review by Don Evanoff

Funny how little choice people have in this country for quality joysticks on home consoles, where fighting games are so popular.  Likewise, classic arcade and console emulation is growing in popularity, yet the only widely known stick has been Hanaho's HotRod SE.  Now, a relative newcomer has arrived on the scene, promising an arcade-quality experience for BOTH home console and PC user.  Ladies and gentlemen, meet the X-Arcade.

We received an X-Arcade twin-stick unit from XGaming, out of Laguna Hills, California, for review and were quick to tear open that plain-wrap brown box for some wholesome joysticking.  To my surprise, the twin-stick was enclosed in a decorative window box, replete with lightning bolts, the X-Arcade logo, and numerous quotes of endorsement from different publications and websites.  I like the box.  Sure, it's a product of some heavy-handed Photoshop work, but it is packaging designed to hide nothing from the consumer, boldly and proudly displaying the mighty "X" of X-Arcade, emblazoned across the control deck, and all that awaits the lucky consumer.

With optional adapters, the X-Arcade can be made compatible with PS2, GameCube, Xbox, and Dreamcast (shown here).
Side-by-side with Hanaho's HotRod SE, both units are almost identical in size.

We took the X-Arcade out of the box and quickly hooked it up through the PS/2 keyboard port of the computer for some MAME gaming.  (MAME-ing?)  Hook-up was a snap, and the stick worked flawlessly out of the box with the default configuration.  The X-Arcade, like the Hot Rod SE joystick, mimics keyboard inputs, providing the most immediate and accurate inputs for games (exceptions being specialized controllers like trackballs, spinners, etc.)  And like the Hot Rod SE, the components for the X-Arcade's sticks and buttons are made of the same high quality arcade components, built for arcade-pounding abuse and long life.  But, unlike the Hot Rod SE, X-Arcade has greater customization of button layout and stick control, with up to three additional memory positions for button configurations, and a removable bottom panel that allows you to adjust the tension settings on the joysticks.  This allows greater flexibility than just customizing MAME settings, especially when using the stick with other emulators, like for Neo Geo, SNES, and others.  And if that's not enough, the X-Arcade even allows you to set the joysticks to either 4-way input or 8-way input, in case you're a Pac-Man purist and can't play with anything other than a 4-way stick.

But MAME-ing we knew wouldn't be a problem (at least we assumed so) and our big concern was with console usage.  X-Arcade sells separate adaptors for use on PS1/PS2, Dreamcast, GameCube, and XBOX.  These are simple devices that plug into the PC adaptor on the back of the joystick case, then into the controller ports of the appropriate system.  The adaptor has the button configurations already mapped, so when you connect, there are no further adjustments you can make, other than analog or digital joystick input.  Twin-stick adaptors split the game deck into controller one and controller two, where as on a PC connection, the sticks can be assigned as one unit or two separate units.  This does create a slight problem, as I will explain later.  The XBOX was used to test both fighting games and MAME, each showing their compatibility with the X-Arcade, and demonstrating the flexibility of the X-Arcade over sticks like Hot Rod SE, which can only be used with a computer.  Once again, the X-Arcade shined in use.  With home consoles, fighting games are the main reason someone would want this stick.  You won't be disappointed.  Button inputs are immediate, and reaction times with the joystick are wonderful.  No more fumbling with the d-pad to pull off combos, and no more analog stick mushiness when trying to play games like Pac-Man instead of using a real joystick.

The controls are highly configurable, and feature more button options than the HotRod SE.
X-Gaming also offers an X-Arcade SOLO! This bad boy is a little more than half the size of the twin stick but just as durable. A very nice option indeed.

The X-Arcade is not without its faults, but they are hardly enough to negate the value of the joystick.  First, the button layout can be a little awkward if you are trying to use the X-Arcade in the default configuration with some fighting games, including the Neo Geo games.  Players may be used to an arching button layout, either two rows of three buttons, one above the other, or a single arching-row of four buttons.  But to remedy this, X-Arcade has two arching rows of buttons hidden within the square button layout.  There are two rows of three buttons, plus a third row of two buttons left of center of these rows, but beneath.  If you follow these two buttons up and to the right, through the square layout of the two rows, you'll see two arching rows of buttons similar to a Neo Geo layout, and more comfortable to use than the standard box layout.  The buttons may not be as spread out as a full size arcade cabinet control deck, but considering the X-Arcade is trying to be all things to all people, it will do the job most of the time.  Remember, you have a default configuration on the joystick, three more custom memory settings you can program, a built-in recognition of the X-Arcade on the latest versions of MAME, AND you can designate your own inputs through the MAME control panel yourself!  Find what is comfortable for you and program it.  It's worth the investment in time.

The limited size of the X-Arcade twin-stick may be awkward for some.  Perhaps half of the users out there may sit and use the X-Arcade in such a way as to bump into the person on the second stick.  Personally, I didn't have this problem sitting down next to another player, and almost nobody I know using the X-Arcade while standing felt uncomfortable.  You have to make the decision.  If you want to have the twin-stick functionality for games like Smash T.V., Robotron, and Total Carnage, then you HAVE to go with the twin-stick.  If you want the most amount of space to yourself for fighting games, purchase separate single-sticks.

The X-Arcade doesn't manage twin-stick games as you'd expect it to on consoles like the Xbox...
... but it more than makes up for this with everything else, offering unparalleled flexibility with button configurations.

My biggest bone to pick with the X-Arcade is really quite small, since the two home consoles I would use it most with are quite capable of handling the twin-stick. The X-Arcade has adaptors for the major home consoles, which is great, but the adaptors have the button configurations preset, so there is no changing what you want with the sticks. The presets for XBOX and PS2 are sensible, while the GameCube could use a little work. If the game you are playing allows you to designate buttons, then you may be in luck. The only time I could designate button use was with MAME on XBOX. With a little trickery, I was even able to get the twin-sticks to work with games like Robotron and Smash T.V., although Smash T.V. became a single-player experience. For those hoping to use twin-sticks for games like Virtual-On on Dreamcast, you're out of luck. Like I said, this is a small point, pre-programmed controls, but the flexibility of the X-Arcade now has a self-imposed limit that shouldn't be there.

The X-Arcade stick is a joy.  It has rock-solid build quality, arcade feel that will make a joystick snob out you once you use it, and the customization and flexibility to make the price of admission seem like a bargain.  X-Arcade may want to look into angling the buttons for a little less stress on the wrists, and a way to combine twin-stick use for consoles would be a huge leap forward for mankind, but this product now is extremely enjoyable.  Any way you look at it, this stick is the right choice.  Computer users would want it for MAME and classic gaming emulation; console users would want it for fighting games, which are starting to pour in, and the increasing number of emulators for the PS2, Dreamcast, and XBOX.  Give X-Gaming and the X-Arcade a closer look if you aren't familiar with them.  You won't be disappointed.

Vist the X-Gaming/X-Arcade Website at http://www.x-arcade.com


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Last updated: Tuesday, February 06, 2007 02:46 PM