Real men (and women) who play games (well, fighting games) don't use control pads. Those are for children. Real men (and women) use sticks. And some of the best around are HORI's sticks.
The one we're looking at today is the company's Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 arcade stick, released in November.
There's a lot to like about it. Starting with its case. With an exposed metal bottom plate and matte black finish, it seems pretty rugged, and took me pounding on it for a week with little trouble.
Moving onto the controls, they too seem incredibly durable. The buttons, while initially feeling a little flimsy, bounce back for repeated mashing really well, while the stick is tough as nails and gives a satisfying click with each movement. It's such a satisfying directional control, in fact, I've been using it to navigate my 360 dashboard just to hear the heavy little noise.
Of more importance for serious users than their feel, though, are the origin of those parts, and HORI says both buttons and stick are now provided by Sanwa, meaning you're getting an arcade-perfect experience on your home controller.
Being a hardcore stick, it's wired to rule out input lag, with a cable that was more than long enough to reach over my coffee table, across the floor and onto my lap on the couch with plenty of cable to spare.
Those wondering what I actually tested it on, I booted up Marvel vs Capcom 2, Soul Calibur IV, Street Fighter IV and...Samurai Shodown. My results varied, since the button layout favoured games like Street Fighter, but dealing with that kind of discrepancy is fairly common for fight game fans who play more than one game.
There were just two things I wasn't really a fan of. The first is the art used. These themed sticks can live or die on the art, and while finding a suitable one to span the dimensions of this stick can't have been too easy, the image HORI settled on is a pretty bland, disappointing one, especially for a series renowned for its awesome promo art.
The other thing I didn't like was the placement of the Start button, aimed at replicating actual arcade boards. While the 360 Guide and Back buttons were located safely away from the action up top, the Start button is perilously close to the action buttons. Not only did I accidentally hit it once during gameplay (I'm a sloppy masher), but it's just a stupid place to put it, as the other "system" buttons are located elsewhere, and that's where Id' always reach before remembering, "ah, that's right, it's in a stupid spot, all the way down here".
At $150, HORI's MvC3 stick isn't cheap. And it's not exactly pretty. So if you're already happily engaged with an arcade stick, you don't need to run out and upgrade to this. If you don't have a stick, though, or do and it's old, crummy and needs replacing, this is one of the best you can get right now. Provided you like the art, that is.