HanaHo Hot Rod Classic
Size: 24w x 11d x 6h (68 x 28 x 15.25 cm)
Interface: PS/2 Only
Software: Capcom Classics CD
Warranty: 90 days
In the Box
The HanaHo Hot Rod arrived well packed, with snug foam inserts in a custom-size box. Included in the box was a 6-foot PS/2 cable, four adhesive rubber feet, an instruction guide, and a "Capcom Coin Op Classics Series 1" CD.
The Capcom CD was a nice touch. It includes 14 Capcom games, such as Street Fighter II, Ghouls 'n Ghosts, and 1941. It also includes a diagnostic test program for the Hot Rod controller. While the CD is not really a necessity for the MAME gamer, it's always nice to see some games included with a gaming controller, since the urge to "play with it now" is always strong whenever a new toy like the Hot Rod arrives.
The documentation consists of a 12-page installation guide, which was fairly complete, but did lack MAME-specific information such as the default MAME key layout for the Hot Rod controller. Unless you stumble across them by accident (which I did), you'd never know that the side pinball buttons are used as the Coin 1 and Coin 2 inputs in MAME, or that you exit games by pressing Player 2 Start and the right pinball button at the same time (Player 1 Start + the left pinball button brings up the game setup dialog in MAME, i.e. "Tab") Their web site does offer some additional information on using the Hot Rod with emulators.
Technical support is via email only - there is no telephone technical support offered.
Fit & Finish
The Hot Rod features genuine Happ Controls' joysticks and buttons, which are what I would consider the "arcade standard." Specifically, the Hot Rod uses Happ "Super" joysticks, which are very nice (they're not as nice as the Happ Perfect360 Optical joysticks, but I'll save that analysis for another review.)
One interesting feature of the Happ Super joystick is the fact that it can be switched from 8-way to 4-way operation by flipping over the actuator in the joystick. It isn't easy to get to (you have to open up the controller, to start), but the option is there if you want a true 4-way joystick for games such as Pac Man.
The Hot Rod frame is solidly constructed of melamine-coated wood, with arcade T-molding on the edges, and features a "custom polycarbonate top," which is basically a textured purple vinyl overlay with the Hot Rod logo. It's got a durable feeling to it, and the textured surface hides fingerprints nicely. I'm not a big fan of the color, but that's just personal preference.
The exterior appearance was good, but there were minor "fit and finish" blemishes, such as a slightly mis-cut overlay edge, air bubbles under the overlay, and staple holes where the top panel is mounted to the base. These, however, are just small nit-pickings.
Another "fit and finish" blemish, in my opinion, was the use of fairly large silver bolts to mount the joysticks. I feel they detract from the overall appearance of the controller, but it does boil down to personal preference once again.
Inside the unit there's really very little to complain about, except perhaps the dust (the inside was very dusty for some reason!). The wiring is nicely routed and bundled, the connections are well done, and it's definitely a quality job. Everything looks well secured, and I don't expect you'll have any problems with anything "working loose."
The Hot Rod has its own custom keyboard encoder, which worked well, but isn't programmable. The Hot Rod only supports PS/2 connections, but does have a PS/2 keyboard pass-through.
Due to the fact that the Hot Rod is built with Happ parts, the feel is pure arcade. The joysticks felt "right," the push buttons were responsive, and everything just worked and felt the way I expected it to. There were no ghosting or "bounce" problems with the controller, as well.
The button spacing was generally well thought-out, with the Hot Rod using the unofficial 7-button layout that has become almost a standard configuration for arcade controllers: the six-button 3x2 layout used in countless "fighter" games, and an additional 7th button in the bottom left-hand corner that has come to be known as the "NEO GEO button," since it replicates the 4-button curved layout of the NEO GEO arcade system.
The only gripe that I have with the button layout is the placement of the pinball buttons. Being a big Visual PinMAME fan, I play a lot of pinball, and the side-mounted pinball buttons on the Hot Rod are placed towards the back of the controller. This caused a bit of a problem because my right palm actually rested on some of the top buttons when I was using the pinball buttons.
The unit is well-sized for desktop use, but it is a bit on the small side if you're considering it for a MAME cabinet project. Also, because of the relatively compact size, playing two player games can get a bit.well, cozy . It is a very nice size for single-player use, however, especially for two-joystick games such as Robotron (you just knew I had to try out Robotron on every controller, didn't you?)
The Hot Rod, at $99, is the cheapest controller in this roundup. "You get what you pay for" turned out in some ways to be the theme of this roundup - the feature set of each controller roughly corresponded to the price of that controller.
That said, about all that you lose with the Hot Rod is the flexibility of having a programmable encoder and the alternate connectors such as USB or console connections. The use of real Happs arcade parts is a big plus, and the "fit and finish" of the unit was only slightly less than that of the X-Arcade. If you can live without the extras the other controllers have, the Hot Rod is a really great bargain, and well worth the price.