SlikStik Stainless Steel Joystick Handles
Review by Kevin Steele
If you read my original review of the SlikStik stainless steel joystick handles, you know that I was impressed with them, but that the extra weight led to a “sloppy” feel during gameplay that I didn't particularly care for. I also wished for a ball-top version.
Well, SlikStik has delivered on both counts, now providing extra-strong springs to compensate for the extra weight of the steel joysticks, and coming out with a ball top version as well.
These things are the real deal: solid stainless steel, polished to a mirror finish. They weigh a ton...well, actually, only about 13 oz./370g, but still far more than the 1-2 oz. of a regular plastic-topped joystick handle. The ball-top version runs an ounce or two less, but not by much.
The feel of these joysticks is impressive — it's hard to resist the urge to smash something with them once you pick one up. The smooth, cold steel feels powerful and formidable. If attitude is a part of good gameplay, you'll certainly feel invincible holding this joystick.
The head shape on both of the joysticks handles is unique, as well. The handle section of the SlikStik Pear-top handle is a bit shorter than the Happ Competition "teardrop" shape, and features a thicker shape with a flat section near the top. I especially liked the feel of this shape in my hand — it was very "grippable" and easy to hold onto.
The SlikStik Ball-top handle, as the name implies, has a ball-shaped top. The ball is actually bigger than the normal arcade ball-top joystick handles, nearly as big as a golfball. The feel is different than standard ball-top joysticks, but it does fit nicely in my hands. I'm not sure I like the size, but it may just take some “getting used to.”
These joysticks come in different versions designed to fit the Happ Ultimate, Competition, Optical 360, and Super joysticks. The only difference is the mounting ring slots on the bottom of the joystick.
It's a very simple installation, really — pop off the small e-clip on the bottom of the current joystick, slide out the old joystick handle from the top, and then slide in the new SlikStik handle and attach the e-clip.
It took me all of about 2 minutes (that is, after I finished unscrewing all 16 screws holding the MAMEframe's control panel in place — I need a better dis-mounting system!)
One thing to note is that the bottom of the SlikStik shaft extends about 5/8" beyond the bottom of the joystick (the normal shaft, in comparison, only extends about 1/8".) This extra bit of shaft doesn't affect gameplay, but if your joysticks are mounted close to the bottom of your control panel, you may have to check for clearance issues.
The only other thing I noticed installing the SlikStik joystick handles on the Happs Competition base is that the plastic "shield" on the top isn't as snug around the shaft as it was with the Competition handle. There is enough of a gap that you can see down into the mounting hole if you look at the right angle. This is just a minor style nit, however, and it doesn't affect gameplay in the least. With the Happs Perfect 360 base, the fit between the joystick and the shield was perfect.
Once the SlikStik joystick handles are installed, you've got a nice, shiny addition to your control panel, one that gives it a tough, industrial look. Something unusual about these handles is the fact that they seem immune to fingerprints — no matter how many times I held or touched the surfaces, I never saw any fingerprints or smudges. I have no idea why this would be, but it's very nice.
Of course, all the good looks in the world aren't going to make these joystick handles a worthwhile upgrade if the gameplay isn't up to snuff. So how do these heavy steel joystick handles affect gameplay? How do they "feel" in use?
The first thing I noticed when trying out the joysticks on Happs Competition bases was was how "loose" they felt. It was very easy to move the joysticks, but they didn't return to the center, or neutral, position as quickly as the lighter original handles. I didn't like the feel. It really felt like I was playing with broken joysticks, ones that had the springs worn out from years of abuse.
SlikStik now provides strong replacement springs to counteract this problem. You simply unscrew the joystick base and replace the spring, which really does counter the loose feeling. The Happs Perfect360 joysticks use much stronger springs to begin with, so there was never a loose feeling to begin with.
In using the joysticks, I originally didn't notice much difference in gameplay, until I noted how easy it was for me to to shoot diagonal shots in Robotron, or how smoothly I could circle my way around an incoming wave of shots in DoDonPachi. I was getting a lot more accurate placement and movement in games, especially in games that used a lot of circular joystick motions.
These joysticks are 1/4" taller than the standard handles, something you don't notice immediately, but I suspect it's also something that may have an influence on gameplay.
The pear-top handle shape is also a big plus — it fits wonderfully in my palm, and was easy to grip. The ball-top shape is a bit big for my preference, but I need to give it some more time to adjust to the feel — it certainly gives you a lot to hold onto!
I suspect that both of these joystick handle types may help reduce the infamous "Robotron Blisters" I always used to get after a grueling Robotron gaming session. I'll have to report back after playing Robotron non-stop for a few hours...
So, are they worth the money? Overall, yes. (See, that was easy!) At $25 apiece, they're not cheap, but it's a reasonable price for what you get. If you're looking for a stylish and unique addition to your arcade control panel, the SlikStik stainless steel joystick handles are worth your consideration.