are soldered into the PCB and the stick is molded into the frame – probably may not be worth modding unless you have the right parts and the background.

This product is definitely suitable if you are just about to learn fighting games, or if you have kids eager to learn the genre. And hey, 40 bucks out of your pocket for something that gets the basic job done is not too bad at all.

 

 

The return of the surprise entry

cheap-arcade-sticks-qanba-droneProduct Name: Qanba Drone

Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 10.6  x 6.7 inches

Price: USD 80.00 (from Amazon)

Qanba was sort of quiet when the shift to PS4 and SFV happened until recently when they showed off the Drone. And despite being the most expensive from the four, it is definitely with good reason.

The Drone is a sized-down version of the Q4 series, but with an edgier look and bee-inspired colour. It also includes an L3 and R3 button at the top portion of the surface area to serve additional purposes they provide along with the typical PS3/PS4 switch, PSHome/Options/Share/Mode buttons and button lock. Modders will definitely be happy with the fact that this stick is easier to mod compared to the Fightstick Alpha and the Fighting Stick Mini, with plenty of interior space to rewire and replace buttons/levers.

Despite being way more expensive compared to the other 3 featured here, the Qanba Drone is definitely an amazing stick that will not only get you started on fighting games, but also looks to last longer and get you to the next level of your fighting game experience.

 

Final Thoughts – There is a place for entry level sticks!

I remember buying my first 2 arcade sticks back in 2011 – both were minis in their own right. One was built using parts from China and felt similar to the Mayflash F300, while the BlazePro stick I got later on had a similar feel to the Fighting Stick Mini. I probably got the most mileage out of the former, though, as the responsiveness and feel of that I got playing games on that stick were pretty good.

Back then I wondered if it would have made more sense to buy the more expensive sticks at the time (the Q4, the TE1 and the HRAP3) – but seeing as I was still relearning how to play fighting games, I soldiered on with the ones I had (instead of shelling out more money than I would have wanted… and my wife would have allowed me to, lol). Looking back, I had no regrets getting entry level sticks to fuel my love for fighting games.

I didn’t have to pay top dollar, which I was happy about already, but at the same time, I got to experience the same feel of playing in the arcades. Execution felt a whole lot more natural compared to playing on pad, not to mention getting more liberties to land links and combos.

Fast forward to now, and while I may not have what is currently top of the line for arcade sticks, I do not think I would have further nurtured the love for these games if it had not been for learning how to play on entry level arcade sticks. I highly recommend starting out with the cheap arcade sticks that you can find so that you can get a better feel of the game. Just make sure that you get the one that is the most portable as well as the most convenient to mod so that your stick can last longer.

 

Are there any fighting sticks out there that are in this category that I may have missed? Let me know in the comments section!


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