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The joypad companion to Madcatz Street Fighter IV themed joysticks, this pad inspired on the excellent Sega Saturn design of old does justice for fighting game fans that prefer a joypad over a joystick since the standard Xbox 360 pad is ill equipped to handle a fighting game. It's also an excellent alternative for those who want to be competitive, but are held back by a budget that does not allow a fancy joystick.
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If you've ever played games on a Sega Saturn, or if you've ever held the 6-button Sega Genesis Control Pad, then this pad is going to look and feel like an old friend. Back during its time, the Sega Saturn was a dream console for fans of Capcom's 6-button fighters due to its 2-D performance and its controller configuration, which was ideally suited for those titles. Thus, when Madcatz set off to design their pad alternative to a joystick and the woes of Street Fighter players on consoles with less than ideal standard controllers, they looked to the Saturn and came up with this very well designed pad.
Holding it for the first time is a pleasant feeling. It feels extremely light, thus it is possible to hold it on the left hand alone so the right hand can hover on top of the buttons, allowing it to hit more than one button at once should it be necessary (such as pressing Y and B at the same time to activate a Focus Attack in Street Fighter IV with the default control layout). The oversized buttons also help with that goal. There are no analog controls of any kind on this pad. Madcatz' goal with it was to create a fully digital pad for games that didn't require analog control, so both analog sticks and the triggers are gone. In place of the triggers, the pad features two bumper-like buttons. Interestingly, when choosing the six button layout, Madcatz decided to place both the right bumper and the right trigger on the face of the pad, so the bumpers are left trigger and left bumper from a default controller, which is odd, but it does fit the default configuration scheme in Street Fighter IV. The back of the pad is a rubber mat that feels comfortable to hold, and even though it is not as curved as the pads that inspired, it still feels comfortable to hold.
The raised directional pad at the left raised some concerns with me at first. Instead of a recessed pad like those found on a Nintendo or Sony product, it is a raised, oversized disc that feels floaty and gave the impression that it may take a little getting used to. Thankfully, extended use of it corrected that first impression, as it has turned out to be a very precise input device. Not as good as a joystick, which is my preferrence, but I can see how pad fans can really enjoy it.
The Xbox Guide button is set at the bottom middle of the pad, where it is mostly safe from accidental access. The Back and Start buttons flank it, and there's a "Turbo" button left of the back button to activate the Rapid Fire mode. There's also a little light right of the start button to serve as a visual cue related to the Turbo button activation. It's not as effective as the lights in the Fightstick in this function, but that's the sacrifice they chose to make to keep the feature in its smaller form factor.
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Performance and Other Features
If you're interested in buying a digital controller for a console in which most of its title require analog control, I'm sure you're expecting the tradeoff to be worthwhile. You're also expecting said controller to excel in its functions when taken to its most obvious genre, the fighting game. Well, I'm happy to say that for the most part, this pad delivers the goods and then some.
First of all, its light weight (partly achieved by removing the vibrating motors, so this pad has no rumble feature) makes it very easy to hold in a single hand, so you can emulate the posture you would use on a joystick: one hand handling the directions, the other hand hovering above the buttons (rather than holding the other side of the controller, only allowing the thumb to be used for button presses) so you can press multiple buttons at once with ease by using multiple fingers. This is very convenient for pulling out moves that require multiple button presses at once, such as taunts, focus attacks, grapples, and Ultra moves in Street Fighter IV. The buttons are also oversized, so even though they all have the same size and no added features to be able to tell which is which by touch alone, they are still very easy to discern which is which due to their spacing and size. It would have been a nice feature to have made the top buttons have a slight physical difference as other controllers have done, but during my playtime with it that has never been an issue.
The control pad itself is like an oversized version of the standard 360 directional pad, but it doesn't have the limited range of motion of the original 360 pad. It moves freely with little problem, and the pad is quite accurate in registering every input. I had no problem doing circular motions such as the fireball and dragon punch motions from Street Fighter, and performing even complex charging motions such as the one for Guile's Ultra move in Street Fighter IV became second nature after just a few bouts. It's still not as effective for performing the short jumps in King of Fighters as a joystick, but it's about as close as any pad I've used has come to it.
There's also a turbo button placed left of the back button that you hold down and then press any button on the pad to activate rapid fire functionality on that button. It works as expected, allowing you to pull off moves that require repeated button presses such as Chun Li's Lightining Kicks and E. Honda's Hundred Hand Slaps with ease. Unfortunately, there is only a single light, so you don't get an easy look to check which buttons have the rapid fire function enabled.
The bottom of the pad has the standard Xbox 360 headset connection jack, and the back of the controller has a switch that you can use to set the directional pad to send the inputs as the standard digital pad on a 360 controller, or as either of its two analog joysticks (of course, with no analog support, so it just sends the inputs as maxed analog movements).
Unfortunately, the controller is wired. Though it works in its favor if you consider the possibility of wireless input lag, it would have been nice to see a wireless version for the 360. I understand it has to do with licensing fees that Microsoft charges to use the 360's wireless technology, and it is sad that gamers have to lose out because of that.
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Final Score and Evaluation
Simply put, this is an excellent pad for the price if you are a fighting game fan or if you're a fan of oldschool titles such as I am; it's much more comfortable to play Genesis titles that have been released on Live such as Gunstar Heroes and Streets of Rage 2 with this pad than the standard 360 pad; I also prefer it for Castle Crashers, Ikaruga and other titles that don't particularly require analog inputs. It's also a really good controller to have in addition to a full fledged joystick so you can give your buddies a fighting chance when they come over to play a fighting game against you, or even if you want to play a quick game without having to take the joystick out of its box and all; it's just easier and faster to setup.
Want more great Console Accessories for your Xbox 360? Here are some other great articles here in the Console Channel that you don't want to miss:
Review: Xbox 360 Messenger Kit