Choosing Your Weapon: Arcade Sticks vs. Gamepads

Should you buy an arcade stick or use a gamepad?

Should you buy an arcade stick or use a gamepad?
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I play a lot of fighting games. The fighter is one of my favorite game genres and I’ve spent a lot of time learning the ins and outs of them. For most of the fighting games I play, I use an arcade stick (aka a fight stick). Whenever I take out my arcade stick while playing with new people, I usually get the same question: “Is it worth getting an arcade stick?” Unfortunately, there is no solid yes or no answer, but I’ll try to break it down for you so you can decide if you need one or not.

Arcade Sticks: The Pros

I find that the arcade stick allows me to control my inputs more efficiently. Since I’m using one hand to control the stick, I have more control over my directional inputs and movements on the screen. As far as buttons go, I have a much easier time timing my button presses when each button can be hit by a different finger. At the end of the day, your wrist and fingers are much more dextrous than your thumbs.

The number of buttons and ease of access to them is the biggest advantage to the arcade stick. Most fighting games use between four and six buttons for attacks. Most arcade sticks now come with eight buttons, but you can still find some that only have six. For six button fighting games, the arcade stick really shines. The buttons are all laid out in front of you and in easy reach. If your arcade stick has eight buttons, you can macro the extra two buttons to make it easier to pull off specific combos or hypers.

Arcade sticks provide a satisfying amount of feedback when using them. The click and “springiness” of the buttons feels really good. I also find the weight of the arcade stick very nice. It’s somewhat hard to explain, but the weight of the stick feels good in my lap when I’m playing. For those who grew up playing fighting games in the arcade, there should also be a certain level of nostalgia. The arcade stick was, after all, designed to emulate the arcade experience in your home (hence the name).

The durability of arcade sticks is generally fairly high. As long as you treat it well and don’t go dumping soda on it or dropping it, a good arcade stick should last you a long time. They are also fairly easy to customize. It is not very difficult to switch out the buttons or joystick in most good quality arcade sticks.

Gamepads: The Pros

Gamepads are cheap and easily available. You probably have at least two lying around right now. They are also small and lightweight so carrying them to a friends house or to a tournament is very easy.

Slowly but surely, fighting games are coming to be more gamepad friendly. Games like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Injustice, and Mortal Kombat 9 are designed with a gamepads layout in mind. There are four attack buttons (technically three in Injustice) that map easily to the face buttons, leaving the triggers and shoulder buttons for other uses. While I still use an arcade stick for UMVC3 and Injustice, both of those games, as well as most other four button fighters, are just as easily played with a gamepad. Mortal Kombat 9 on the other hand is best played on a gamepad. The inclusion of a block button makes a gamepad the easy choice.

Comfort is a big selling point. Some people are just more comfortable with a gamepad in their hands than a big arcade stick in their laps. But beyond even this, no matter what kind of chair you are sitting in, the way you hold the gamepad should not be affected (unless you’re sitting in one messed up chair).

Arcade Stick: The Cons

The biggest con to the arcade stick is price. A good arcade stick is expensive. When it comes to arcade sticks, price is generally a good indicator of quality. Sure you can find arcade sticks that cost approximately the same as a current gen wireless controller, but those are truly a waste of money. A good arcade stick is generally going to run at least $100 to $120. The parts on a cheap arcade stick will be inferior and prone to breaking. You will probably be buying another one within a year if you use it regularly.

Arcade sticks are not easy to transport. They are bulky, do not fit easily into bags and can be a pain to lug around at tournaments, depending on the size of said tournament.

Comfort can also be a problem. If you are going to a lot of different places, you’ll probably end up sitting in a lot of different chairs when you play. Odds are not all of these chairs will leave your lap at the same place, so keeping your arcade stick steady can be difficult. I’ve seen some players get around this by sitting on the floor, but not everyone can play comfortably like that either.

Gamepads: The Cons

Six button fighters can be significantly harder to play with a gamepad. Using the trigger and shoulder buttons for basic attacks can be a little difficult, though this does not stop some players. There is an exception to this con though. Companies like MadCatz and Hori have gamepads where the trigger buttons have been moved to the face to create a six button layout.

Movement and inputs are a problem with most first party gamepads. The Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 do not have good d-pads, the 360’s especially, and analog sticks are generally not very good for fighting games. They are too imprecise. But much like the above problem, this problem can also be solved with third-party gamepads. They generally have better d-pads (some forgoing the analog stick completely), for approximately the same price as a normal wired controller.

So which should you get?

Comfort is the name of the game here. If you aren’t comfortable with the controller you’re using, you won’t be able to play well. If you find yourself struggling to pull off combos with a gamepad, maybe you should try to switch to the arcade stick or a specialized fighting game gamepad. If you have no problems playing well with a gamepad, by all means continue. I know people who use gamepads that can kick my ass on the regular.

A word of warning to gamepad players who may try to switch to an arcade stick: you will have to practice diligently. For a while, you will suck hard and have trouble winning, but if you practice enough, you will develop the muscle memory needed to use an arcade stick. If you are hesitant to shell out the money for an arcade stick that you may not like, see if one of your friends has one you can practice with. If not, a fighting game gamepad is a cheaper alternative that may suit your needs just fine.

At the end of the day, whether gamepad or arcade stick, I just love to see people playing and enjoying fighting games. Which kind of controller do you use?

About the author

Dallas Ward

I am a simple man with simple dreams. I one day wish to play all of my steam games. Yo videogames!