X-Gaming X-Arcade 2-Player
Size: 24w x 11.5d x 4h (68 x 29 x 10 cm)
Interface: PS/2, USB, X-Box, Playstation, Gamecube, Dreamcast
Programmable: Yes (3 programmable modes)
Warranty: Lifetime, 30-day money back guarantee
In the Box
The X-Arcade arrived in a nice, retail-friendly red box with a clear cellophane window so that you can see the controller inside. It's well packaged for shipment as well, with custom foam pieces holding it securely (and safely) in place.
Inside the box, you have the X-Arcade, a manual, and two cables: the main X-Arcade cable, and the PS/2 adapter cable that attaches to it for PC use. There is no bundled software or diagnostic utility CD (although a diagnostic program is available on the company's web site).
The manual is fairly detailed, including nice charts showing the key layouts for the X-Arcade when it is used with a PC or game console. It does skimp on the same MAME-related details the Hot Rod manual did, such as how to exit a game or insert a coin (these details are mentioned in the FAQ on X-Gaming's web site, however!)
The X-Arcade comes with an exceptionally generous lifetime warranty, for both parts and labor. In addition, they have exceptional customer support options, including a toll-free technical support phone line, email support, and a web site that includes a lot of nice help and even includes a live support chat feature. A 30-day "no questions asked" return policy speaks of the confidence they have in their product.
Fit & Finish
One of the first things I noticed with the X-Arcade unit after getting it out of the box was the little "X-Gaming" logo embossed on the plastic disc that goes on the shaft of the joystick to cover up the mounting hole: it seems X-Gaming uses their own custom-manufactured joysticks and buttons, which are very similar to the Happ Controls parts in most aspects. There are twenty buttons on the X-Arcade, with an 8th button being added to the button layout for both players. (There's also a 21st button on the back dedicated solely for programming the unit, but I'm not counting it as it isn't related to gameplay).
I did notice that the joysticks and buttons felt (and sounded) slightly different: the joystick tops were smoother and less textured than the Happs, with a bit of plastic "flashing" around the center of the handle that was a tad uncomfortable. The buttons also "pinged" instead of "clicked" when pushed. These details, it should be noted, are just a "joystick connoisseur" being picky, as both the joystick and the buttons worked fine in gameplay. I don't know how durable these controls are compared to the Happs versions, but with a lifetime warranty, it probably doesn't really matter.
The X-Arcade is constructed solidly of wood, and all exterior surfaces are covered with a textured black vinyl or plastic similar to the top surface of the Hot Rod. Style-wise, I definitely prefer the black surface and the sporty "X" logo that runs up the middle of the controller surface. My only concern with the vinyl covering is where it bends over the bottom edges of the sides, as I wonder if the covering may tend to wear loose in time. The joysticks are mounted using very small, low-profile black bolts, a definite improvement over the Hot Rod's bolts, but not as nice as not having any bolts at all. A red LED sits in the upper right-hand corner of the panel, a nice touch that shows you if the X-Arcade is properly connected to your system (the LED is also used in programming the unit, more on that in a minute).
Turning the unit over, you immediately notice that each of the six mounting screws holding the bottom panel on are surrounded by little rubber feet. This "six-foot" setup makes the X-Arcade very stable when used on a table or floor.
Inside the unit things are just as sleek and styled as the outside, at least from an enthusiast's eye: good wire bundling, routing, and solid connections. The X-Arcade is a lower-profile controller compared to the Hot Rod (4" vs. 6"), so I really doubt you could mount any additional controllers (with the possible exception of an Oscar Controls Model 3 spinner).
The X-Arcade, like the Hot Rod, uses its own custom keyboard encoder. Unlike the Hot Rod, however, the X-Arcade's unit has three programmable modes in addition to a regular pre-programmed setting. The X-Arcade is actually fairly simple to program, and only requires an attached PS/2 keyboard (the unit has a PS/2 keyboard passthrough on the back).
To program the X-Arcade, you first slide the 4-position mode switch on the back to one of the programmable positions (2, 3, or 4). Next push the black programming button the back of the unit, then push and hold the button on the X-Arcade you wish to reprogram and the button on the attached keyboard that you wish to assign the X-Arcade button to match. When the LED on the front of the unit flashes, everything's programmed. The X-Arcade uses flash memory, so your custom key settings are saved even if the X-Arcade is unplugged.
Because the X-Arcade uses its own custom joysticks and buttons, things felt just a little bit "off" - it wasn't anything that affected gameplay, but it just took my hands a while to adjust to the different feel of the controls (and the weird pinging noise the buttons made!) This is probably due more to my own familiarity with Happ joysticks and buttons than anything else, but it did take me a while before I stopped noticing the difference.
Having three programmable modes that I could quickly switch between was nice, although with MAME it's technically not that important, as you can re-assign any MAME key in the software if you want to. It may be more important with other games that aren't as flexible as MAME about re-assigning keys. There was no obvious ghosting, lag, or "bounce" even as multiple keys were mashed all at once (yes, the "multiple button two-palmed smash" is one of my more scientific tests)
The button layout is overkill, at least from a MAME standpoint. The extra 8th button does feel a bit in the way, but it shouldn't really affect gameplay that much, and it is an essential addition if you are planning on using the X-Arcade with a gaming console like the X-Box. The pinball buttons are perfectly placed, and the extra "flare" at the front edge of the control panel gives you plenty of space to rest your palms as you "play the silver ball."
The unit is well-sized for desktop use, and the low-profile design makes it look very sleek. Like the Hot Rod, however, it is a bit on the small side if you're considering it for a MAME cabinet project, and you'll probably want to be good friends with whoever you play with in two-player games, as you'll be bumping shoulders during frantic moments. The smooth joystick handle tops with the sharp plastic flashing bothered me the most during Robotron, as I was either losing my grip on the joysticks or getting annoyed at the sharp edges as I grasped the joysticks in my patented "Robotron Grip of DeathT" (I'm a full-body Robotron player - it's a better workout for me than "Dance Dance Revolution"!)
Aside from my pickiness about the different feel of the joysticks and buttons, the X-Arcade impressed me at every turn. I was really surprised at how versatile the unit is, with the software-free programming modes, nice touches like the power LED, multi-system adapter cables, and the overall excellent "fit and finish."
The X-Arcade costs $149, which is a very good price for the features included, especially considering the fact that it can be used with a variety of gaming systems. If you want a controller you can use with console systems as well as a PC, the X-Arcade is your best choice.