Should you play with an arcade stick or specialist pad? That is the million dollar question.
The best arcade sticks and pads available
What controller should you use? Well, budding Street Fighter 5 player, that’s a doozy of a question. Depending on who you ask you’ll get a wide range of different answers. The truth, we think, is actually the simplest: you should use whatever you’re most comfortable with.
This page is here to help you figure out which that might be by talking a little about the value of each control method and showing you some of the best options on the market in each style. Simple!
Let’s first tackle the common conception that these games must be played with an arcade stick or bust: That’s false. Don’t just take our word for it: The Evolution 2014 Champion of Ultra Street Fighter IV, a chap who goes by the name Louffy, uses a PS1 pad in his tournament play. Smug, one of the most incredible players of Street Fighting boxer Dudley ever to walk the earth, uses an Xbox 360 controller – and, really, look at his combos. They’re disgusting.
Choice of controller isn’t going to make you great, but picking the right one for you certainly might help. I, for instance, am bloody useless without a stick – and it took me far too long to discover that fact. So, what are your options?
Option 1: Arcade Sticks – why use one?
It took me a while to get to being a stick player, and while I’m alright on controller, I’d now never go back in earnest. Sticks, for my money, are just more comfortable.
From my perspective, the main advantage to a stick is in scale – you can spread your hands out a little, and you can lay your fingers across the buttons as if it’s a piano. Where you either have to just use your thumb for inputs or adopt an unconventional ‘claw’ grip on regular controllers, sticks allow access to all six buttons with comfort and ease.
Some find solace in the size of the buttons, too; they’re springy, they give more feedback, and thus they’re easier to double-tap to hedge your bets on move timing, while the tall, springy arcade stick of course gives a lot more feedback than either a D-Pad or an analog stick. For better or worse, the button layout on sticks means if you desperately need to mash it out, that’s easier too.
On the flip side, sticks are far more expensive than any other control option and, it should be noted, are generally fairly big – you’ll have to store it or carry it around. But, if you want a stick, what are the best options around?
8arc Drone – the best bang for your buck arcade stick
$89.99 from eightarc
The market has changed a lot. With prominent fighting stick maker Mad Catz out of business, one might think it’s Hori or bust – but there are actually some smaller stick makers on the market who deserve your attention. Key among them are eightarc and QanBa, up-and-coming companies that are entirely dedicated to fightsticks. That means they know what they’re bloody well doing, and they’re now together on a new range of sticks.
The Drone is the budget option in that range and is a lovely little stick that clocks in at $90, making it a fair chunk cheaper than the other sticks on the market and of a similar type. If you’re looking for a stick that isn’t a budget stick but isn’t mega-expensive either, this is the one we’d recommend, without a doubt. It’s lightweight and simple in design, features a pretty slick black-and-yellow themed colour scheme and a basic six-button layout.
This stick somehow manages to avoid some of the major problems many smaller sticks have – it doesn’t feel cramped to play on, and the quality of the build of the actual stick casing feels particularly solid. These are massive pros, as is the fact that the stick effortlessly switches between PS3, PS4 and PC with the flick of a switch on the stick proper. It’s an officially licensed product from Sony, too (not all sticks are), so you’ve no worries about a PS4 update blocking you our or what have you.
The only major downside is that this stick uses ‘stock’ buttons – meaning they’re not from a company such as Sanwa, who make the high-quality buttons found in more expensive sticks. For the price this shouldn’t be expected, however, and buttons can pretty easily be replaced.
The eightarc drone is available from eightarc directly for $79.99 right now, and they ship pretty much anywhere in the world. Even after shipping and customs if you’re outside the US it’s going to work out cheaper than many of its rivals.
Runners Up: Hori Real Arcade Pro Kai
$149.99 / £129.99 / €149.99 from Amazon
Our pick for the runner-up behind the drone is the Hori Real Aracde Pro 4 Kai – and if you want something from a more ‘known’ named company, the Kai is a safe option indeed. The Kai clocks in a fair chunk of change more expensive than the drone at $149.99, but it’s without a doubt the cheapest high-quality stick on the market from a larger creator.
For your extra cash the main advantage is you get a stick with a much larger spread allowing for more hand room, and you also get Hori-brand Hayabusa buttons. These buttons are arguably not as nice as the Sanwa buttons found in truly high-end sticks, but they are a step up from those in the drone and are quite a bit quieter as a result. It also comes in a variety of colors such as Black, Blue, Red and White. We don’t have an enormous amount of hands-on experience with the new PS4 model of the Kai, but the stick shape and design is similar to popular Hori efforts from last generation. If you want a stick that’s ‘middle of the road’, this is the one.
$199.99 / £159.99 / €220
One of two ‘premium’ price sticks in Mad Catz’ officially licensed Street Fighter V range, we’re inclined to say this is the better of the two (the other being the Tournament Edition 2) despite boasting a more simple design. In this regard, simplicity is perhaps better.
The TES+ comes with all the PlayStation 4 inputs, including the Touchpad, which isn’t standard on all sticks. The Touchpad is used in minor but useful ways in training mode, so it’s a nice addition. A switch allows you to switch what the stick sends to the console – Left Stick, Right Stick or D-Pad.
Every PS4 pad button is included somehow, even L3 and R3, which are tucked away in tiny buttons on the top of the stick. This means you’ll never get stuck unable to press a required button no matter what game you take the stick to – handy. The main buttons and stick are all ‘Sanwa Denshi’ parts – Sanwa being a much-respected arcade manufacturer that makes the sticks for actual Street Fighter arcade cabinets.
While its more expensive brother, the TE2, features a fancy pop-up hood and a more angled design, I’m a big fan of the simple, boxy, solid-feeling shape of the TES+. While it hasn’t been out for long enough for at-length testing, I’m confident in saying the TES+ is likely built to last – it’s made from the same chassis and tech as several models from the last console generation, just updated with new features and PCBs. I’ve happily rocked one of those old sticks for some five years without incident, so hopefully the TES+ is built to last just as well.
PC users should be aware that with this being a PS4/PS3 controller getting it to work on PC may require some jiggery-pokery, but sticks in this style and shell are available in older, PC-friendly plug-and-play Xbox 360 variants. Keep in mind that PS3 sticks also work on SF5’s PS4 version, so older PS3 versions of the Tournament Edition range are also an option, but will be missing some features.
$79.99 / £69.99 / €89.99
Another fruit of Mad Catz’ marketing tie-up with Capcom, this stick is surprisingly minimal even with its branding – the only real mention of Street Fighter V is with a logo adorned onto one corner, though the stick’s name is of course a nod to Street Fighter’s prequel series. The Alpha is a tiny little thing, and as a result comes in at a price under half that of its bigger brothers.
It doesn’t really squash the buttons and stick much closer together, but its dinky size while retaining comfort does come at some minor costs. The Alpha drops two entirely optional buttons for Street Fighter (they merely act as shortcuts for things you can do by pressing multiple buttons) and the touchpad, though every other feature is present, including PS3 and PS4 functionality. It also drops the Sanwa buttons for something in-house more comparable to Hori’s offering.
When I first laid hands on the Alpha, I was pleasantly surprised – it’s a sturdy thing despite keeping its weight and size down. It’s the very definition of no frills and no fuss – but I mean that in a good way. If you just need a stick for playing Street Fighter without showing off artwork or other crazy features, this is a nifty entry-level option.
Console Warriors – Playing with a pad
As I said earlier on, pads are a perfectly valid way to play Street Fighter V. However, fighting games are a little more complicated than many games, and as such there’s even multiple pad-based offerings.
There’s of course the PS4 pad, and PC users are likely to consider an Xbox 360 controller as their default – but there’s a few offerings beyond that specifically built for fighting games as a sort of halfway house between controllers and sticks. Here they are:
$59.99 / £49.99 / €69.99
Shipping in a variety of character-themed designs, the FightPad PRO is an attempt by Mad Catz to fall between those not yet comfortable on stick but also struggling to make a controller work. The result is a pad with a squishy circular D-Pad, an analog stick, and a 3×2 button layout identical to what you’d find on an arcade panel. In a sense, these FightPads have their lineage in the Sega Saturn controller, widely considered a gold standard for fighting games on pad.
While most controllers are symmetrical, the FightPad PRO is not – it features a full grip on one side and a reduced panel on the other, allowing players to hold it either traditionally or in a ‘claw’ style grip where one can spread their fingers across the buttons much as you would on an arcade stick.
Included are a number of switches to adjust what the triggers do depending on how you hold the pad, plus the PS4 touchpad and PS3 functionality. I’m personally not entirely convinced by the new shape of the FightPads compared to last generation’s more flat, simple affair – but my time with it tells me that at the least it’s well made and accurate in picking up your inputs. I’m also rather taken with the Chun-Li themed shade of blue used on one version.
$44.99 / Import
A little boxier and chubbily rounded than the Mad Catz offering, Hori’s Fighting Commander 4 works on the same basic principle – an asymmetrically-shaped controller that can either be held traditionally or used like a mini arcade stick with fingers flayed across multiple buttons.
The Fighting Commander 4 assumes players won’t want an analog stick at all, and opts for just a D-Pad, albeit one that can be rotated up to 45 degrees for comfort of use. The rotating D-Pad is something of a curiosity to me in truth, as I don’t see how useful it is – but beyond that oddity, this feels and performs like a slightly less feature-full take on the concept shown in the FightPad PRO.