What Are The Best Arcade Sticks Right Now And What Makes Them The Best? Here Are 4 Factors That Separate These Products From The Rest Of The Pack

I love fighting games, and I have written time and again about the fun of playing fighting games on an arcade stick. It is absolutely great is that with a steady stream of titles and season updates, brands that specialize in gaming controllers have provided us with the most formidable lineup of fight sticks to choose from… which poses a familiar question..

What are the best arcade sticks in the market?

As consumers, we can be extremely picky when it comes to investing in a new product, like an arcade stick. And while it is easy to answer this question based on brand names alone, there are key factors that need to be considered before branding an arcade stick as one of the best ones out there.

Some of these factors may be pretty obvious as these can be taken from face value. Other factors, however, rely on the performance aspect of the product, which evidently goes beyond the bells and whistles that you would see from its exterior.

What I have found interesting is that in recent years, the key factors seem to have changed, thanks in part to how brands have observed its audience (in this case, it is the Fighting Game Community, or FGC) become more attuned to what they feel is standard to arcade sticks as well as what is vital to the long-running success of a particular brand’s arcade stick.


Here’s an example:

When I started trying to take fighting games seriously (I recall it was around 2011), it was a time when the stick part and buttons played a pivotal role in the product’s longevity and marketability. Notable names like Sanwa, Semitsu and Suzo Happ were mentioned as sensible options as each brand was known to be used for arcade machines everywhere. I am honestly certain that there were other lesser-known brands that could be thrown onto that list, too, especially if the brand was used for the entry-level arcade sticks.

Fast forward to now, though, and practically every single arcade stick, whether stock or customized, comes with Sanwa-Denshi push-buttons and joysticks. The brand really let its product quality and performance speak for itself, not to mention the variety of colors, sizes and button (regular or silent) or joystick types (ball or bat, square or octagon gate) that were made available to the market.

And while the issues of which joystick and buttons to look for is pretty much out of the way already in the eyes of the gamer, other factors have come to the surface.


1. External Customization

I think it’s in our nature to want to personalize any gadget that we have – think of at how there are so many designs for smartphone casings, or how many variants of controller shells are in the market. When you own an arcade stick, that sense of personalizing comes into play as well. Joystick tops and buttons are the most common one because of the combination of form and function.


The top surface’s artwork, however, is a different story altogether.

You’d think that changing the design of the top panel would be pretty straighforward, right?

It used to be for some of the least recent sticks, you would have to remove screws, disengage the joystick top and unclip buttons from their switches in order to loosen up the top panel and replace the artwork on the stick’s surface (including the plexi-glass in some cases). It is not rocket science to do, though, but it is a tedious process all the same especially when you would have to disconnect the buttons from their wiring in order to get the artwork out. If you do, then hopefully you remember which wires go where!

This can be a hindrance for some people, including yours truly. I mean I have the patience to be able to go through each step, but it never hurt anyone to have a quick and easy solution to swapping out arcade stick art, don’t you think?


Changing the top panel’s assembly = genius!

Newer sticks have addressed this issue by doing a slight restructure of the top panel. Bezels and default art still need to be unfastened by removing screws, but now the holes around the joystick and buttons are bigger so they can slide out easily. This takes away the effort required by unclipping wires from buttons and unscrewing the joystick top, and gets you straight to replacing the artwork in no time.

Some products even take it an extra step by providing a screwdriver with replaceable heads. This extra bit of convenience assures that you can do your artwork installation on your arcade stick practically anywhere even if you do not have your toolbox nearby.

It is also worth mentioning that if your arcade stick does come with this screwdriver, it comes stored safely inside your product, which brings me to the next factor..


2. Internal Modification

So let’s say you have an arcade stick and wish to do some changes, such as replacing the gate on your joystick, or changing out the stock PCB that came with the product. Earlier products required you to remove some screws to open it up, only to seal and fasten it into its original place when you are done with your modification. Again, not exactly like pulling hairs but can be arduous nonetheless.

Also, you want to make sure that any modifications or pieces that you have inside your arcade stick are mounted and secured to prevent damage to the pieces inside the arcade stick. This is quite important, but is not always something made convenient none thanks to the internal composition of some products not having contingency for additional fasteners or screw mounts.

Thankfully, some brands have come up with solutions to either problem..

Solution #1 – Slight change to the housing.

To simplify the process of opening up the arcade stick, some brands have applied a snap-open on one side and hinges on the other. Doing so provides the player with a quicker way to get to the internal components of their stick, so there’s no need to remove any screws to get inside anymore. Thank goodness!

This modification to the stick’s housing makes it feel more like a brief case, if you think about it. This, in turn, allows the arcade stick to provide storage space, too – pretty handy especially if the product include the aforementioned screwdriver as well as replacement buttons, joystick tops or levers.



Solution #2 – Modification to the internal material.

Now, with the storage space that comes with some arcade sticks comes the concern that spare parts and piece will go jiggling around when you a much as shake or move your arcade stick. Thankfully we’ve seen newer products to include dedicated compartments, which allow a snug fit for these items and making sure they don’t go sliding around inside.

In other products, they have completely redone the material used inside, which also comes in handy if you need to use fasteners, an on-board SMD or a secondary PCB via mounting screws. No need to bore holes into your arcade stick’s housing, as the holes you need are provided. Lessens the chances of making mistakes in boring holes, too!

Since I mentioned something about PCBs, so now let’s move on to the next key factor, which is…


3. Supported Platforms

This is, perhaps, a more crucial factor and probably a unique selling point that is aimed towards gamers who, despite being on a budget, are looking to get the most out this kind of peripheral. Can’t blame them (or any gamer for that matter) for trying to get the most out of their gaming controller by checking its compatibility with more than its intended platform.

Most arcade sticks in the market usually cater to one console, but ensures firmware compatibility with the PC. A typical scenario for the ones that have been released recently is compatibility with the PS4, PS3 and the PC.

This would allow the gamer to access a vast library of games beyond the current generation console it was primarily made for (the PS4), and literally more hours of longevity and enjoyment. Furthermore, if the arcade stick has a joystick remap feature (to use either thumbsticks or the D-pad), then it further accommodates other games to be played on the peripheral as well. That’s product mileage if I do say so myself!


Of course, there are ways to work around this.

Thankfully, the game controller market has options to go multi-platform: the most affordable would be converters, like the Cronus Max or the Brook Universal Adapters. These are the quickest solutions as they only need the arcade stick to be plugged into the USB port of the converter, then plugged into the console. For this you’ll need to ensure that the converter is running the latest firmware available, as current consoles tend to increase their security settings per update.

You could also consider switching out the default PCB. Brook Accessory has a Universal Fighting Board that makes your arcade stick fully compatible across 5 platforms – PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PS4. The company is pretty good with providing firmware updates as well, and is one of the only converters to have gotten acceptance by the Evolution Championship Series (EVO), so if you are willing to share a little over a hundred bucks more to make your stick fully universal, this may very well be the best option for you.

If you do switch out your PCB, you do need to make sure that it works well, which brings us to the last factor..


4. Input Lag By Frames

Now for those of you who are not familiar, the term input lag can be simply defined as “the amount of time from when a button is pressed that the signal is sent to the arcade stick’s PCB to be read, then sent to the console to execute the command on screen”. Across the internet (try Googling “arcade stick input lag”), you will find multiple pages of information of extensive tests with different arcade sticks and PCB’s on the amount of input lag it has for different consoles.

A great example was compiled here by Teyah.net. Feel free to have a look.


So why is this important?

Much like any game that is played on a competitive level, split-second actions are critical to making the right moves in-game. It’s crucial to the point that a slow reaction could spell an impending defeat.

Each arcade stick in the market, along with PCB integrated into a stick, translates information to the console differently from others, not to mention how they fare compare to other sticks or PCB’s. Now given that fighting games now play out in 60 frames per second, just a fraction of delay (or in this case, a delay of more than 2 frames) could result in one arcade stick’s button press winning over another’s granted that they were both pressing the same button at the same time.

Now sure, we may all have varying levels of response to certain actions, but we are far better off losing because of how quickly we responded to what we see visually than knowing that your stick lags extremely heavily compared to others.


What can we do, if this is the case?

If you had a chance to see the review that I did for the Brook Super Converter, you will see that I did a video displaying the amount of input lag that occurs in a game like Ultra Street Fighter IV – at about 5.5 frames of lag, it does sound quite alarming. However, there are cases where spending enough time with your arcade stick / setup will help you get familiar with timing and execution that you would not be too worried about how much delay you could be receiving versus other peripherals.

I got used to it evenutally, and while my reactions are not on point, it still feels like my kit does not suffer from any delayed inputs.


Writer’s Note: Another thing that you may need to consider that is beyond the controller or arcade stick that you use is the display lag (in this case, it is how fast the a signal is received by the screen, to when it is shown on the screen). There is a database that is updated very regularly to help you find the best monitors or TV’s to ensure that you get accurate timings when you play.

Interesting note, this allowed tournament organizers to use certain monitors, so if you are looking to simulate a tournament setting, do look into it as well.


Another Writer’s Note: I will continue to look into some recently-released arcade sticks to see how they fare against these key factors, so do keep posted!


So, are there any factors you look for in an arcade stick that you feel gives it an edge over the rest? Please let me know through the comments section!

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