Peripherally Speaking: Tournament Edition FightStick

You may remember the Mad Catz Street Fighter IV Tournament Edition FightStick. It was released in limited quantities when the fighting game debuted in February. Hungry players pre-ordered the joystick into oblivion, forcing Mad Catz to do at least one more production run and subsequently more to meet demand.  The TE stick is still a hot commodity amongst the fighting game community, but now you can get it a much better non-bloated price. Several retailers have it in stock.

A billion years ago we did an impressions piece on the TE stick. We now have a brand new one and we’ve put it through all the motions for a full review (including comparing it to the Standard Edition FightStick). Hit the break to read it.

[Update: A few minor additions and touches have been added, most notably a mention of the storage box]

Mad Catz Street Fighter IV Tournament Edition FightStick (Xbox 360 [reviewed], PC, PlayStation 3)
Company: Mad Catz
MSRP: $150.00 

I had an accident with the stick the afternoon I received it. As I freed the bugger from one of the two stubborn Styrofoam shackles holding it in place, my hand lost its karate-action grip on the stick’s glossy white corner. My cat-like reflexes and striking good looks saved the stick from oblivion, but I still couldn’t kill the thoughts of what could have been — my new stick laying broken on the floor from a vicious tumble. While it shook me, it also opened my eyes to what I was dealing with: the TE stick is big and heavy, glossy and slick. In a few words, the ideal arcade stick.

On the surface, the stick is impressive. It looks, well, as refined as a Street Fighter IV super peripheral can be. A red insert sits underneath a thick and transparent plastic sheet. The white buttons,  white joystick knob and white edging offset the deep color of the insert as well as the black highlights and two darker gray outer buttons. A subtle yellow SF4 logo is the gaudiest thing on the peripheral, but that’s not saying much. I find it a tasteful addition.

The back of the TE stick is a bit special. Unlike the Standard Edition FightStick, the TE stick has a little box where you can roll up and insert the cord to hide it. While it works, I would have liked it more if it was a touch bigger. You really have to fold and mess with the cord to get it into the box. Speaking of behind, the Start and Select buttons are located right next to storage compartment — out of sight and impossible to hit during play.

The TE stick is more than pretty, though. It’s also huge, which became a source of minor annoyance as I used it. The stick dominates my lap — its wings stretch past my spectacularly well-muscled thighs. Because it’s not perfectly level, the stick has a habit of sliding and dipping off my lap whenever the SFIV action gets hot and I start hitting the buttons frantically. During the entire review period for the stick, I constantly readjusted its placement. This was always between rounds, though and it wasn’t sliding more than a few inches at a time.
Despite the readjusting, I came to love the size of the stick. I like to think of it as a Hungry Man TV Dinner tray. Instead of delivering mounds of vulgar fried chicken and sloppy mashed potatoes, it gives me the ability to dish out nasty Ultra Combo attacks and disastrous combinations convienently. This is a good thing.

The stick has four rubber pads so it can be played with on a coffee table or something. But only little girls do that. Probably. It also has turbo functionality and while it works perfectly, I believe that only girls use that as well.

When the stick is in the horizontal position (using it vertically is not advised), it closely resembles a true-to-life arcade stick — exactly what Mad Catz was shooting for. Like the arcade versions of SFIV, the TE stick uses rugged Sanwa parts that look and feel amazing underneath my fists of awesome. The parts are all responsive. During my play sessions with SFIV, I never felt like a button press didn’t register and I certainly didn’t notice any joystick issues. I also enjoyed the spacing of everything, in particular, the proximity of the buttons to the joystick. They’re close, which helps when you’re playing furiously, but not too close. Your hands won’t knock into each other.

I should mention that I don’t have a light touch. Over fifteen hours of mashing have been logged on this thing and I haven’t noticed any sign of wear and tear, unlike my SE stick which started crumbling shortly after I started using it.

So, the stick looks pretty, is huge, is responsive and has durable parts. But that doesn’t answer the million-dollar question: does it make you a better player? I attempted to answer that question with a highly scientific experiment. I recorded my win and loss results over the course 30 online Championship Mode matches in SFIV. Fifteen matches were played with my TE stick. The other fifteen, I played with the self-repaired SE stick. (It no longer has the stock joystick; it broke and I had to replace it with a Sanwa. Thanks, eBay)  

The results weren’t what I expected: With the SE stick (spoiler alert), sixty percent of the matches I played ended in a victory. With the TE stick, only 40 percent of my matches ended in a victory.

(According to the Wikipedia article I edited, I’m the best SFIV player in the United States of America. The day I conducted this experiment just so happened to be a bicep day at the gym. My arms were tired, swollen and stiff, thus the losses.)

So, the TE stick doesn’t make you a better player, but you really shouldn’t walk into this purchase thinking it will. The stick was designed for ease of use with competitive play in mind. There is no magical package of SFIV skill inside the big black and white box this beast ships in.

As a stick made for SFIV, it functions wonderfully. But the 150-dollar price point demands a second usage from a guy like me. So, I decided to test it out on a few different games. Don’t expect a chart — my Excel skills are weak — but do expect bolded text and a list of different titles:

Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix:

The stick works with SFIITHDR, although I wasn’t happy with the response time. As I played through a couple of matches I noticed that several of my button presses weren’t registering and the josytick movement was poor. Sadly, I wasn’t able to pin down exactly what was causing the issue. It’s either the game or the stick.

Mass Effect:

BioWare’s RPG Mass Effect requires the use of two analog sticks — something the TE stick can actually handle. A knob at the top left of the TE stick allows you to choose if the joystick controls either the left or right analog sticks. I joined my game in progress, made a few moral choices, managed to defeat a small contingent of Geth, and spoke to a Reaper with the stick. Movement was quite easy. Aiming, however, was a rough task — switching the toggle to play a game the TE stick wasn’t meant for is not advised but it’s hilarious to try once.

Gears of War 2

… or twice. I decided to take my stick online for a competitive match in Epic Games’ Gears of War 2. During the team frag fest, I managed to kill no-one and I reckon my random partners left the match believing they just played with a kid with Down’s Syndrome. Still, it’s possible to use the stick and amazingly enough, the game was much more responsive with the presses than SFIITHDR.

OK, you caught me. I don’t own any other fighting games for the Xbox 360 or PC. There’s a good reason for that: I’m no fighting game master. I can barely memorize combos and I can’t juggle or tag. I quit playing console-fighting games years ago because I felt they were getting too convoluted. Still, if I spy an arcade, the first game I’ll choose is a fighting game. I love the arcade experience and surprisingly, the TE stick totally gives me that arcade vibe.

At the end of the day, that’s all I can ask for. This gorgeous stick brings arcade action into your home. It has sturdy Sanwa parts, a great design, and is large enough to fool you — if even for a microsecond — into believing you’re jamming on an arcade cabinet. I enjoyed playing around with the stick and I look forward to using it in the future. If you’re in the market for an SFIV joystick, there’s no point in getting something else: The Mad Catz Tournament Edition FightStick is all you need.

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Brad BradNicholson
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