I didn’t post anything last month because August was Persona Month. And oh, what a month. I had trouble doing anything with my free time that was not playing Persona. And then, at long last…
That’s a lot of goddamn hours. I’ll probably be up to 200 after New Game +.
Now that I’m done with this mammoth undertaking, I seek to tackle my considerable backlog of games. There’s just one problem:
Persona 5 was pretty easy to play with the controller on my lap, but there are a lot of other games I’m hoping to play (or finish playing) that would be very difficult to manage. Besides this, a DualShock 4 isn’t really designed to sit on a lap. Well, I thought, they do make controllers designed for laps. Maybe I should get one.
Thus did I enter into the confusing world of arcade sticks. Or fight sticks, as they are also called, since they are primarily used for fighters. I don’t play fighters often, and I’m bad to mediocre with them (though it might be cool to finally play my Persona Arena games), but it occurred to me that you don’t HAVE to play a fighter on a fight stick. It is just a controller, but bigger. And for laps. That about sums up the things I knew about fight sticks.
I have now learned that fight sticks are really expensive. Like the cheapest one I could find was $60. Most are in the $150 range, but a few strayed into $250 territory. I also learned that arcade sticks do not have all the buttons that one might desire, but each arcade stick also seems to have a different number of buttons. In addition, some fight sticks have “square gates” and others have “octagonal gates.” Some fight sticks have parts that can be swapped out for “Sanwa parts,” which are apparently very exciting parts. I was more than a little bewildered.
After collecting a variety of opinions from the Reddit hive mind, I settled on the Mad Catz Street Fighter V Fightstick Alpha, not because I particularly care for Street Fighter, but because it is the only entry-level option that comes equipped with a stick toggle switch, three buttons that allow you to tell the joystick to function as the left analog stick, the d-pad, or the right analog stick. While switching the stick function would be cumbersome, I reasoned, it would still be less cumbersome than holding a DualShock on my lap. Best of all, the model was available refurbished on Amazon with Prime shipping, so I could save sixteen bux and have it in my malfunctioning hands within two days. I ordered it.
It arrived in a very colorful box festooned with some very angry Street Fighter combatants.
The box was labeled on the bottom with an official-looking Amazon inspection label, which I expected to guarantee some level of quality.
The thing was even packaged in what looked like the original plastic, complete with instruction pamphlet.
It also came with a set of different-sized Mad Catz stickers, I guess so you could put more logos on your arcade stick if you wanted to do that for some reason?
I wasted no time in plugging it into my PS4 to try it out. No fight stick under the $250 price point has a wireless connection, but the Alpha comes with a fairly lengthy cord. My living room is pretty big, so it reaches my couch, but just barely. This creates a very exciting trip wire booby trap for Boyfriend to navigate while I’m using it, but I prefer to think of this as a feature rather than a bug, as it’s very funny. (He has long legs. He can deal.)
The PS home button doesn’t turn on the PS4 like a DualShock does, but that’s a minor quibble. I fired up the system and got ready to try out Exist Archive with a fightstick. But when I tried to navigate over to the game’s icon in the menu, nothing happened. I wiggled the stick in all directions, and I got no response. I tried it in every mode. Nothing. I plugged the thing into my PS3 and then my Steam Link. Nada. I sighed in resigned irritation. Apparently that Amazon “INSPECTED” sticker doesn’t mean very much.
Luckily, Amazon’s returns process is fairly straightforward. I packed the fightstick back in it’s colorful little box, hoping they wouldn’t mind that I had already used one of the stickers. The UPS man came to my door to pick it up the next morning. It took about two and a half weeks to process the damn refund, but I got it, and then I used it to buy a brand new stick of the same make and model. It arrived, oddly, on a Sunday afternoon (has Amazon somehow bribed the postal service to deliver its shit on Sundays, too?).
Finally, almost three weeks after the initial purchase, I had a completely functional stick.
I understand that it’s pretty small for a fightstick, but I’m a pretty small human, so I prefer to think of it as RPGRabbit-sized. Reviews online complained that it was too small to fit comfortably on a lap, but it does pretty well on my lap. I do think that a larger person might not find this model very comfortable to use. I like the pleasant clicking noises that the stick and the buttons make when I press them. I wasn’t allowed to visit many arcades as a child, but my favorite part was the big, clicky buttons on the machines, and this brings back some of that nostalgia. The matte finish on the surrounding surface has a nice tactile feeling to it, and it has the bonus effect of likely remaining smudge- and finger-print free.
Conveniently, the thing includes a color-changing lightbar that corresponds with player (ala the DualShock4) and even a share button. The toggle switch gives me right and left stick and d-pad function and there’s two small buttons to the right of the lightbar for R2 and L2, but I’m missing R3 and L3 inputs, and there’s no touchpad.
Experimentation has taught me that the fightstick is perfect for Exist Archive. While it’s going to take a little time to get used to the button configuration, navigation through the world is much easier, and I only need to toggle the stick function when I have to use the menu. It’s also great for platformers, and I can use it in Persona 5 if so inclined, though swapping to the right stick for camera function in dungeons is something I’m not sure I can get used to. I tried to play Final Fantasy XV, and it kind of worked okay, but since the touch pad is what opens the damn menu, that seems like a no go. I’m not actually sure I can play FFXV at all now, but I also wasn’t actually sure I wanted to, so that’s probably not the end of the world.
The stick functions perfectly well on the Steam Link, though I’m still trying to figure out if I can make Steam recognize the stick toggle switch function. I can play Hyper Light Drifter again, but the learning curve is going to be high, especially when it comes to aiming the gun. I expect it’s going to make playing Overcooked much easier. I’m looking forward to trying out Transistor and Bastion with the fightstick, and maybe I could even pick up Pyre. I haven’t tried the stick on the PS3 yet, but I know it’s going to be great for the P4 Arena games, and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to pick up Dragon’s Crown (aka The Quest for Lady Bigboobs) and play more of that with Boyfriend.
Dealing with slightly crippled hands as a gamer is a huge pain in the ass, but I think this fight stick will help me get back to some of the games I’ve had to avoid. Overall, I’m pleased with the purchase.
TL;DR – The Mad Catz FightStick Alpha seems like a pretty good entry level fightstick for relatively small humans, but don’t buy one Amazon refurbished, no matter how many “INSPECTED” stickers they slap on the damn box.
Update 9/23/17: Playing Dragon’s Crown with the fightstick is a blast. It took me a few dungeon runs to get used to it, but once I did, I think it’s actually more fun with the stick. I can’t cast rune magic, since that requires use of R3, but since I only play the game co-op with Boyfriend, I can make him do all the rune magic. I played some Persona 4 Arena, too. I still have no idea what the hell I am doing in that game, but button mashing is a lot more fun when you have big, clicky buttons to mash.
Update 9/29/17: Amazon dropped the price of this stick about a week after I purchased it to around the price of their refurbished model because Amazon is made entirely of butts.