Review by Kevin Steele
SlikStik has earned a reputation of producing some of the biggest and best arcade controllers available. "Large and in charge" could very well be their motto, and the SlikStik Solitaire-J Unit, SlikStik's single player controller, follows in the (very large) footsteps of its predecessors: the SlikStik Classic, CO2, and Quad controllers.
Built using the same materials and techniques as SlikStik's other controllers, the Solitaire-J Unit is imposing and absolutely "rock solid." This is not a controller that will slide off your coffee table during gaming, or wobble as you get physical during a game of Smash TV. It's staying put, trust me!
The Solitaire-J Unit is built with 3/4" formica laminated MDF, complete with T-molding trim and a solid 3/4" base plate. It's durable and rock-solid (and fairly heavy!) There is some genuine "heft" with this unit.
Size-wise, at about 23" x 13" x 5.5", the single-player Solitaire-J Unit is roughly the same width and depth as the X-Arcade 2-player unit. I've always felt the X-Arcade was a bit "cozy" for two-player use, but the overall size is just about right for single-player gaming.
The Solitaire-J Unit unit is a couple of inches taller than the X-Arcade, which makes it less suited for lap use. I actually used the Solitaire in my lap for a few games of Robotron — it's heavy and large, but usable. Still, I don't think I'd want to spend the evening with this controller in my lap: it's much more suited for coffee table use (or mounting onto an arcade cab!)
Built for Gaming
I've always been impressed with the layouts of the SlikStik controllers: it's apparent that they're gamers themselves, and the button and joystick layouts reflect this. They're easy to access, generously spaced, and well-placed on the controller.
For starters, the Solitaire-J Unit uses Happ Competition joysticks, a solid workhorse of a joystick. Actually, the Solitaire-J Unit uses two Happ Competition joysticks! This is a unique design decision, and one that is absolutely great news for fan of dual-joystick games such as Robotron (by now you just have to know I'm going to mention Robotron in a review! ;)
The dual-joystick arrangement adds an entirely new dimension to this controller, allowing for great gameplay on dual-joystick games such as Crazy Climber, and even allowing for some limited simultaneous two-player use — you won't be able to play fighters, for example, but simpler games should be possible. For a control panel designed for single player-use, this is a very nice touch.
The SlikStik Solitaire-J Unit also uses the now nearly-industry standard 7-button layout, which allows for the "NeoGeo" button as well as the six-button layout used in most fighting games. The Solitaire also includes a top row of buttons which includes both Player 1 and Player 2 start and coin buttons, a great touch, since it allows you to use the Solitaire with a friend (or opponent ;-) to play any arcade game which alternates player turns.
The top row also includes 4 extra buttons on each side of a strategically placed "gap," which is where the optional Tornado spinner can be installed. The review unit didn't include this optional spinner, but it's certainly something that I would recommend getting — there's nothing like playing Tempest with a real spinner control!
If you don't have the optional spinner installed, you can always use the extra buttons for either gameplay or MAME administrative controls (ESC, Tab, F11, etc.) It's a nice touch that the extra buttons are included even if you don't have the spinner.
The Tornado's extensive compliment of buttons extends past the top of the unit, with side-mounted dual pinball buttons and the ever-important black "Pause" button. One of the greatest features of MAME, in my opinion, is the ability to pause games. (I can't count the number of times I've had the phone ring or my kids get into a fight right when I'm about to break a high score!)