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Arcade Sticks vs. Gamepads: The Fighter’s Guide to Perfection…sort of

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With Injustice 2 on the horizon and (hopefully) Tekken 7 soon to follow in joining an already excellent cast of competitive fighting games on current gen systems, that familiar age-old question arises with it: arcade stick or gamepad? Or what about keyboards for the pc fighters? In this article I will try my best to breakdown the differences/similarities between the 2 (or 3) different options in beating your enemy to a bloody pulp, in the most convenient and effective way possible. Who knows, by the end of the comparison maybe we will finally have an answer to this nearly two decade old query. I said maybe.

If you consider yourself a classic, old school gamer growing up on countless hours in a dark, cramped building, dumping an un-godly amount of quarters into your favorite arcade machine, you’re more likely to flock to an arcade stick. Hoping to restore that former glory that once rained upon your youthful hangout spot only now without the sticky floors or the stale BO aroma. But there’s more that draws players, even younger generations, to the arcade stick. With more precise controller inputs and more control over your move list, you’re not only trading in a smaller gamepad for larger joysticks and hefty buttons but your fingers and thumbs for your hands and wrists.

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Don’t get me wrong, when I indulged in the litany of brawlers that have surfaced since my eager paws were capable of smashing those small pill sized buttons, I never looked back. With its ease, subtle learning curve and everything literally at your fingertips I couldn’t understand the demand for the big, bulky and sometimes uncomfortably sitting on your lap arcade sticks. I will even go a bit further and state that I, being especially outnumbered in the realm of fighting games, am a d-pad fighter. That’s right, no loose, precise analog sticks for me, just sloppy, inaccurate, thumb scorching moves to pave my way to the top. Why? Because ever since the Genesis (Sega) days I’ve input every Hadouken, every acid spit, every classic rope spear into uppercut with those awkward directional pads.

So what makes me an expert on this subject or even worthy of writing about this topic? Why should I of all people compare two very different approaches to perfecting an otherwise tedious undertaking? Perhaps its my love of the genre that helped cement my passion for gaming. Knowing there is a crowd, a rather large crowd I might add, still dedicated to the traditional form of the arcade style fight stick tickles my curiosity. Maybe a part of the nostalgia that comes with the arcade stick is enough to question my bizarre attachment for out-dated methods. Again, maybe.

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So let’s get down to it. On one side you have a sleek, comfortable appeal of the gamepad, or more conventionally known as: the controller. While easy to grip and designed for, more often than not, four fingers/thumbs to access all button inputs adequately, not only are there fewer buttons but they are considerably smaller. This can cause critical mistakes when in the heat of pummeling or being pummeled amongst the ring of competitive fighting tournaments. The smallest drop of sweat along your game dominant fingertips (which any serious gamer can confirm, in fact, happens) can very easily send your digits accidentally sliding from one face button to the next, ultimately causing a fast-paced button mash just attempting a single move.

Exercising the use of shoulder buttons also comes into play when using a gamepad. While taking some time to fluently use them as efficiently as the face buttons, once adapted, the sheer comfort having all moves within your literal grasp is hard to overcome. This combined with the affordable cost (nearly half of a decent arcade stick) keeps the comparison leaning in the gamepad’s direction.

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The traditional, expertly crafted practice that is the arcade (fighting) stick adheres to the patient, the well-practiced and committed gamer. Like knowing a secret no one else is aware of, after hours stacked upon hours of discipline, the arcade stick seems worthy of having the majority of devoted fighting game enthusiasts bowing at its knees. I mean, if you’re going to faithfully craft one game genre, why not learn to play like the pros?

Significantly bigger (and more) buttons, a refreshing click-n-spring reaction when pressed, spread out on a moderately sized board with an exceptional and accurately placed joy stick, hand-eye coordination is never more present in any other form of gaming. Laying down special moves and lengthy, precise combo attacks is as rigorous as ever when combining the use of an arcade stick with any skilled gamer. No sweaty thumbs susceptible to slipping into harms way or fumbling with your fingers trying to achieve supremacy. Impeccable execution makes the way of the arcade stick a very serious consideration for anyone looking into taking the fighting ring by storm.

Another factor that could very easily sway the argument is which game(s) are you playing? Although each series has its own movements, style, grace and skill sets, some games in particular are set up to handle better with the proper input device. That’s not to say the game will play like trash if you go against the grain but something to keep in mind in light of everything to consider.

A third option, if you truly are a part of an even more bizarre than d-pad fighter world, when neither gamepad nor arcade stick suffices (or lacking the funds to upgrade) and ordinary means shows no chance in everything you thought you knew about fighting games, we have the keyboard. When the other two options exist this method easily rests in dead last for what seems like will be an eternity. I’ll keep it brief, when you have dozens of same sized keys trying to tap away in precision with most or if you really practice, all of your fingers, situations prove frustrating. Sure there’s custom keyboard or mods you can throw on them to help give the illusion of an arcade stick but at that point you might as well invest in the real thing. At the very least a third-party game controller. And if you have in fact mastered this method, I commend you for doing something that didn’t necessarily need to be done but you did it anyway. Cheers.

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After all is said and done, more than likely I’m sticking with my controller, awkward d-pad and all. For me, it’s all about familiarity. Maybe I’m afraid of change. Or maybe I don’t see the need to change. Maybe the art of mastering the gamepad is something that may drive myself, or you for that matter, farther into the competitive territory that is the fighting genre. Be it arcade stick, gamepad or, god forbid, the keyboard, there’s plenty that may make your decision that much easier.

Well there you have it. Yet another breakdown between the gamepad and the arcade stick, the traditional and the modern. I hope this helped, at least a little, on narrowing down the details amidst the growing and ambitious fighting category.  Let us know which type of fighting device you prefer!

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