If you’re into fighting games and want to make the leap from a gamepad to a fightstick, the choice can be overwhelming. It’s big investment, and not many of us get to try a fightstick before buying one, so this guide will help you decide which fightstick is right for you, or which one you should consider next if you’ve already taken the plunge.
Be warned though, fightsticks are addictive and once you’re in you could disappear down a rabbit-hole of restrictor gate shapes, actuator sizes, spring tensions, and the ongoing hunt for the perfect buttons. And in case you’re wondering, the terms arcade stick and fightstick are basically interchangeable with the only real point of difference being fightsticks are designed for fighting games (i.e. button layout, joystick responsiveness).
Qanba Drone ($79.99)
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC
If you want a fightstick but don’t want to go into the triple-digits to do so, the Qanba Drone is a good place to start. Designed for beginners, the Drone is a full body fightstick that sits perfectly on your desk or in your lap.
Often budget sticks feel cheap and way too light, but the Drone has a bit of weight to it and a few nice touches like a tournament lock switch that turns off certain buttons you don’t need during fights (such as the Options button when playing on PlayStation 4). To be honest, most other fightsticks priced below the Drone are kind of trash and aren’t as easy to mod with new parts as this one. Basically, if you’re just starting out, this should be your first fightstick.
So what’s the catch? Well, there are two small flaws with the Qanba Drone you should know about. First is the joystick – it’s not great. Despite Qanba making quality products, their in-house joysticks are far too loose, so I’d recommend replacing it with as Sanwa JLF. To use that new joystick you’ll also need a new 5-pin harness, which can be found here. It’s super easy to do and requires no real technical knowledge, but most of all modding your arcade stick is a rite of passage in the fighting game community.
The second issue is the lack of a touchpad, which isn’t a huge deal, but there are PlayStation 4 games that work better with it, such as practice mode in Tekken 7. It’s far from a deal-breaker, but it’s worth knowing. Aside from that, the Drone is a solid fightstick that’s worth checking out.
Verdict: The Qanba Drone is great for first-time fightstick owners that don’t want to break the bank but still want quality.
Hori Real Arcade Pro N ($179.00) and Pro V/4 ($149.95)
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Hori’s Real Arcade Pro (RAP) series has always been reliable, and the latest model, the Pro N, along with the older Pro V and Pro 4, are no exception. Unlike Qanba, whose in-house joystick and buttons leave a lot to be desired, Hori’s own in-house components are world-class, which means the Hayabusa joystick Kuro buttons in the RAP fightsticks will not need replacing. Unless you’re a diehard fan of another joystick brand that is.
The Pro N came out in 2017 and superseded the Pro 4 and V, which both came out in 2015. The naming conventions for Hori fightsticks are kind of annoying, but the difference between a Pro 4 and Pro V is very minimal, while the Pro N is a proper upgrade. Right now, it seems like the Pro N and Pro 4 are being marketed as the best options for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PC users, while Xbox One and Nintendo Switch gamers are being pushed towards the Pro V, especially since there is no Xbox One or Switch compatible Pro N on the market. On a side note, can get a Pro V for the PlayStation 4, but it’s only available for import from Japan.
I know, it’s confusing. Welcome to the world of fightsticks.
Let’s simplify it – the Pro V and Pro 4 can be bought for $149.95, and while the tech-lover in me wants to say go for the Pro N (if your platform of choice supports it), the Pro V and 4 are brilliant piece of hardware in their own right that you should seriously consider.
So what do you get if you decide to upgrade to a Pro N? For starters, you get a headphone jack on the front of the unit as well as a closeable compartment to cover the Start/Option button. They’re not huge additions, but the Pro N is in many ways a better stick in terms of build quality, yet not so much as to totally blow the Pro V and 4 out of the water. It’s also worth noting PlayStation 4 version of the Pro 4, Pro V and all feature a touchpad.
For less than $200 the RAP Pro series is a great collection of fightsticks and is right in that sweet spot of price, quality, and functionality. Out of all the sticks on this list, I’d pick any of the Hori Real Arcade Pro fightsticks as the best of the bunch, but that’s just me.
Verdict: The Real Arcade Pro series of fightsticks are perfect anyone looking for a serious fightstick without blowing too much money.
Razer Panthera/Atrox ($199.99)
PlayStation 4 (Panthera), PC and Xbox One (Atrox)
The arcade stick scene is dominated by Japanese and Korean manufacturers for good reason – they make great fightsticks. And with Mad Katz out of business, it falls to Razer to show the world that western fightsticks can hold their own. Thankfully the Panthera and Atrox do just that. The two models are very similar, though there are some key differences. For one thing, the Panthera is designed for the PlayStation 4 and features a touchpad, while the Atrox is a slightly older model and is designed for Xbox One and PC only.
Featuring Sanwa buttons and joystick, the Panthera/Atrox are well-built sticks that have all the standard features you’d expect at this price point. A sizeable base with non-slip pad, well-organized wiring, the Start and Select buttons on the side, a tournament lock switch. It even comes with a 13ft (4m) USB screw-lock cable, while means you can detach it and replace it should the need arise.
One of the best features for hardcore stick users is how easy the Panthera/Atrox is to mod. The body can also be opened by releasing a single lack, giving you full access to the internals so you can replace all the buttons and the joystick with very little work. The only downside is the lack of a headphone jack, which probably isn’t a dealbreaker, but is still a strange omission on an otherwise outstanding fightstick.
Verdict: Razer’s series of sticks are made for experienced fightstick owners who are serious about customization.
Qanba Dragon ($289.99)
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC
If you’re crazy enough to spend nearly $300 on a fightstick you can’t go wrong with the Qanba Dragon. It’s basically the Ferrari of fightsticks.
What sets the Dragon apart isn’t immediately apparent, but it’s the little details. Things like the etched metal cable holders to wrap your 8.5” braided USB cable around, along with the eight Sanwa buttons with LED lighting give the Dragon a premium feel. And in case you’re wondering, yes this is a heavy monster of a fightstick. It’s probably not going to be fun to take to tournaments, but as a fightstick, for home use, it’s second to none.
Like the Panthera/Atrox the entire top panel folds open to reveal the internal components in case you want to change your buttons or joystick, assuming you even want to take out the Sanwa JLF joystick with a metal balltop that’s already inside this beast. There’s even has a headphone jack built-in, which is to be expected but a welcome addition nonetheless. The Qanba Dragon isn’t cheap, and if anything it’s probably overkill, but you’re paying a quality fightstick that’s built to last.
Verdict: The Qanba Dragon is perfect for dedicated fighting game enthusiasts who want an exceptional fightstick without compromize.
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