SlikStik Classic Unit
Note: This roundup includes the SlikStik "Classic" unit, when in all fairness the best match available in the SlikStik product line to the Hot Rod and X-Arcade arcade controllers would be the "Fighter" unit.
That said, the Classic and the Fighter units are the same size, and the only major differences are that the Fighter unit uses Happ Perfect360 optical joysticks instead of the Classic's Happ Competition joysticks, and the Fighter doesn't include all of the Classic unit's "extras" like a trackball, spinner, 4-way joystick, and asteroids buttons.
All other Fighter features (size, construction quality, materials used) are identical to the SlikStik Classic unit.
Size: 35w x 17d x 4.75h (89 x 43 x 12 cm)
Buttons: 27 (31 with optional dual pinball buttons)
Interfaces: PS/2, USB
Programmable: Yes (Unlimited programmable settings by loading different "profiles")
Software: Installation CD with manual, programming software, and MAME controller profiles.
Warranty: One Year, 30-day money back guarantee
In the Box
The SlikStik Classic comes packed securely in a custom-fit box, with custom foam pieces keeping everything snugly in place (a bit too snugly, in fact, as I had to cut apart the box to get the SlikStik out, it was so tightly packed!) Included in the box were the SlikStik unit, a PS/2 to USB adapter, and an installation CD (which includes the manual in PDF format, programming software, and MAME controller profiles for each model of SlikStik.)
Note: I was hired by SlikStik to write the SlikStik user's guide, and since I'm the author of the manual I don't feel it's fair for me to try and judge it. I will note that the manual is 50 pages long, and does include detailed MAME setup information for all parts of the SlikStik, including the spinner and trackball. It's as complete as the other controller manuals, and the only gripe that I'll allow myself here is that I wish it had been printed instead of supplied in PDF format.
Technical support is available from SlikStik via Email, Instant Messenger, or Fax.
Fit & Finish
As with the Hot Rod controller, the SlikStik Classic uses Happ arcade controls, which (at least to me) means arcade-true feel and operation. The SlikStik Classic uses Happ Competition joysticks, which have a different handle shape than the Happ Supers used in the Hot Rod, but are otherwise fairly similar in feel.
My SlikStik Classic unit is a customized unit that features Happ Perfect360 Optical joysticks instead of the standard Happ Competition joysticks. In addition, the unit has an extra Top-fire joystick in the layout, and the SlikStik stainless steel balltop joystick handles.
The Perfect360 joysticks are the same as are used in the SlikStik Fighter unit, and I am really impressed by them - they feature stronger springs and a purely optical operation, which eliminates the microswitch "clicking" as you move the joystick.
The SlikStik frame is constructed of ¾ high-density particle board, which gives it an exceptionally heavy, solid feel. The exterior surfaces are covered in black formica, which has the advantage of being very durable. Unlike the textured surfaces of the other controllers, the formica does show fingerprints, however. There are no logos or other artwork (not even a product name) anywhere on the controller, something I personally like.
The fit and finish of the SlikStik is outstanding, easily the best of the bunch. The exterior looks incredible, and about the only nits I can find to pick are the fact that the underside of the top panel is not covered in formica or melamine (only visible if you're directly under the front "overhang" of the top panel), and the fact that no rubber feet are included. The SlikStik uses textured T-molding, an interesting choice that helps hide any scuffs on the edges of the controller. Joysticks are mounted from underneath, leading to a perfectly smooth control panel with no visible bolts.
Opening up the SlikStik, it's easy to see the same attention to quality applies, and the wiring routing, bundling, and connections are perfect. The SlikStik uses the Ultimarc I-PAC encoder, a popular programmable keyboard encoder that also features a "Shift" button that doubles the number of available button functions. The SlikStik supports both PS/2 and USB modes, although a jumper on the I-PAC encoder must be moved for USB operation.
The SlikStik is a joy to use, with a roomy control panel that seems designed for two player action - there's plenty of room for two adults to play at the same time and still keep their personal space boundaries intact. While the large size may not be best suited for some desktops, it is ideal for a MAME game cabinet.
The button and joystick layout on the SlikStik is logical and intuitive, and I especially like the thoughtful touches like the inclusion of buttons in the classic "Asteroids" layout, coin buttons, and a much needed "pause" button. The optional dual pinball buttons are mounted towards the front of the controller, and if you're a rabid Visual Pinball player, I'm sure you can appreciate the value of having "nudge" buttons on each side of the controller!
As with the other controllers, I had absolutely no problems with key lag, bounce, or ghosting on the SlikStik, even when multiple buttons were pressed at the same time (yes, that "key smash" thing again.) The larger size and weight of the SlikStik controller gave it a steady feel, even when firmly caught in my RGDT (Robotron Grip of Death) .
I've now purchased two SlikStiks, and I've been very happy with both of my purchases. The SlikStik is the ultimate "no compromises" arcade controller choice, when you absolutely, positively have to have it all. It's definitely the best choice of the three controllers if you're buying a controller for a MAME cabinet, as well as if you like to play a lot of two-player games with friends.
The SlikStik Classic goes for $439, nearly three times the price of its nearest competitor. Like I mentioned earlier, however, the theme of "you get what you pay for" applies here. Do you get three times as much controller for the money? Yes, whether you count the number of controllers, number of cubic inches, or weigh by the pound.
The SlikStik Fighter, at $239, is much closer in cost and functionality to the X-Arcade and Hot Rod, and I feel the larger control panel, heavier construction, I-PAC encoder, and Happs Perfect360 joysticks justify the price difference over the X-Arcade.
One additional factor in favor of the SlikStik is the fact that the SlikStik can be customized when you order it — you can choose the button colors, change the type of joysticks used, and more (even custom formica colors are available). If you're looking for the ultimate in personalized control panels, the SlikStik is what you want.