February 25, 2009 The dual-analog controllers of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have their moments, being particularly suited to first-person shooters, but certain arcade games like shoot 'em ups and fighting games just aren't the same without the six buttons and a stick of an arcade machine. With the release of Street Fighter IV, millions of gamers are coming to terms with the fact, and clamoring for a quality arcade stick to complete their home arcade experience. We've spent some quality time with an X-Arcade Dual Joystick - read on for our full review.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,500 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
The X-Arcade was designed to be future-proof. It comes with a USB adapter for use with a PC/Mac, and there are adapters available to connect to a Dreamcast, Xbox, Gamecube/Wii and PlayStation 1/2/3. X-Arcade has tried to add Xbox 360 compatibility, but the fate of that adapter lies in Microsoft's hands, who have been dragging their feet for over three years for reasons known only to them.
Build quality and components
The X-Arcade has been on the market for over seven years, and you're not likely to find anyone whinging about the build quality - and why would you when it comes with a lifetime warranty?
The official line of "It's built like a tank" is a bit of a stretch, as I'm not sure how many tanks are built from wood, but it's big enough and solid enough to not move around or jump off the table. It looks, and feels, like it's been ripped off the front of an arcade machine.
The parts used in the X-Arcade are replicas of Happ joysticks and buttons, which are the parts most commonly used in North America, and will be familiar to many gamers from Australia and Europe.
Many people familiar with both the X-Arcade replicas and the authentic Happ parts will tell you that the replicas are inferior, but I haven't had an opportunity to A/B them. If you do feel so inclined, you can open up the X-Arcade and replace the sticks and buttons with the authentic versions, and a number of other options.
Modding the X-Arcade
There are two popular choices to replace the sticks in the X-Arcade that don't require any modifications.
First up is the iL Eurojoystick, available from Lizard Lick.
Ultimarc's Mag-Stik Plus will also do the trick, and give you the ability to switch the stick from 8-way to 4-way without opening the X-Arcade, allowing you to play games like Pacman and Donkey Kong without the issues that arise when doing so with an 8-way joystick.
And if you're not scared to make permanent modifications to the inside of your X-Arcade, it is possible to add Sanwa sticks.
I've heard countless reports of the X-Arcade exhibiting lag between a button press and the command executing on the connected computer/console. Which is a given, as USB 1.0 and USB 2.0 are master-slave architectures with an inherent latency. The thing is, even with the signal travelling through a PS2 adapter, into a PS3 adapter, and into my PS3, I couldnt notice any lag whatsoever - and I'm not the only person who couldn't.
So with a combination of two freeware applications, Joy 2 Mouse (to turn the PS3 signal into a mouse click) and InputLagTestor [sic], I set about testing the input lag. Whether the X-Arcade was plugged in to my PC directly with the included USB connection, or via the PS2 and PS3 adapters, I was getting between 5ms and 6ms lag.
It's worth noting that anything under 10ms is fast enough to be classified as "realtime" in the computer music world.
If a game runs at 60 frames per second (fps), which Street Fighter IV does on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, each frame is displayed on the screen for 16.67ms. Which means the input latency of an X-Arcade joystick is equivalent to approximately one third of a frame at 60fps, and one sixth of a frame at 30fps - so even the very top tier fighting game players who count frames of animation and wait for the exact moment to strike should have no issues playing with the X-Arcade.
As to why so many of them claim to? My guess is as good as yours - but until game console and joystick manufacturers start utilizing FireWire or USB 3.0 connections on their devices, I'm not sure latency is going to get terribly much better than 5ms.
A widely accepted alternative is the Hori Real Arcade Pro sticks, which start at US$99.90 from Play-Asia (when they're in stock), and that's before you've even thought about shipping to your country.
There's also the official Mad Catz Street Fighter IV "Tournament Edition" sticks which were available for USD$150/AUD$250 - but a ridiculously small number of them were made, and they're all long gone. Mad Catz would have to be nuts to not kick off another production run given the demand, but even if they do, you're not going to get your hands on one of these for at least a couple of months.
Then there's that whole issue that you'll need to buy two sticks to not look like a total jerk when your mates come over for a game, and you proceed to hand them a PS3 controller and kick their ass with your arcade stick.
So even once you factor in the adapters you'll need to connect the X-Arcade to a console, and replacing the sticks and buttons with higher quality ones if you feel so inclined, you'll have two players up and running with arcade controls at a fraction of the cost of the competition.
There's a couple of minor flaws with the X-Arcade Dual Joystick.
The Player 1 start button is awfully close to Player 1's Button 3, which means you might end up hitting start accidentally.
It's also a little cramped, so when you're playing with two players, you're going to be bumping shoulders. This isn't much of an issue for me, as I'm relatively comfortable with anyone who ends up in my house playing Street Fighter with me, but if you're buying this for a break room at work and one of your co-workers has BO issues, you might want to get two X-Arcade Solo sticks.
PS3 Adapter Issue and Workaround
We encountered a frustrating issue with the PS3 adapters, that thankfully has a workaround. Apparently, some of the PS3 adapters that X-Arcade sold have a bug in them that prevents you from holding the left direction of either stick for more than two seconds. At first you'll think it's your technique, then you'll think it's a faulty stick, and you might not ever realize it's the adapter.
Pressing Select + Button 2 switches to Analog Mode, which bypasses the problem. This is a known issue, but all X-Arcade will say outside of a support e-mail is that some games require you to use Analog Mode and some don't, which didn't exactly stand out to me as a solution when I was looking for one - so hopefully this review turns up in the search results next time someone runs into the issue.
So how does it actually play?
I've used a variety of controllers over the years. My first home fighter was Street Fighter II with stock Super Nintendo control pads, and later, a variety of cheap, plastic joysticks. Since then, I've played fighters on the stock pads of a Saturn, PlayStation 1/2/3, Dreamcast, Xbox and Xbox 360.
The X-Arcade absolutely wipes the floor with any control pad out there. Whether you're using a PC or Mac to emulate arcade games with MAME, or playing Street Fighter IV on a PlayStation 3, the X-Arcade enhances the experience tenfold.
I'm not going to say anything like "This is the best arcade stick on the market" because I haven't tested them all, and at the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference, and what you're used to. Some people swear by Japanese style sticks and convex buttons, others prefer American/Happ style sticks and concave buttons. If you have no preference, the X-Arcade will blow your mind, and if you do, the X-Arcade is a solid, arcade-style base that can be modified to suit it.