It's been a while since we had a review of a Mad Catz product on this site. I liked a lot of their original Xbox products and the MicroCon controllers were one of my favorite ones to use for the Xbox. With the explosion of old arcade games on Xbox Live, Mad Catz has released and old school looking controller for fans out there.. Let's take a look at the Arcade Gamestick and see how it stacks up.
Mad Catz's Arcade Gamestick features an oversized joystick on a square base. Take the style of the Atari 2600 controller and elongate the handle a bit and you get the Arcade Gamestick's stick. It's an analog stick unlike older style arcade controllers which are digital and only feature four or eight directions. On top of the joystick is a button that coincides with the left analog button on a regulargamepad . The square base is concave on the bottom and on the sides making it a little easier to hold. On two corners of the product are the bumpers and triggers. The triggers seem to have a slight mushy feel to them when you press down but they spring back to it's original position well.
The four colored buttons in the diamond configuration sits to the right of the stick and north of the right analog stick. Each button's feel when pushed is pretty good and offers good feedback. The right analog stick does feel a little looser than I would've liked but it's not bad. I also liked the click of the right analog stick. It feels strong and also offers great feedback when pressed.
One unique feature that I would love to see games take advantage of is the rotating dial or spinner that surrounds the right analog stick. You can activate the spinner with the selector located between the joystick and the main buttons. For games like Tempest or Breakout, this would be a great feature. It's got a good feel and offers strong yet smooth action when spinning. I had hoped it would work with Zuma so I could rotate the frog around with the dial but alas it didn't work correctly. Let's hope that developers in the future take note of this and design some games that use it.
In the middle sits the Xbox 360 button with the D-pad on the bottom left part of the joystick. The D-pad's springs feel stiff and very well made. It's a cross style D-Pad and a design I prefer over the Xbox 360's dial pad with a cross. In the top center sits the start and back buttons. Underneath the back button is the turbo button so you can use rapid fire on the stick. The speed of the turbo can be adjusted with the selector to the right of it. The stick offers three settings for you to choose from. You can program as little as 1 button or all of them to use turbo so you aren't stuck with having buttons that react to turbo that you don't want to. The speed of button presses range from 2 presses per second, 5 presses per second, and 6 presses per second.
The USB cord is of very generous length so you can sit pretty far from the console and still have it work. At the end is a break-away plug that separates in two in case someone or something runs by quick and trips the over the cord. If this happens, you can be sure your console won't be ripped from it's position and you end up with a broken Xbox 360.
One nice thing about the stick is that it comes with three Xbox Live arcade games. Bundled with the controller are Frogger, AstroPop, and Time Pilot. That's another $15 value right there giving bringing the joystick down to $35 really. There's also a nice little free 48 hour trial for Xbox Live Arcade if you aren't already a gold member. The games aren't the top of the line Xbox Arcade Live offerings but they are fun nevertheless. I enjoyed Frogger and Time Pilot the most while AstroPop will appeal to those that like puzzle games. Overall, the bundle gives you some full versions of games to use your stick with.
The Arcade Gamestick performed ok in all the game I tested with it. I ran through the entire gamete of the line on Xbox Live Arcade. The spring seems to be stronger on the stick compared to the right analog stick making it feel sturdier. I don't prefer the over-sized joystick as much as I thought I would though. I do really like the feel of old school controllers as the TankStick from X-Arcade being one of my favorite controllers currently shows. I think I would've liked it better if Mad Catz decided to do a straight eight direction digital feel rather than keeping the main stick analog or perhaps offering a way to switch between analog and digital like some of the older controllers I used to have would've been a nice addition. I also found it's a lot easier to place it on a surface to use rather than holding it in a hand. There are still some games I prefer to play with using the Xbox 360 controller but the Arcade Gamestick is a good compliment in some of the classics such as Frogger, Contra, and Pac Man. It's kind of funny because games that don't use any buttons such as Frogger and Pac Man, I find myself using my right hand to control it as it feels more comfortable and it's how I play in arcades. The over-sized stick makes it easy to grasp with the off hand if when you're reaching over from the right side of the controller. Since it's USB, you can also use it on your PC as well if you like. If you have some MAME or Atari classic games, you can use the Arcade Gamestick with them too.
Overall, the Mad Catz Arcade Gamestick does offer an old style feel for some old school games. It's a good effort and I hope Mad Catz improves on the design to offer some more old style controllers. Like I said earlier, a digital eight way stick with the arcade style handles would be a great one to come out with. The spinner is a great feature and one that developers need to leverage in future games. The controller comes with a 2 year warranty giving you a good amount of time to get repaired or replaced should something happen. With three games included, it's not a bad buy and it's also something unique that no other third or first party manufacturer offers.
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