Fight stick or controller? We weight the pros and cons of each on the eve of Street Fighter 6’s launch.
Jets versus Sharks. Cleveland Browns versus Pittsburgh Steelers. The Lucky Charms leprechaun versus those awful children trying to steal his cereal. All of these feuds pale in comparison to the greatest debate in gaming: Fight stick vs controller pad. It's an ideological battle of authenticity and ease of use. One theoretically provides superior accuracy while the other conforms and comforts the appendages of the user.
That battle is about to rage once more, as we approach a new golden age of fighting games. But with the release of Street Fighter 6 upon the horizon, the question still stands? Is it better to use a fight stick or a controller?
We'll go over the pros and cons of each, as well as provide a few suggestions for those looking to buy some new hardware before June 2.
Fight stick versus controller: Round one
It's hard to discount the fight stick as the true king of fighting game controllers. Meant to replicate the old-school, authentic arcade experience, many see the fight stick as the first and only choice. There's good reason for that, as the typical fight stick offers a number of advantages over traditional console controllers.
The main advantage comes in the form of ease of use, full-form mobility, and a standardized layout. All fight sticks--minus the few rarities like the Mortal Kombat fight sticks--share a similar layout of six buttons, plus the joystick itself. While there are variables within that such as button brands and different waygates for the joystick, they all share similar DNA. This is why the numbered annotation for special moves is so popular, as it uses the range of motion found on fight sticks.
And speaking of that range of motion, the joystick and arcade button layout offers a far less restrictive experience than simply using your thumbs like a traditional controller. There's multiple ways to hold and handle a fight stick joystick versus the limited ways a controller can be used. Using fight stick variations has allowed those with accessibility issues to continue playing the games they love.
This includes famed Street Fighter commentator and player David Philip Graham, who uses a modified Hitbox fight stick called a Splitbox.
Fight sticks: The downside
Despite those advantages it is hard to ignore the sheer learning curve with a fight stick versus a traditional controller. I can speak from experience: I've been playing fighting games since I was a child and have attempted to convert to being a fight stick player multiple times. Each time I've found the learning curve to just feel bad and almost immediately would go back to using the controller.
Why? It instantly feels better, and in a game about personal gains it sometimes just made me feel more confident to stick with the controller. Likewise, there's a bit of a gatekeeping element to the world of fight sticks, despite the fact that there's no proof they improve play. I still remember being side-eyed at a tournament because I was one of the few without a fight stick.
One of my favorite moments in professional fighting games was when the french player Olivier "Luffy" Hay won the Street Fighter IV EVO tournament in 2014 using an old-school, non-analog PlayStation 1 controller. That's just rad.
Round Two: Controller comeback
The console controller offers a number of variations and advantages, especially for the casual player. The first and most obvious is that, by this point, everyone and their mother knows the layout of and is used to a controller. Our hands instinctively know where all of the buttons are and its a muscle memory thing that we don't have to think about too hard. That alone provides a major boost to learning a new fighting game.
And despite requiring more intensive work on the thumb joints, using a controller over a fight stick can cut down on hand fatigue in specific ways. This is especially true if you're the type to "grind it out" on a fight stick and beat that thing into the ground each time you play.
In the world of accessibility it appears that each console manufacturer is finally trying to find ways to include all types of players. This includes the XBox Adaptive controller and the upcoming PlayStation "Project Leonardo" accessibility controller.
Controllers: The cons
Let's be honest: The biggest problem with controllers is the high price tag compared to its long-term durability. Anyone that plays fighting games can tell you that the traditional console controller doesn't stand up to abuse for too long. In my full-time prime of playing Street Fighter IV I probably went through at least four PlayStation 4 controllers. The repetition just puts a beating on the controller, no matter how expensive the hardware.
And while having a wireless option is nice, if you plan on playing in your local tournaments then that feature could get you in trouble. We've talked about the issues at EVO Japan with bluetooth controllers, but battery life can also potentially interfere with your tournament plans.
There's also the problem with familiarity. It's just a simple fact that some of us are so comfortable and used to the traditional controller that switching to a fight stick feels impossible. It's a bit like babies and pacifiers: Sure, it'll keep the kid quiet, but how much damage is it doing in the long run for their development? Food for thought.
Fight stick and Controller: What to buy?
Looking for a recommendation? Allow us to throw a couple of fight stick and controller suggestions your way. The first and best choice when it comes to arcade sticks is still the Mad Catz EGO fight stick. The reason? It's compatible with every current platform, including the Nintendo Switch. Combined with the durable and well-known Mad Catz name, the EGO must be considered a true value.
If you're looking for something smaller in form-factor, the retro-looking 8Bitdo arcade stick is a neat piece of hardware. Featuring bluetooth and wired connectivity, this stick would be a fantastic go-to on PC.
Looking for something a bit more outside the box? Consider jumping into the wild world of Hitboxes. Seemingly esoteric in nature, the Hitbox boils game controls down to its basics and provides a no-nonsense piece of hardware. However, be ready for the steepest of learning curves.
If you're more on the controller side of things then you probably already have picked sides. While I prefer the PlayStation 5 controller for most things, I know there's plenty of XBox faithful. Luckily, we have a PC-friendly pick just for you in the 8Bitdo Xbox controller. Officially licensed and sporting both a wired and wireless option, the 8Bitdo Ultimate sets up easily on Steam and won't break the bank.
And now that you know all of your options, remember: The best controller in the fight stick versus controller debate is the one you enjoy most! There's no wrong answer and no best choice. Simply the one that allows you to play the game to its fullest enjoyment. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.
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