If you’re a big fan of arcade games, you’ve landed in the right place, because today we will help you navigate the murky waters of game controllers. As usual, we might add. Speaking of game controllers, we’ve already covered joysticks, PC controllers and racing wheels in previous “episodes”, and since we’ve started today’s piece with fighting games, its pretty obvious that the emphasis of this article will be on how to choose the best fight stick, or arcade stick, whatever parlance you’d like to use in regard to your gaming gear.
The thing about arcade sticks is that they arguably make for the best way to play fighting video-games, as they’re built and designed to be the perfect hardware for this particular genre. Not even the best fight stick in the world will necessarily make you a better player, as they’re no magic wands by any metrics; however, they are clearly superior to game-pads or keyboards for fighting games. Finally, it’s up to you to decide if you’re a fight stick guy, or you’ll “stick” to your gamepad or keyboard.
However, keep in mind that Street Fighter inspired fight sticks are tailor-made for the best virtual fighting experience, and if you’ve ever watched professional E-sports events like East Coast Throwdown, you may have a clue about why pros never use Xbox One or PS4 controllers but fight the good fight with an arcade stick.
Now, if you’ve already decided to go the way of the samurai with a fight stick, keep reading, as we’ll give you the basics on how to choose your gear, and we’ll also provide you with some of the best fight sticks to suit anyone’s budget.
Our Top Picks
How to Choose an Arcade Stick
There are quite a few options with regard to arcade/fight sticks, whether we’re talking about Qanba, HORI, Mayflash or Razer. Since Mad Catz “has left the building”, HORI is now arguably the best-known arcade stick manufacturer out there. Speaking of budgets, there are $99 or less and over $100 fight sticks. The latter fall in the “premium” category so to speak.
If your fight-stick experience is very limited or zero, we’d recommend you to buy a cheaper model until you figure things out. Since we’ve been using loosely the words arcade stick and fight stick, you should know that they’re basically the same thing, except the fact that fight sticks are specifically designed for fighting games, especially in terms of joystick responsiveness and button layout.
They’re “fine-tuned” so to speak to deliver more accurate input in order to bring a more realistic gaming experience to your home console. An “arcade-like” experience if you want, as arcade fight games were played back in the day in arcade cabinets, but we are getting nostalgic here.
So, novice players should stick with cheaper fight sticks, that’s rule number one. Rule number two: be careful on how you’re spending your money, as these bad boys are hugely addictive. Besides fighting games, you can use them also for other arcade style video-games, such as Puzzle Fighter, Metal Slug 3 or Ikaruga. So, you should be extra careful on what gaming platforms are you going to use your arcade stick.
Some of them are specifically designed for Xbox, others work exclusively on PlayStation. The good news is that all of them work on PC if you know a bit or two about how to tinker with the drivers.
Size and Weight
Size and weight come to mind next. This is important for a number of reasons: do you have small hands or big hands? Where do you keep the fight stick, on your lap or on the table? If you’re far away from the console, you should also consider cable length, for cable management issues. Size matters, in all these situations. If you have big hands, stay away from extremely small fighting sticks, such as the Hori Fighting Stick Mini 4. On the other hand, there are beasts like Hori Real Arcade Pro 4 Premium VLX KURO out there, and this one’s an absolute unit.
Finally, there’s the modding and parts thing. If you’re going deep down the arcade rabbit hole, you may want to engage in “modding”, as in to swap the buttons/joystick at some point in the future. Even if it sounds intimidating, modding your fight stick is very easy, once you get the hang of it. Modding is defined as replacing (as in upgrading)original parts of your arcade stick, things like the joystick, actuators, restrictor plates, plexis, Sanwas, boards, bat-tops, different size buttons and so on and so forth.
Replacing them with what, you asked? Well, with “tuning parts”, as in better parts, from brands like Seimitsu or Sanwa. Usually speaking, all is needed for these “complex tasks” is a screwdriver, so don’t sweat it too much, as most arcade/fight sticks are designed to be easily customizable. The golden standard when it comes to “tuning parts” for one’s fight stick is the brand Sanwa Denshi, followed closely by Hori Hayabusa and Seimitsu, so keep that in mind for future upgrades. Also remember that modding your gaming gear usually voids manufacturer’s warranty, but not necessarily.
Razer-made arcade sticks are cool with modding, i.e. Razer is a mod-friendly company (it doesn’t void warranty), as long as you’re not modifying the printed circuit board. As the general rule of thumb, HORI’s RAP models (Real Arcade Pro) are excellent for beginners, as they’re not very expensive, yet they’re built with high-quality parts, hence you won’t feel like modding them right away, thus risking voiding warranty.
On the other hand, the Razer Pantera or Atrox can be modded anytime, without fear of voiding the warranty, but the question is: can you afford them?
Ideally, you should go for a high quality/premium fight stick, provided you’re in it for the long haul, as these bad boys are built with arcade quality components that will last you forever, as they’re designed to support unimaginable levels of abuse. The next level is to buy a custom fight stick, but that’s another story altogether. So, let’s get right into it.
12 Best Fight Sticks (Arcade Sticks) To Buy in 2020
The Best PS4 Arcade Stick
The Razer Panthera is an arcade stick that has reached almost legendary status among competitive gamers. As you may already know, this stick is a premium piece of gear, retailing for around $200, but it’s built and designed using high-quality components (Sanwa hardware), and features a sublime 8-way joystick, along with 10 professional-grade buttons.
Moreover, what’s most important, the Razer Panthera boasts a fully mod capable design, which means that if you’re a modding enthusiast, this arcade stick has your name on it, as you can customize both the buttons and the joystick without voiding the product’s warranty. It’s worth mentioning that the Panthera was specifically designed for PS4, but it also works on PC and it’s compatible with most fighting games out there.
- tournament grade buttons
- impeccable Sanwa joystick that comes with both ball top and bat top grips
- awesome design for easy modding “on the fly”
- comes with a special screwdriver for modding in the retail package
- great build quality
- kind of expensive
HORI Real Arcade Pro 4 Kai
Best Bang for the Buck
The HORI Real Arcade Pro 4 Kai is a top-tier fight stick, specially designed for PS3 and PS4 (also PC compatible), and comes with Sony certification.
If you’re into fighting games, this arcade stick would make for a great choice, as it’s built with high-quality components and reasonably priced. Besides offering excellent value for money, the HORI Real Arcade Pro 4 Kai comes fully packed with arcade-grade components and features, including a Hayabusa joystick, which is blazing fast and extremely accurate, and professional Hayabusa buttons, for instant response and faster actuation.
Also known as RAP4 Kai, this fight stick can be described as the standard in the industry, quality wise, and it will make for an excellent purchase for both beginners and fighting-games enthusiasts, as it’s been spotted often in EVO competitions.
- great value for money
- plays and feels premium
- mod friendly
- built with arcade-grade Hayabusa components
- some users complain about insufficient grip for the bottom side of the unit
No-nonsense PS4 Fight Stick
The Qanba Obsidian is a high-end fighting stick designed for Playstation 4 (also PC compatible), with a price of less than $200. To describe it in a few words, the jewel in Qanba’s crown, the Obsidian that is, would make for the perfect choice if you’re an average fighting-game enthusiast looking for a no-nonsense fight stick. Built using high-quality Sanwa parts, the Obsidian is ready to go right out of the box, and if you’re not obsessed with modding, this baby has your name on it.
The only issue with this tournament-grade piece of gaming gear is that modding it is rather difficult, as it’s not designed for easy access and all that. However, the Obsidian is built like a tank, i.e. it will never give up on you, and that’s extremely important in a tournament scenario.
- premium design and build
- Sanwa components are Arcade-grade quality
- compact appearance, cool design
- focused on simplicity and quality
- aluminum-made panels, solid-metal balltop
- oozes class
- rather expensive
- not the best choice for modding enthusiasts
8Bitdo N30 Arcade Stick
The Best Budget Fight Stick
If you haven’t spent your childhood in arcades and you’re on a tight budget, the 8Bitdo N30 arcade stick would make for a solid option, considering its price tag, gorgeous design and plethora of features. On top of that, the 8Bitdo N30 arcade stick is hugely versatile, being compatible with Mac, PC, Nintendo Switch and even Android.
Even if this is not an “arcade-grade” fight stick, and that’s obvious considering the fact that the N30 doesn’t work on Xbox nor PS4, it still makes for a great choice for casual players, being an arcade styled Bluetooth compatible stick, which is great for enjoying old school arcade games.
- great design
- very customizable
- top notch compatibility
- offers wireless connectivity
- doesn’t work on PS4 or Xbox
- can’t be used while charging
- controls feel spongy
Mayflash F500 Arcade Fight Stick
Another Affordable Option
The Mayflash F500 fight stick can be best described as the jack of all trades, master of none. The thing is, the F500 excels in regards to cross-platform compatibility (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, switch, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, Android, NEOGEO mini), and it’s also relatively cheap.
Basically, this is the universal arcade fight stick, and also fully customizable, as it supports Sanwa Denshi joysticks and buttons. Obviously, those would cost you extra. However, the stock parts are quite good, if you’re not a hardcore gamer, but it’s quite obvious this platform is built for modding.
- amazing cross-platform compatibility
- solid build quality, adequate performance out of the box
- affordable price
- designed for easy modding
- makes for a great starter kit
- Mayflash’s MAGICBOOTS dongles provide wireless connectivity (sold separately)
- none really at this price
HORI Real Arcade Pro N Hayabusa Arcade Fight Stick
Running with the Best
The HORI RAP.N fight stick is designed and built for PlayStation 3 and 4 platforms but it also works on PC as well. Featuring a cool Noir button layout and Hayabusa parts (joystick and buttons), the RAP.N is an excellent mid-range fight stick, which offers a lot of bang for the proverbial buck. Actually, this product boasts SIEA certification, which means that the HORI RAP.N is a tournament grade arcade fight stick, with a minimalist and sleek design.
All these features make the RAP.N to be one of the best fight sticks on the market, especially due to its short throw buttons and excellent joystick, along with its exquisite matte surface, and its awesome black and gold color scheme.
- fantastic value for money
- mod friendly
- Hayabusa parts
- stylish panel art design
- feels solid and sturdy
- low input lag compared to previous generations
- the Noir panel layout may not be everyone’s cup of tea
- doesn’t work so great on older Windows versions (older than Windows 10 that is)
Mayflash F300 Arcade Fight Stick
Great Choice for PC
The Mayflash F300 can be best described as the “universal fight stick”, as it can be used on a multitude of platforms, the likes of PS4, PS3, XBOX ONE, XBOX 360, PC, Switch, and NeoGeo mini.
On top of that, the F300 can be easily customized, i.e. it’s moddable/upgradable with Sanwa Denshi/Seimitsu gear, joystick and buttons respectively. Obviously, those would cost you extra, but truth be told, modding the F300 is worth the stretch if you’re taking arcade games seriously.
- easily moddable
- works on basically everything
- comes with XINPUT and DINPUT on PC
- a great buy for beginners
- not suitable for seasoned arcade players
- stock buttons don’t “feel right”, as in they’re mushy and not very responsive, and the same goes for the joystick
Razer Atrox For Xbox One
The Best Xbox One Arcade Stick
The Razor Atrox is arguably the best arcade stick for Xbox One, yet be advised: quality comes at a price. However, you’ll get a lot of arcade-grade quality for this kind of money, as the Atrox is an incredible controller with state of the art buttons and remappable controls. On top of that, the Atrox is built for modding, and doing so won’t void the product’s warranty, which is as good as it gets.
Razer designed the Atrox to be very user-friendly in regard to modding, and, to put it bluntly, this arcade stick will rock your world if you’re an Xbox One owner who wants to upgrade his gaming rig. That stands true especially if you’re into fighting games.
- premium build quality and feel
- feels sturdy, looks awesome
- makes modding a child’s play
- tournament-grade stock components (Sanwa buttons and joystick)
- none really, except for the price tag
Enter the Dragon
If you’re a PS3/PS4 “playa” looking for the best fight stick money can buy, budget be damned, the Qanba Dragon is definitely worth a look. Dragon is an officially licensed Sony product, featuring a high-end aluminum-made dragon scale interior, with LED-lighting, and, most importantly, Sanwa buttons (OBSF-30 pushbuttons).
This fight stick oozes style and high performance, is designed for hardcore arcade aficionados and e-athletes (if there is such a thing), and it also makes for a fine collector’s piece, being the “creme de la creme” in the “stick world”. No kidding. One of the coolest thing about the Dragon from Qanba is that it’s designed to be incredibly easy to mod, boasting “one-touch modifying” technology, i.e. the top panels can be stripped off instantly, thus allowing you to upgrade/replace the components hassle-free, even if you’re a total “noob”.
- looks and feels high end
- full sized JLF Sanwa joystick with chrome balltop
- built like a tank
- perfect for modding aficionados
- Turbo function
- too large and heavy for traveling purposes
- USB cable cannot be detached
HORI Real Arcade Pro.V Kai Fighting Stick
Golden Mid Ranger
HORI is a well-established name in the arcade industry, and their Xbox One centric RAP V Kai is one of the best fight sticks out there, both in terms of pricing and performance. The HORI Real Arcade Pro.V Kai Fighting Stick boasts a Hayabusa joystick, which is pretty similar to the legendary Sanwa JLF-TP, while the in-house made Hori Kuro buttons are just as good as the iconic Sanwa OBSF30.
Another thing to keep in mind about this tournament-grade fight stick is that it’s thinner than most of its direct competitors, the likes of Razer Panthera or the Mad Catz TE2+, but this doesn’t compromise its excellent stability. Considering its price and high-quality performance and build, I would recommend it as a must-have fight stick for arcade enthusiasts.
- amazing value for the money asked
- responsive and precise joystick and buttons
- PC/XBOX 360 compatible
- professional level features
- not as modding-friendly as some of its direct competitors
- in-house made buttons and stick take some time to get used to
Mad Catz Street Fighter V Arcade FightStick TE2+
Mad as Hell
The Mad Catz Street Fighter V Arcade FightStick TE2+ is a living legend among arcade aficionados. This fight stick is the perfect choice if you’re into playing fighting games like Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Tekken, Guilty Gear and similar stuff, due to its genuine arcade layout with Sanwa Denshi parts. To make a long story short, it doesn’t get any better than this. Unfortunately, the company went under last year, so you should buy one while they’re still available.
- premium (as in tournament grade) components
- Vewlix-Style Arcade design with 8 buttons, the stuff legends are made of
- easy modding via Chassis Hinges Open technology
- extremely accurate ball top lever stick
- clear top panel with a removable bezel
- excellent build quality
- compatible with most fighting games
- some users report quality issues with the cable
The Qanba Drone is a cost-effective (the politically correct term for cheap) arcade stick, lightweight and designed for portability, making for the ideal choice for players looking for decent performance at affordable prices. This arcade stick is sturdy, light, reliable and it’s excellent for first-time buyers looking to improve their gaming experience without breaking the piggy bank. Keep in mind that the Drone is designed for PS3/PS4 and PC only.
- well priced and fully functional out of the box
- PS4 certified
- genuine arcade feel
- responsive stick
- cuts the right corners without sacrificing performance in the process
- the joystick’s throw range is rather disturbing compared to Japanese-made products
- kind of small to hold it in your lap