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If you've discovered MAME, you've also discovered the serious shortcomings of trying to play arcade games on your home computer. No matter what PC gaming controller you try and use, nothing feels quite "right." If you're like me, you quickly decided that the only way to play arcade games was with arcade-original controllers. It's the only way to get that "arcade-genuine" feel.

Constructed using genuine arcade parts (and some unique custom-designed parts as well), the SlikStik Classic is one solution to the dilemma of getting that arcade-perfect gaming experience. The SlikStik Classic is a large two player control unit that adeptly manages to cram in nearly every gaming controller imaginable, while still keeping each of the controls playable.

The SlikStik Classic unit has two 8-way player joysticks (each with 7 buttons), a 4-way joystick, a Tornado spinner, a 5-button "Asteroids" layout, and a trackball (with a 3-button "Missile Command" configuration.) It's a lot of controllers to put on one panel, but the layout is elegant and well thought out. Everything is within easy reach and comfortable to use.

First Impressions: Form, Fit, and Finish

If you read the review of my first SlikStik, you may remember that while overall I was very happy with the SlikStik unit I received, I did encounter a small number of problems that required some repair work.

This year, the SlikStik arrived at my house in a custom-fit box, including custom-designed styrofoam padding inserts. The fit was tight - a bit snug, actually, and I ended up ripping the box apart in an attempt to get the SlikStik out. It was an extremely professional packing job, and nothing at all was damaged in transit. What a difference a year makes. Bravo, SlikStik!

Custom box, Custom Packing Material = Picture Perfect Packing

The SlikStik unit itself was heavy, solid, and large - nothing about this unit seems second-class. Measuring over 35" wide, it's not something you're going to want to plop in your lap for some quick retrogaming action. Constructed of ¾ inch high density particle board, the unit feels like a rock. The outer surfaces are covered in black formica, and the edge of the control panel is trimmed with plastic T-molding.

The bottom panel of the SlikStik can be unscrewed for access to the interior, which features very clean wiring layout.

Interior of the SlikStik, with My Own Custom Trackball Light

There are many subtle, but nice changes from my first SlikStik unit, including different internal wiring, a "boltless" trackball mounting plate, the new Tornado spinner and aluminum spinner top, and a high density particle board top (the SlikStik unit had a plywood top). None of these changes is earth-shattering, but taken together they show SlikStik's ongoing commitment to the three cornerstones of quality: Form, Fit, and Finish.

Closeup of the Clean Interior Layout and Wiring

The SlikStik I ordered was a slightly modified Classic design - I had them move the spinner into the center (where the 4-way joystick normally goes), add an additional top-fire joystick, and replace the standard two Happs Competition joysticks with Happs Perfect 360 optical joysticks. In addition, I ordered the optional dual side pinball buttons. I also had them use the IPAC-4 controller so that I would have future expansion options. To top everything off, I also installed the SlikStik ball-top stainless steel joystick handles.

The Custom Modified Classic Layout

Installation and Setup

Connecting the SlikStik to your computer is plug and play simplicity. There are three cables that come out of the back of the unit: one for the IPAC unit that controls the buttons and joysticks, one for the trackball, and one for the spinner. All of the cables are USB/PS-2 switchable, although you'll also need to change a jumper on the IPAC board inside the unit if you wish to change the buttons and joysticks over to USB operation. No drivers are required - the trackball and spinner are recognized as mice, and the IPAC controller functions and appears to Windows as a standard keyboard.

The SlikStik controller comes with a very Slik (pun intended) installation CD.

SlikStik Installation Main Screen

Pop it into your computer, and you're presented with an installation screen that allows you to install an IPAC programming utility, read the 50-page SlikStik manual, and install the proper MAME configuration files for your SlikStik controller.

Classic Unit Installation Screen

It really makes setting up the SlikStik controller painless, and you should be up and blasting away at aliens in minutes.

I find it hard to objectively review the SlikStik user manual, as I'm the author. I wrote it for SlikStik after they contacted me after my first review mentioned the lack of any documentation. If you'd like to check it out, please feel free to take a look at the PDF version of the manual from the Files Section. I tried to make it easy to understand and use, and I hope I've succeeded.


As you would expect from a controller that uses arcade-original parts, the SlikStik feels and plays just like an original arcade game, at least for the most part. Obviously, to play over 4,000 different games some compromises have to be made in a controller layout. If you're into racing games, there's obviously no steering wheel on the SlikStik, and even the ultra-smooth Tornado spinner is no substitute for a full-size wheel. Likewise, games that used 49-way joysticks are not going to feel the same on an 8-way joystick.

Luckily, however, the vast majority of games play exactly the way they did in the arcades. SlikStik does have some optional controllers available, such as rotary joysticks, for those whose favorite game just isn't the same with a standard arcade joystick setup.

One of the compromises that I'm not too fond of is the wide spacing of the Asteroids buttons, as the center "hyperspace" button is a bit too far away from my hands.

Closeup of the Center Section, Including the Asteroids Buttons

Unfortunately, there's just no way around this problem if you want to keep the spinner and 4-way joystick at the top of the unit (and I did ;-) It's not bad, but obviously the spacing is different than on a real Asteroids machine.

The joysticks are great, exactly what you would expect from an arcade machine. The buttons, as well, feel quick and responsive, with a decisive sounding click when you press them.

The 4-way joystick at the top is ideal for games such as Pac-Man. I initially didn't think a 4-way joystick was necessary (after all, an 8-way can do the same moves, right?), but you very quickly learn how hard it is to accurately control a 4-way game using an 8-way joystick.

I'm especially fond of the Tornado spinner (see review here) and the Happs trackball, which is exceptionally smooth and responsive in games, even when it is being used as a mouse in Windows. It's a blue translucent ball, which glows an eerie blue when lit from underneath.


When I reviewed the first SlikStik unit I ordered a year ago, I debated whether building a controller myself would have been more cost effective. This time, there was no debate, at least for me. The unit is extremely well constructed, and there is no way I personally could have equaled the quality in building one myself. With all the improvements in the SlikStik unit since last year, the price of $430 (unchanged from last year) is even more reasonable. It's not cheap, but it is a very good price for all that you're getting with the unit.

Update: I received a very interesting email from Aaron Marshall, who investigated the cost differences between building a SlikStik-equivalent unit himself or buying a SlikStik classic. The results are very interesting (thanks, Aaron!):

I have been pricing out all the components included in the SlikStik Classic in order to determine if I wanted to try building a clone myself.  Interestingly, I can't figure out how they make money on this thing!  I have tried to reproduce exactly the same parts list, with a couple very conservative guesses on shipping costs & unpredictable Home Depot runs.  My results are shown in the table below: 

Option 1 - Home Built Controls
Item Source Quantity Cost Extended Cost
8-Way Joystick, Competition Happ Controls 2  $  12.79  $           25.58
4-Way Joystick, Universal Happ Controls 1  $  15.04  $           15.04
1 and 2 player buttons Happ Controls 2  $    1.86  $             3.72
Pushbuttons Happ Controls 25  $    1.76  $           44.00
3" Trackball Happ Controls 1  $151.66  $          151.66
Trackball mounting kit Happ Controls 1  $  10.54  $           10.54
Shipping from Happ Happ Controls 1  $  25.00  $           25.00
Mounting feet for I-pac Radio Shack 4  $    0.50  $             2.00
Wiring Harness Supplies Radio Shack 1  $  15.00  $           15.00
Tornado Spinner SlikStik 1  $  89.95  $           89.95
Shipping from SlikStik SlikStik 1  $  12.00  $           12.00
I-PAC keyboard encoder Ultimarc 1  $  39.00  $           39.00
Shipping from Ultimarc Ultimarc 1  $  12.00  $           12.00
Body of Control Panel Home Depot 1  $  20.00  $           20.00
Labor (per hour) Me 4  $       -    $                -  
Total        $          465.49

A couple notes:

1.  I included the 2% discount Happ Controls offers for online purchases.
2.  Values in yellow are my estimates.

Even before I charge for my time, I'm coming within $10 of the delivered price of a SlikStik, shown below:

Option 2 - SlikStik Classic
Item Source Quantity Cost Extended Cost
SlikStik Classic SlikStik 1  $439.95  $          439.95
Shipping & Handling SlikStik 1  $  35.00  $           35.00
Total        $          474.95

I suppose they are getting some serious quantity discounts from the various suppliers, and of course they probably give themselves quite a deal on their own spinners.  My only concern is that I got some of the components wrong.  I'm particularly suspicious about the trackball at $150, but from the details on their site and yours, this appears to be the only match over at Happs.

Just thought you might be interested in the results.  Feel free to pass them on if you like.

Thanks again and good luck with the cabinet!  I can't wait to see the review!

Aaron Marshall

Considering the fact that you can easily customize almost everything about your own SlikStik unit, from the button colors to the type of joysticks used, I'd be hard-pressed to find a more "personal" arcade controller solution on the market.

Closeup of the Custom Button Colors and Stainless Steel Joystick Handle

There are cheaper controllers available, but none have as many different arcade controllers onboard, or offer as many customization options. I'm extremely happy with my SlikStik unit, and I honestly don't think you can go wrong with any of their controllers. Highly recommended!

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