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What's the best way to play arcade games? If you've ever tried to play games such as Robotron, Defender, or any "fighter" game with a keyboard, you already know the answer: the best way to play arcade games is with real arcade controls. Anything less and it's just not the same. Even when the game is actually playable using a computer mouse or keyboard (such as Centipede), it just isn't as much fun without the real arcade controls.

With the rise of retrogaming as a hobby, there are now several "arcade controllers" available, basically special standalone control panels made up of joysticks and buttons, designed to recreate the real "arcade experience" while playing arcade games on your computer or games console.

This "Controller Roundup" will focus on three MAME-compatible arcade controllers currently available: The Hot Rod Classic by HahaHo, the X-Arcade 2-Player by X-Gaming, and the SlikStik Classic, by SlikStik. I'll be comparing the construction, features, gameplay, and more.

The Controllers (in order of cost)

Hanaho Hot Rod Classic

The cheapest at $99, the Hot Rod Classic (also called the Hot Rod SE) still manages to use genuine Happ arcade controls and fit in two joysticks, each with 7 buttons, two player start buttons, and even two pinball buttons.

X-Gaming X-Arcade

At $149, the X-Arcade features everything the Hot Rod does, and then adds on one additional button per player (8 buttons per player), 3 programmable modes, and the ability to connect to game console systems or a Mac as well as to a PC.

SlikStik Classic Unit

For $439.95, the SlikStik Classic takes all of the features of the other two controllers and then throws in a trackball, spinner, 4-way joystick, "asteroids" button layout, and an Ultimarc I-PAC programmable keyboard encoder.

Note: SlikStik also offers a "Fighter Unit" for $239.95 which is much closer in terms of features to the Hot Rod and X-Arcade arcade controllers. While this review will focus on the SlikStik Classic, the Fighter unit is very similar to the Classic unit, but replaces the Happ competition joysticks on the Classic with the superior Happs Perfect 360 optical joysticks, and removes the "extras" like the trackball, spinner, 4-way joystick, and asteroids buttons. All other Fighter features (size, construction quality, materials used) are identical to the SlikStik Classic unit.


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