Going for the stick

I mentioned before that I recently bought an arcade stick to use during my MAME sessions. The decision was more a whim than a real necessity, since I was already happy with playing with an Xbox360 pad. What can I say, I sometimes go through gaming-related money-wasting rushes, and my wallet isn't happy about that.

After wandering the net looking for arcade sticks reviews, I sadly discovered that the best ones will set you back for more than 150€. Way over my budget. Wasting some money on my hobbies is ok every now and then, but not if that takes food out of my mouth.

So I started looking for entry-level sticks, but the reviews weren't very encouraging.

Most arcade aficionados recommend to build your own stick. A quick price check on the required components (stick + buttons) revealed that it's definitely the most budget-friendly way to go, since you can build your own stick with about 50€.
The problem is that doing so requires building a case to host the stick and buttons. That basically means woodworking. Very basic, but still woodworking.
Now, being myself a professional software programmer used to working with abstract concepts all day, you probably understand that my manual skills range from non-existent to threat to the entire neighborhood. So, building my own stick was not an option.

The only option left was to pick a mid-level stick. In the end I chose the Qanba N1 USB stick. Why USB and not wireless? Because I really don't want another battery-powered device to charge, and because I wanted to avoid any compatibility issues in case I wanted to use it with my Raspberry Pi.
The Qanba N1. I would have loved the one with the red handle-top, but it was out of stock The Qanba N1. I would have loved the one with the red handle-top, but it was out of stock

So Qanba N1 it is. It has a ball-top handle (which I personally prefer over the bat-top) and 6 convex buttons plus 5 control buttons. It also has suction cups to keep it firmly anchored to the table even during the roughest arcade sessions.
All this for about 60€, which I find reasonable.

I've been using it for about 2 weeks in almost daily MAME sessions, so here are my thoughts.

Amazing. And here I'm not talking about this particular stick (I'll do that later). I'm talking about using an(y) arcade stick with MAME. It completely changes the experience. Let me explain.

First of all, I spent a little time in configuring the aesthetics of MAME for a more immersive experience. What I mean is, I loaded a few GBs of images in the artwork folder: cabinets pictures, flyers, bezels, snapshots anything I could find. So now when i browse my roms in MameUI (version 0.149 if you need to know), I get some real eye-candy.
But the cherry on top are the bezels, the frames that decorated the arcade cabinets displays with various artwork. Using bezels sensibly reduces the playable screen size, but in my opinion it's well worth it. Arcade screens weren't that big anyway.

Now I was ready to plug in my new stick and get lost in '80s nostalgia.
I expected some messing with MAME configuration for it to work, but I was wrong. It worked right out of the box (I'm on a Windows 10 desktop PC). I only had to remap the keys for some of the roms I tried, but that's pretty standard behaviour.

The first game I played was, of course, Final Fight. I've got particularly fond memories of this game (I'll probably talk about it soon).
Well, after a few minutes of pile-drivers I got tears streaming down my cheeks. It felt exactly like playing the arcade. The difference with using the stick over the pad is that huge.
I've got nothing against modern pads, mind you, but I just think that the analog sticks aren't suitable for digital-controls-age games. It's like entering a phone cabinet and then making the call using your cellphone. What's the point?

I expected a few problems with diagonal stick commands, but I was wrong. I almost never missed a diagonal move in my first hour of play.

Good old Final fight

But Final fight was the easy test. Because, let's say it, it doesn't require much skill to be played and enjoyed. Now let's get to the real test: R-Type 2.
I admit to being absolutely rubbish at shoot'em ups. Always have been. I just never had that kind of eye-hands coordination, I suppose. But I still enjoy them.
Using an Xbox 360 pad I never could finish R-Type 2 first level with a single coin. That's how much I suck at shoot'em ups.
Using my new stick, I did it on my first try. I believe that this is some scientifically accurate data to demonstrate how good an arcade stick is.

R-Type 2

You are probably thinking that a real test drive would need some serious fighting game playtime. I will do that sooner or later, but just for the fun of it. Unfortunately, the years of my life when I had the time to learn the moves and techniques for every character is long gone. Right now I'm pretty much a Tekken button-masher because I like the way the moves look, but I definitely suck at playing. So I'll leave that kind of test to more competent players.

So, what about the Qanba N1? To be honest, I never used any other stick, so I'm, really in no position to make confrontations. But what I can say is that while playing I totally forgot about the stick, the buttons, the chair, the room, the whole world. The stick just felt like an extension of my arm. Which I suppose is a nice result for 60 bucks.

That pretty much covers it. I don't know what else to say to convince you buying an arcade stick. If you still don't want to, that's definitely your loss.