Mad Catz Street Fighter IV FightSticks Review

Just a few months ago, Mad Catz was known for making generic, mediocre console accessories to undercut companies like Sony and Nintendo. Then they announced their Street Fighter sticks and the gaming world went nuts.

While Matt Buchanan already reviewed Mad Catz' SFIV FightPad, the company's two arcade sticks for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, coinciding with the release of SFIV, have had more buzz than any gaming accessory in recent memory.

Street Fighter IV FightStick ($70)

Mad Catz Street Fighter IV FightSticks Review

Mad Catz' SFIV FightStick was meant to "recreate" the arcade experience, but also offer programmable turbo along with two extra move-assignable buttons. It's essentially a joystick that's designed with the Street Fighter button layout and fancy artwork.

Mad Catz Street Fighter IV FightSticks Review

Street Fighter IV FightStick Tournament Edition ($150)

Mad Catz Street Fighter IV FightSticks Review

The Tournament Edition stick's claim to fame is simple. It uses the exact Sanwa joystick and 30mm buttons found in the SFIV arcade cabinet, not a "recreation" like we see in the standard FightStick. The experience is promised to be 1:1 between home and arcades—though it also includes the turbo and assignable button add-on.

So could I tell a difference between the two? In one word, yes.

Honestly, I'm not skilled enough at Street Fighter to argue that a controller is getting in my way of beating Matt Buchanan. But blindfolded, I could discern the difference between the two controllers...beyond the Tournament Edition's obvious heftier size.

Mad Catz Street Fighter IV FightSticks Review

The TE stick has an ever so slightly shorter range of motion than the SE stick (for pulling off quick maneuvers), but it's also far smoother. Being picky, I noticed more mechanical scraping in the SE stick that wasn't present in the TE, which rotated with with ease.

The SE's buttons, while superficially similar, felt far more like plastic, with a hollow, high clicking that wasn't as soft on the fingers. Whether or not you have ever heard of semi-legendary Sanwa components doesn't really matter. You'll feel the difference.

I can't say I played any better on the $80 more expensive TE stick, but I did find myself preferring it during testing and unconsciously choosing it for casual play. Then again, if I'd never tasted the caviar-esque Tournament stick, I'd probably be fine with the decent steak-esque standard FightStick. Either stick is immeasurably superior to trying to play with the Xbox 360 controller's gimpled D-pad.

Mad Catz Street Fighter IV FightSticks Review

But that doesn't mean I'm completely happy with either controller because they both share the same ridiculous flaw—they are both horrid for chatting.

In order to fit an Xbox 360 headset into the FightSticks, you need to utilize a little cord/adapter that's pretty identical to Rock Band's guitar chatting solution.

Mad Catz Street Fighter IV FightSticks Review

Now I'm pretty good with plugging things in—it's sort of a job requirement—but I had all sorts of chatting issues on both FightSticks with multiple 360 headsets and two different adapter cables. Sometimes people couldn't hear me and sometimes I couldn't hear them.

When we're talking about a $150 joystick—a peripheral that approaches the cost of a full Xbox 360—I want my headset to connect perfectly every time. Even if Madcatz' solution worked perfectly, which it doesn't, it lacks any level of elegance. And it's absurd considering that the FightStick TE is the size of a small child.

One other important caveat is that many FightStick SE ($70) buyers have complained of joysticks that stick and buttons that crack. I had no issues with my testing, but the problems are out there.

So what's the point of this review? Both FightSticks have already been a wild success for Mad Catz, and hats off to them for filling a niche that has generally been left to scrounging for Japanese imports.

I guess that it comes down to this: as a gamer and a Street Fighter fan, I'm pleased with both FightSticks. But as a guy who's seen what $150 can buy you in electronics today, I think we can do better. And wireless connectivity would be nice, too.

Mad Catz Street Fighter IV FightSticks Review

The $70 FightStick will satiate most players who want a simple 360/PS3 joystick

Mad Catz Street Fighter IV FightSticks Review

The $150 Tournament Edition really is a step up in feel and quality, just like an arcade

Mad Catz Street Fighter IV FightSticks Review

If you're interested, both cases can be opened to swap/upgrade components

Mad Catz Street Fighter IV FightSticks Review

Both of these sticks are huge, so it's a commitment

Mad Catz Street Fighter IV FightSticks Review

The poor headset connection option can be extremely annoying

Mad Catz Street Fighter IV FightSticks Review

At these prices, I really want something wireless