SlikStik Lighted Joystick Handles
Review by Kevin Steele
SlikStik is rapidly becoming the "King of the Joysticks" when it comes to innovative new add-ons for your arcade control panel's main interface device. From their original stainless steel joysticks to their swappable ball joysticks, they've consistently come up with unique and, quite frankly, cool joystick products.
They've continued their perfect batting average with their new lighted balltop joystick shafts, a stylish new joystick design that really ups the "bling" factor in your control panel design.
The SlikStik lighted joystick handles are available in seven solid colors: white, blue, red, orange, yellow, green, and purple. Also available is a "color morphing" joystick that cycles through all the available colors every few seconds.
The joysticks shafts are made of machined stainless steel, and there are versions available for the Happs Super, Competition, and Perfect360 joystick bases.
The lighted joystick handles feature the same precision-machined "feel" as the previous custom joysticks from SlikStik, although they are noticably lighter than the previous joystick handles due to the holllow shafts (for the wiring) and the polycarbonate balltops.
In fact, these joysticks may be slightly lighter than the stock handles. The strange paradox is that despite being lighter, they actually feel more "solid" than the stock handles.
The handles are each lit by a single ultra-bright LED mounted within the shaft. These LEDs are powered by an elegantly simple power cable design using 1/8" miniplugs and sockets. The cable is designed to attach to an IPAC encoder's 5V tap, but you can also clip the connector and wire it to a KeyWiz encoder or rig up a connection to a PC power supply's 5 volt line.
The use of standard mini-plugs for the power cable elegantly solves two potential problems: how to easily plug in and unplug the joystick shafts, and how to ensure that the power cable does not get twisted or crimped during gameplay. Since the plugs can spin freely in the sockets, there's never a danger of the cable wrapping around the shaft and interfering with gameplay (or worse, breaking off of the handle!)
If there is one small drawback to the power cable, it's this: it assumes you don't have any other devices drawing power from your IPAC. My SlikStik Classic panel has twin Perfect 360 joysticks, which require 5V of power to operate. This, of course, meant that I had to wire up a "Y" cable so that both the joystick bases and the LEDs could be powered from the IPAC power tap.
The joystick handles install much like every other handle: detach the e-clip from the existing handle, remove the handle, place the washers and actuators on the new shaft in the same orientation and order, slide it into place, and replace the e-clip.
I found I actually had a very hard time getting the e-clip on these sticks: the groove for the e-clip is very shallow compared to most shafts, and therefore the clip had an annoying habit of slipping and flying off while I tried to press it into place (no easy feat even with normal shafts, as you have to push in the actuator from the bottom and push down on the stick from the top at the same time!) Anyway, once the e-clip is on the shaft it holds quite nicely, but be prepared for a bit of a battle.
SlikStik's method for securing the power cord is equally as elegant as the power cord itself: using one of the exisitng screws on the joystick, you use the included sheath to fasten the cord to the joystick base while ensuring that there is enough "play" in the cable so that the joystick can move freely.
If installed correctly, the addition of the power cord to the shaft is imperceptible during gameplay: the joysticks felt every bit as responsive and quick as the normal P360 shafts or the SlikStik aluminum ball-top shafts.
My first impressions of these sticks when lit up? Eerie. Honestly, the glow from these balls is a little unsettling at first: it's so even and indirect that it doesn't seem to be a natural light source (and considering how hard it was for me to get good photos of these sticks, I'm beginning to wonder if they really aren't tapping into otherworldly energy sources!)
I don't know if it is the particular LEDs used in these sticks, but it was impossible for me to get a photograph of them with anything close to true color fidelity. These sticks just look different in person. Perhaps it's the CCD in the digital camera that freaks out with the LED lights — supposedly digital cameras are sensitive to infrared light as well as normal light, and that may account for the truly strange effects I saw in the shots (for example, the photo above is unretouched!) No matter, the sticks look great in person, even in a brightly lit room.
The balltop on these sticks feels different from any other joystick I've used. Whether it's the frosted surface or just the plastic used, they have a unique tactile signature, including something that I never thought I'd comment about when discussing joysticks: the temperature. The LEDs contribute a very small bit of warmth to the plastic, almost like it's been "pre-warmed" by another player. The stick is not hot, nor even warm, but just a tad above room temperature. Whatever it is, it's just one more reminder that this is like no other joystick you've ever used.
I do wonder if the frosted surface of the balltops will wear with use, and what that will do to the appearance. The plastic is opaque, so you won't end up with a bright light shooting out of a wear spot, but I'll have to report back in six months on how the plastic surface deals with being held in a "Robotron Death Grip™".
That Weird Glow...
I've got to come back to the lighting on these sticks. I've talked to Christian at SlikStik, and he's mentioned that they take several steps during the manufacturing to ensure that the light from the LEDs is evenly diffused throughout the balltop.
Whatever they're doing, it works. The light is amazingly even from these sticks — in fact, the only variation visible is right at the base of the joysticks, something you'll never see unless you're at eye level with the control panel.
The glow is even more impressive in a darkened room, and it truly does seem to "beckon" you to the stick, like some deep sea creature dangling a lighted lure in front of a hungry fish.
By the way, the amount of light generated by these sticks is nearly right on: they're not too bright in dim lighting nor too dim in bright lighting. I did find them a bit distracting at first when I started using them, but that was only because of the cool glow when I cupped my hand around the stick:
These sticks may not be for every cab builder, but only because not everyone fancies lit controls. There's no arguing, however, with the quality of the sticks and the engineering elegance that went into their creation.
These sticks retail for an introductory price of $29.95 each. If you're looking for a bit of "one of a kind" bling for your cab, these lighted sticks could be just the thing.