Editorial: From D-pad to stick

1Nov

Author: Larry Ragland

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My first arcade fighting stick, and not a bad purchase!

I was a good four or five matches into a losing streak that had come out of nowhere. What had started as a promising, early evening Street Fighter IV AE session with a C+ Ryu and 1,100 points had quickly turned into a very quick, very decisive conclusion. For nearly two rounds, I had been pummeled by an unrelenting Abel, but I don’t quit matches. I took my beating and promptly shut my 360 off. It was then that I realized that I needed to invest in an arcade stick. The D-pad days were over.

The D-pad proved its worth to the fighting game genre the moment Street Fighter II was released onto the SNES and the Genesis. I picked up the SNES version first because the controller was more efficient for fighting games, due to the button layout. The Genesis had four buttons, three for gameplay and a start button. To switch between kicks and punches, you would hit start. SFII Championship Edition led to Sega producing a six button controller that was better suited for fighting games. The biggest advantage was no more having to plunk down quarters to get my SF fix, it was on home consoles and I could play until Ryu and Ken both looked at the screen and told me to go to sleep.

The newer "pop up" D-pads for the 360 are better, but not good enough. However, games like Gears of War benefit from more precise weapon selection using it.

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In my research to find the best entry level stick I could afford, I came across some custom sticks that were flawlessly put together. Some of the custom work is absolutely amazing. A stick was needed, Dead or Alive 5 is coming out, and I’ve been playing more SSIV AE and King of Fighters XIII. Not to mention all the Xbox Live Arcade fighters I have so why not?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a mom & pop gameshop around me so I went to my local Gamestop that just so happened to have one arcade stick in the back that I could check out. I know the manager but more importantly, I knew the previous owner. He is a friend of mine who used to work there but had since moved on. He took impeccable care of his games and gear so I knew it was a safe buy. Not only that but it was an Hori, an EX2 fighting stick at only $29’s so how could I not pick it up? Anything had to be better than that D-pad.

It was difficult at first, especially because this particular unit isn’t very comfortable for your wrists and the stick moves in a weird, almost, square like pattern that can throw you off sometimes. For example, if you were to rotate the stick in a full circle, you would hit four corners instead of there being one, continuous rotation. They are rounded corners so it doesn’t stick but, corners nonetheless. It’s loud and you have to sit a certain way or have it on a platform of some sort, but once you get past the initial learning curve, you can’t argue with the results. Using a stick is totally worth the investment if you get the right one for the right price. Bringing that arcade feeling home is totally possible and in every way enhances your skills.

I had always been under the impression that fighting sticks were too much of an investment, unless one were planning to go pro. Even though I usually buy fighting games whenever a new one is released, I tend to use a standard controller. Until now, that has worked fine but the combination of limited skill growth and fierce online competition (no one likes to keep on losing) all suggest that an arcade stick would be worth purchasing, so I bought one.

You can get them new and used for under a $100’s but for the best ones you’ll want to stay north of that figure. Another thing I really like about sticks is the level of customization. Switching out buttons and joysticks is common for serious enthusiasts as is customized artwork, some of which is truly skilled, incredible work. I am not artistically gifted in that manner, but it would be interesting to see what I could come up with given some time and practice. To actually do the artwork for my own stick and some minor modifications would be cool, but I would be willing to pay a service that does a good job at a good price.

The difference between using a standard controller and the EX2 is night and day as far as what I am able to accomplish play wise. The ability to do more complicated moves and string together more complex combinations with ease is only overshadowed by the window of creativity that is opened when you use a stick. I am doing things I couldn’t do on a D-pad, and that adds a level of exploration that wasn’t there before. I look forward to the next step up from this one but so far, so good with switching from D-pad to stick.

This serves as a reminder on how being stuck in your ways can sometimes keep you from getting better. I can’t wait to get my next arcade stick, consider me hooked.