I’ve been playing with MAME for a while now and reliving some old arcade games. Who would think that retro arcade games can be so much fun given the lifelike graphics of many of the games today? Playing Joust or Galaga with a gamepad is fun, but don’t you wish you could run your blue wizard through the dungeon in Gauntlet with an arcade stick? There are a few arcade setups for sale and today I take a look at X-Gaming’s X-Arcade Kit, a device to give you that arcade experience at home.
The X-Arcade stick features two joysticks, eight buttons for each controller, a pair of pinball flipper buttons, and two start buttons. There’s also an LED in the upper right of to let you know the stick is active. The button layout for each player has six Street Fighter layouts with two three-button rows. Two more buttons are positioned underneath and a little to the left of the second row. The two start buttons have that familiar picture for one or two players that you see in the arcades. If you play pinball games, a button is located on each side of the unit so you can grasp the sides and make it feel like you’re at a pinball machine. The only thing I can think of that’s missing from the unit would be a trackball to play some oldies like Centipede or Crystal Castles. Oh, and a rotating handle on the joystick would’ve been really cool to play Ikari Warriors or Midnight Resistance. Other than that you have a setup that should satisfy 90% of the MAME games out there.
The unit is rather big but I feel that it’s not wide enough. In terms of the layout, you’ll be sitting close you friend if you use the unit together. It’s a minor inconvenience and sometimes it does work by sitting at a minor angle to the X-Arcade.
On the back of the machine are the connectors, a load button, and a mode switch. Connection to your PC is through the PS2 keyboard port. You plug your keyboard into the unit and a serial cable connects to a converter to plug into your PC. Why did X-Gaming choose to have a serial cable that plugs into a converter you ask? Well, one of the great features of this unit is that because it terminates to a serial plug, all X-Gaming does is produce a converter for any console or PC interface so that you won’t have to purchase an entirely new unit if you want to use it with a future gaming machine. As of this writing, X-Gaming has a USB, PS2/PSone, and Dreamcast adapters. They also have beta versions of GameCube and XBOX adapters for you to try out. I was sent the PS2 adapter to test out with my Playstation 2. I really applaud X-Gaming to design the unit to be compatible with any future gaming unit.
The mode switch allows you to program three different configurations into the unit with the fourth one being an unchangeable default setting. Sliding the mode switch to a programmable position, you press the load button twice to select that mode. Now if you have experienced the Strategic Commander from Microsoft, you know that you can program that controller on the fly without having to exit out of your current game. The same can be done with the X-Gaming Arcade Kit and it’s a very convenient and awesome feature that should be used by more controllers today. Say you’re in the middle of a game and you are not comfortable with your setup. Press the load button once, hold the arcade button you want to program, hold the keyboard key you want it to emulate and wait for the LED to signal to you that it’s done. Program the others and when you are finished just hit the load button once and your commands will be saved even if you unplug the unit. It’s simple, effective, and you can reprogram the keys as many times as you like.
Every part is arcade quality, which means arcade toughness. You know how rough kids can be in arcades playing Street Fighter 2 and trying to torque the stick off the wood doing the Zangief spinning pile driver. Well, the X-Gaming stick features the durable parts that are specifically designed for the unit. From the manual, it states that the joystick, buttons, and switches were designed especially for the X-Gaming unit to provide a high level of quality and maintain performance over a long period of time. While I have to play with the unit a lot longer to test out whether this is true, I can say that the movements of the stick and the button responses feel exactly like an arcade stick. Given that’s what you would want in the first place, the higher quality parts is just icing on the cake and if they work as advertised then you have one quality gaming device that should last you a while. So does that mean you have to call up X-Gaming to replace any broken part? The answer is that you can replace any of the buttons or switches with any arcade part from a store that sells them. So you don’t have to replace the broken parts with X-Gaming’s own parts but you can if you want to. If you live by a store that sells arcade parts, you can easily repair your X-Gaming unit with those and have it working without having to wait on X-Gaming to send you a replacement. If you want to add some color to your buttons or use a different joystick handle, just replace it with a part from a dealer. The unit comes with a one year warranty so if it does fail in that time limit, you can get replacements at no charge. If you need someone else to replace the parts for you, X-Gaming includes a 90-day labor policy.
The wood that the unit is made of feels very durable so it should take a good amount of pounding for when you lose that NBA Jam game on a last second half court shot. The bottom of the unit allows you access to the switches by unscrewing a wood board. Since the unit is made of wood, it is a little heavy but the weight should also keep the unit from moving around when playing with others. It’s finished in a nice black paint with the X-Gaming Logo on top. It’s another aspect of the X-Arcade that gives it the true arcade feel.
You can adjust the sensitivity of the buttons and the joystick by removing the bottom panel and making minor adjustments to the switches or springs. Say you don’t play many fighting games but more of the retro Q-Bert, Pac Man, or Donkey Kong games. You really only need four directions as the diagonals aren’t used. Just pop open the bottom, move the arms away from the control stick, then you’re ready to go. But if you’re into fighting games and need that high sensitivity for diagonals, then just move the arms towards the control stick and it’ll be more sensitive to those directions. I made the changes and I could really tell the differences. I didn’t need to be as precise in the diagonals for the unit to register that direction. It’ll really help all the fighting games, which depend on eight directions. The buttons can also be changed to feel looser by adjusting the springs.
Since the X-Arcade Kit emulates a keyboard, there are no drivers to install. Just plug the unit into your computer or console and you’re ready to go. Because programming is done through the hardware, you don’t even have to install any software to get it running. There’s not much more you can do to make the X-Arcade kit easier to get working.
Being that this thing emulates an arcade setup, what better program to test it out with than MAME? MAME v.60 actually has native support for the X-Arcade. In the default options and controllers tab, you can select the X-Arcade setup in the drop down box in the keyboard area. If you use an older version of MAME, the Hot Rod selection in the controllers tab will also work fine. You can probably play most games without having to program the buttons once you do this so you can get right into the game without too much time trying to set it up. So after plugging into my laptop with MAME installed, I took it through a test run of Street Fighter 2 Championship Edition, Mortal Kombat 2, and Smash T.V. extensively along with a few of the other games in my library.
If you play Smash T.V. you know the arcade setup had two joysticks to control your character: one for firing and one for moving. The default setup is for the X-Arcade is to allow one player use both of the joysticks to play the game. Now you can program it so that if you are playing with someone else, each person can use a joystick and the buttons to control, but if you want to true feel of Smash T.V. or Robotron, you can use both joysticks to play. Does it feel exactly like you’re playing at the arcade? You bet your ass it does. The X-Arcade Kit completes the setup for a true Smash T.V. experience and I must say that it was a blast to play with the two arcade feeling joysticks. Controlling the character and aim was accurate and responsive. That familiar click feel when you push a direction on a stick really adds to the arcade at home experience. It’s too bad only one person can experience the game this way.
Street Fighter 2 Championship Edition was up next and I decided to play Zangief, Ryu, and Balrog to give me a feel for how well the joystick works with characters that rely on the rotational movement to perform their special moves with Balrog being the representative for the straight charge moves. If I could pull off spinning pile drivers and dragon uppercuts like I used to back in the old days then we got ourselves a real winner here. Needless to say that playing Street Fighter 2 with the X-Arcade was a dream. Again, the characters were responsive and I dragon punched my way across the screen with ease. Playing Zangief, I was amazed at how well I was pulling off the spinning pile drivers. You don’t really appreciate how much you miss arcade sticks with fighters until you play one on a gamepad for a while and move to an arcade stick. As with Smash T.V., the X-Arcade makes playing fighting games a real experience. I don’t think I can go back to playing it any other way.
I’ve always been a fan of Mortal Kombat 2 and I was pretty ecstatic to play it on MAME with the X-Arcade. There’s no substitute for playing the game with an arcade style stick. With the X-Arcade, I was waxing nostalgic when playing the game remembering all the time and quarters I spent in the arcade. There were no problems pulling off moves with various characters and the stick helps make some of the charge fatalities a lot easier to pull off. I even pulled off a few friendships and bablities within a short amount of time. When playing all the games I used to play in the arcades with the X-Arcade instead of a gamepad, I found that I quickly become proficient again with the game.
The X-Arcade also works well with the Playstation 2. Each button is mapped to a PS2 button, which can be seen from the instructions that X-Gaming supplies you with. Since the Playstation 2 gamepad has two analog sticks and a D-Pad, you can switch the function of the joystick between the three. Attaching the adapter and plugging it into both of the joystick ports, I loaded up Virtua Fighter 4. After mapping the three buttons to mimic the same setup as the arcade, I proceeded to play a few rounds. The stick worked as well on the PS2 as it did on the PC. All movements and button presses responded flawlessly and I had a lot easier time playing VF4 with a stick than a gamepad. It was also a lot more fun to use a full size arcade setup rather than a hand held gamepad for that game. While I don’t think the X-Arcade will be suited for a lot of games on the PS2, all the fighter games and some of the arcade sports game should benefit from using an arcade setup. And of course, if you play a few arcade ports on the Playstation 2, the X-Arcade kit should provide a better experience if you want that arcade feel.
At $150 right now for the PC version, you get a true arcade feel for two people. Besides giving you that arcade experience at home, the versatile X-Arcade Kit is compatible with all the major consoles and features on the fly button programmability. You can replace worn out parts from any arcade part supplier. It’s truly one of the best arcade setups I’ve played with. The X-Arcade just screams quality the moment you take it out of the box. And you’ll notice the great feel immediately on any game you play. It does a wonderful job at mimicking the real thing. In actuality, it is the real thing given that it uses arcade quality parts. If you plan on building a MAME cabinet, don’t hesitate to go out and purchase the X-Arcade Kit.
A great recreation of the arcade style controller with plenty of buttons, programmability, and adapters for consoles.