The fighting genre evolved from arcades and has always been designed to be played in one, at least in spirit. The moveset of any fighting game is made that much easier to execute when the user is in control of a stick and action buttons rather than an analogue thumbstick or D-pad and other controller type inputs. Fortunately the recent explosion in beat ‘em ups kicked off by the release of Street Fighter IV in 2008 (the home release was 2009) has been complemented by Mad Catz and their hardware expertise, leading to a variety of fightsticks and controllers better suited to the vagaries of Ryu versus Sagat.
With the release of Street Fighter X Tekken comes the arrival of a trio of new branded controllers, endorsed by Capcom and Namco Bandai. There is the Street Fighter X Tekken Fightpad SD, Street Fighter X Tekken Arcade Fightstick Pro and the Street Fighter X Tekken Arcade Fightstick V.S. Our review of Street Fighter X Tekken was a great chance to try out the top of the range V.S. unit in order to see whether it was worth the £159.99 it retails for in the UK.
On receipt of the stick it’s immediately clear that this is a premium product - as would be hoped given the price - thanks to the sizeable black box with Street Fighter X Tekken livery and various text detailing the selling points of this design. Open up the box and you find an endorsement from Daigo The Beast Umehara, one of the greatest Street Fighter players around. If he is in favour of the stick we should listen - he can do this:
Unboxing the unit reveals a striking product in every way. A gigantic rectangular base made of black plastic material with a high quality image on the surface, which in the case of our unit has Ryu and Kayuza seemingly in battle. The stick is very near the middle but slightly left of, and above, centre point. The eight action buttons are laid out as per the Vewlix arcade cabinet layout - two rows of four with a slight downward displacement of the two furthest left. This ensures ease of access to any movement and presses at any time.
There is a large amount of space on the top of the stick. It is not a matt surface and as such fairly slippery if you were to run a finger across the surface, but the main purpose is to provide support for your wrists as you rest your hands in your preferred attack stance. Extended play sessions of Street Fighter X Tekken did not cause any pain in the hands or wrists at any time, nor was any after-effect noticed.
The components are authentic Sanwa-Denshi, one of the two most highly regarded providers of such arcade components in Japan (alongside Seimitsu). This ensures there is absolutely no need to go modding your stick - aside from making it look different if that’s your thing - because it already contains the highest quality parts. The joystick is a ball on a stick but is supremely easy to manipulate and use to perform the sweeping quarter circle movements or fast dashes to the right or left. Time after time it was possible to make the correct motions to perform the move desired, rather than something else. The buttons are thirty millimetre circles in each case. By using the highest quality components available to them, Mad Catz have ensured a number of things. Firstly, every button press is easy to do and responsive to the extreme, both when pushed and released. People may be used to different kinds of movement within the square gate in which the stick sits but this feels very similar to other Mad Catz products and enabled moves as well as any other stick.
Of course, all the goodness in the world wouldn’t help if it wasn’t immensely usable. Fighting games are designed to be played with digital inputs and fightsticks are made that way. Moving from a pad to a stick where every input is digital (even if using the D-pad the likelihood is you’d use the analogue triggers in your control setup somehow) is going to enhance everyone’s game. It may take some getting used to but if you were to get hold of this stick, the ease at which certain moves can be pulled off, the consistency that can be achieved when trying to do fireball after fireball or Dragon Punch after Dragon Punch - well, it’s an eye-opener. It even makes some of the more awkward Ultra moves in Street Fighter IV (e.g. Guile’s) regularly achievable. The usability then of a fightstick is not a point for discussion. More important is where does this one fit into the already available selection?
These days Mad Catz provide the majority of choice (there are some other manufacturer’s sticks but less commonly available). This fightstick will not be an upgrade to anyone already owning a Street Fighter IV Tournament Edition controller. The shape may be more comfortable for long periods depending on how you rest your arms, and it may feel less intrusive on your knees but that will be an entirely subjective opinion. To this reviewer’s mind neither is better or worse. The components are the same aside from action button colour where with this Street Fighter X Tekken edition they’re all black (on the PlayStation 3 version at least). This means the ones typically assigned to triple punch and kick are less obviously distinguishable. You can of course fully customise your control setup and switch these off if you’d rather depress all three punch buttons simultaneously - or do anything else to the default setup. Again though, this is only going to be a very small downside if you look down often and you probably shouldn’t be doing that.
If you have a Hori arcade stick or a Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition (without Sanwa or Seimetsu parts), this will be a noticeable improvement. Larger, more comfortable, sturdier, less clicky and arguably more robust for extended play over a long period of time. The USB cable is long in all cases but the Arcade Edition doesn’t have a compartment to hide it away. It is going to be more portable though. If you’re looking to move your stick around a lot, whilst weighing only seven pounds, this Street Fighter X Tekken Arcade Fightstick V.S is still going to be the heaviest option around.
One brand new feature with this flagship Street Fighter X Tekken Arcade Fightstick V.S is the ability to attach an infinite amount of them together side by side to recreate true arcade style competition. If you’re going to be playing with others all the time this may well be something you’d like to do and this is the only option in that case. Otherwise features are the same across all Mad Catz sticks. Every button has a turbo setting (which can be locked to off for tournaments or otherwise) and the select and start buttons are positioned on the forward facing vertical side of the stick.
Ultimately whether this particular stick is worth purchasing depends on what your objective is. Getting hold of a fightstick is imperative. In this case, thanks to the build quality and connectivity (USB) the investment will last years and multiple console generations - although it didn’t work when connected to my PC (just in case - it is designed for PS3 though!). When looked at that way the high price tag is not so high; think of cost per year or cost per hour of playtime. Having said that it’s aimed at the real hardcore players and tournament professionals who need the very best and will be playing it all the time and it could be said some of the benefits will be lost on less experienced / high performing players. Regardless, this is one of the best beat ‘em up controllers on the market. Its only competitor in obtaining top spot is the Street Fighter IV Tournament Edition but having played with both, it’s clear the performance is equal and the choice will come down to comfort, aesthetics or fighting game allegiance. Although either stick does work equally well with the other game - or any fighting game as a matter of fact.
If you already have a fightstick then although it may appear the differences are minimal, or aesthetic, the fact is this stick is miles ahead in every regard. To really get the benefit it may be that you need to invest the hours (the same as with any fighting game - practice makes perfect) but as you begin to rise to the top of your game - or if you’re already there, rise to the top of tournament winners’ lists - you won’t regret this investment.