Hori Fighting Stick EX2
- Xbox 360
The Hori Fighting Stick EX2 is the oldest and least expensive stick to be tested as part of this feature, but we wanted to include it because it's still a major powerhouse that continues the Hori tradition of quality hardware. The EX2 features a six-button layout designed to match Japanese arcades in terms of spacing and button size. We don't know if the Hori-manufactured 30mm buttons are the same type used in the more expensive Real Arcade Pro EX, but they feel and perform just as well. The joystick, also made by Hori, feels responsive and accurate.
The Fighting Stick EX has a slightly unconventional button layout like its RAP cousin. Though the A button is where you would expect it to be, the B, X, and Y buttons are arranged along the top row. This layout is not quite as difficult to get used to as the Real Arcade Pro EX's layout, but it can still make navigating through menus a bit tricky at times. We did, however, enjoy having just six buttons in the business area, which eliminated sloppy 8-button mistakes and provided a more accurate arcade experience. The stick still has the bumper buttons, but they've been moved next to the back, start, and Xbox Guide control panel buttons, where they are accessible but not too easy to accidentally hit.
The Fighting Stick EX is more portable than the other sticks in our comparison thanks to a smaller, more compact case, but it may take a bit of time to get used to, because there isn't an abundance of real estate to rest your hands on. The controls are still excellent, and the joystick turned out to be one of our favorites after we got used to the smaller case. Special moves that require frequent button presses like Blanka's electric thunder don't require you to smash down too hard, preserving controller longevity and giving you a higher degree of control, and we executed complex attacks like the spinning pile-driver and shoryuken without any trouble.
Overall, the Hori Fighting Stick EX is an excellent joystick with accurate controls and an affordable price. If you're looking for a great stick to start off your tournament career, you can't go wrong with this one. PS3 owners can look to the Hori Fighting Stick 3 for a similar controller built for their platform.
Mad Catz Street Fighter IV FightStick
- $69.99 (PS3), $79.99 (X360)
- PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
The Mad Catz FightStick crams many of the extra features of its rarer and more expensive brother into a smaller case, but the designers had to make a few sacrifices to reach the more affordable price point. The stick uses the same square-gate ball joystick and eight-button layout design as the more expensive Tournament Edition FightStick. What the standard edition stick doesn't include, however, are the authentic Sanwa hardware pieces, opting instead to go for Mad Catz joystick and buttons.
The standard stick comes with many of the bells and whistles featured on the Tournament Edition including individual-button turbo settings, stick assignment toggling, and the handy out-of-the-way placement of the start, select, and PS/Xbox guide buttons to keep you from accidentally mashing one of them during a critical fight. Perhaps the best news about the controller is that it's just as easy to mod as the FightStick TE. If you want to swap out the buttons or the joystick, you'll be happy to know that it features the same button labels, quick-connect cables and universal mounting plate for the joystick.
The controls work quite well, but they were the least responsive components we encountered when compared to the other sticks we tested. That's not to say this isn't a good controller; it just requires more practice to get used to its quirks, which are compounded by the smaller size of the case--which offers less room to rest your hands on, like the case for the Hori Fighting Stick EX--and the extra two buttons off in no-man's-land on the far right. During testing, even simple moves like the hadoken and tatsumaki senpukyaku were hit or miss until we became accustomed to the stick, but we never became totally confident while attempting supers and ultras.
The Mad Catz FightStick is probably the best arcade-style joystick that you're going to find in an average retail store, and it's a good investment if you're looking for a full-featured controller. Serious players should look at the stick because of its enormous modding potential. If exceptional hardware precision is what you're after though, you may want to consider upgrading to the Tournament Edition.