A Beginner’s Guide to Joysticks and Fightsticks

I’ve been playing a lot of fighting games and Street Fighter IV recently, and while I’m looking to up my game through practice, I still want to have the right tools for the job – and this means having a good fightstick. I currently have a Mad Catz Tournament Edition (TE) for the Xbox 360 which uses a Sanwa joystick and buttons – and frankly it’s excellent.

However, I’ve been trying to take my new-found fightin’ chops back to some older games like the Street Fighter Alpha series, SNK Vs. Capcom etc, and for that I have an X-Arcade (XA) dual-stick with a PS1/PS2/DC/Gamecube/Wii adapter. While the X-Arcade stick is okay for fighting games, it’s absolutely nowhere near as good as the TE, and quite frankly I perform pretty poorly with it – missing simple shory’s, ‘doukens and supers all over the place.

A MadKatz Tournament Edition fightstick

An X-Arcade Dual Stick joystick

I know I can do these moves consistently on the TE, but I live in a world of fail on the XA i.e. if I flub an ultra on the TE I’m disappointed, but I’m barely able to even make an ultra on the XA. So what’s going on?

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Limbo

I hear good things about a new Xbox Live game (by Danish indie-devs Playdead ) called Limbo… When I showed the below trailer to the wife last night she said it looks like a very dark Little Big Planet – which I’ve got to say wasn’t the first thing that came to mind, but she could well be on to something there…

Apparently it’s only about four hours of gameplay, but it’s one of those games that when you finish it you’ll be happy to sit down and discuss what it all meant with your mates… Hmm, very tempted to pick it up (1200 points, 117MB) – and it seems there’s a demo available too.

Might just check that out right now :)

Street Fighter IV (The Masses)

Whilst out shopping the other day I was browsing the 360 display shelves for bargains when my heart skipped a beat; Street Fighter IV – an arcade perfect 3D reimagining of SF2? I had to have it. And lo, I did. And it was good. But I’ve been playing this damn game for the last 17 frackn years or so in various incarnations (stemming from my initial love of the SNES port, though the less said about the clunky-ass 4-disk swapfest that was the Amiga port the better) – and it just seems to get harder and harder with each incarnation [with the XBLA version being notoriously unforgiving].

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not a dedicated, hardcore player of the mighty SF. I don’t know absolutely every combo for every character, and I don’t compete in tournaments. What I do do is give my mates a damn good run for their money – a lot of the time coming out on top – and enjoy it immensely.  I’ve finished the SNES version on the hardest level, and can last a fair number of rounds in the arcade should I be fortunate to stumble across a working machine. But this thing, at one specific moment, is cheap. How cheap? Think free. Think “as chips”, think “How-the-fuck-am-I-supposed-to-do-anything-when-THREE-FRAMES-after-I’ve-got-up-off-my-feet-you-put-me-into-some-super-mega-ultra-psychedelic-headcrush-spin-grab”. Repeatedly.

This does sound a lot like I’m just some bitter, twisted old wastrel complaining about my decline in performance as my eyes fail to track and my feeble fingers struggle to hold on to the gamepad – but that’s mostly not the case. A lot of the time the game’s rather fair, it doesn’t unnecessarily perfect you without mercy, or use too many gay tactics. Though, in a nod to Mortal Kombat [which I regard with an indifference closely bordering on aversion], the AI will do a lot of knocking you down and then hovering over you – daring you to get up and immediately be dealt more of the same – but thats swiftly batted aside by a perfectly timed Shoryuken.

What I don’t like is the final boss: Seth.

You sure do look purty in them there jeans, boy...
You sure do look purty in them there jeans, boy...

Seth, for lack of a better description, is a cunt ticking time bomb. Naturally blessed with the ability to use everyone elses moves, he adds to this by having his own set of moves, including (but not limited to):

  1. Teleporting all over the shop ala. Raiden – so all your moves flip sides as he decides which cheek is most photogenic for the slo-mo finisher.
  2. Unblockably (??) sucking you into his Ying/Yang sphere of a belly from across the screen (no, really) and then spitting you out minus a large section of your health bar.
  3. Delivering small children into the world.

For the first round, he’s a standard enemy. He jumps, he hits, he uses lots of different, varied attacks – but is eventually beatable through thought and determination. Victory is possible.

However, once you’ve won a single round against him things change drastically for the worse. Gone is the gentlemanly spirit of fair play previously present, where an opponent is allowed a split-second, a glimmer of hope, before being consigned to a wheelchair indefinitely. In its place is spat out a cheap-ass David Dickinson-a-like switching sides 3 sides a second then grabbing you for a playful, painful, spinning pile-drive. Relentlessly. Over and over. Until you die.

This sucks lots.

Apart from the final boss after one rounds worth of defeat, I’m absolutely loving it. The focus system and Super Cancels are awesome, though will take a lot of time to really put in my muscle-memory and become instinctive. It looks fantastic, sounds pretty good, and most importantly, plays fantasticly well. I wish I’d played the arcade version to offer up a comparison, but from all accounts this is a fantasticly faithful port of the new arcade giant. We’re not talking Outrun on the Spectrum – this is the real deal, with every last frame and nuance present and correct. Flawless.

A bad workman tends to blame his tools, and as an owner of an X-Arcade stick (sadly 12,000 miles away in the UK), I would love to get a XFPS dongle and see what difference having a real joystick as opposed to a joypad makes – but even on the 360 game pad it’s not so bad. Not having 6 buttons on the right does have an impact, and the only way to truly enjoy the experience would be with the XFPS or a similar yet sadly-limited-in-use-and-ludicrously-marked-up Official Street Fighter IV Arcade Stick(TM) (roundup of arcade sticks via link). But hey, nothings perfect – and aside from the abundance of chips when it gets to the last round of the last fight – I can’t speak highly enough of SF IV.

Through converting the game to 3D whilst keeping its 2D roots firmly intact, SF IV has opened up to another generation one of the most finely honed yet accessible fighting mechanics known to man – and if the truth be told, the humiliating thrashings delivered just keeps me going back to Seth in an effort to, this time, finally make him my bitch.

With a vengenace.