Universal Fighting Game Guide: How to Transition From Control Pad to Fightstick

For most of my fighting game playing life, I played fighting games with a control pad. It was what I was most comfortable with and I had no interest in learning how to play these games with any other control method. However, in 2010, I felt like I was ready to switch to a fightstick. There was a steep learning curve to it, but I’m glad that I ultimately made the switch.

I know there are a lot of people out there making the transition in hopes of upping their game. Making the switch isn’t an easy process, but I’m hoping that this post may help you ease into a fightstick if/when you decide to give it a go.

Why are you switching?

Before we talk about how to use a fightstick, I want to ask you a question: are you switching or planning on switching to a fightstick because you think this control method inherently makes you better? If it’s the latter, then you’re going into this with the wrong mind-set. A fightstick doesn’t magically make anyone better because it’s a fightstick.

A fightstick helps make a player better IF the player finds it to be a more comfortable method of control. There are many people who try to use a fightstick and switch back to a standard controller because in the end, they find the regular control pad to be a more comfortable way to play. If you are happy with a regular control pad, then there probably isn’t worth your time and effort to switch. If you’re unsure about whether or not you’d want to make the switch, try and borrow one from a friend, play at an arcade, or invest in a cheap fightstick to start.

What fightstick should I buy?

For the purposes of this discussion, you’ve already made up your mind. You’re making the switch to a fightstick. In the past, purchasing a fightstick was really difficult, as there were very few options available. Nowadays, there are a number of different companies making good fightsticks, from Mad Catz, Hori, Qanba and Razer. I’ve written a handy fightstick buyer’s guide in the past, which should answer a lot of your questions about specific sticks.

With that said, what’s the best fightstick to start out with? If you’re still getting your feet wet and just want to get a feel for the control method, buy an entry-level stick. While their build quality is generally worse than the high-end fightsticks, buying an entry-level stick is a great way to gauge whether or not the fightstick thing is for you. If you like it, you can invest in a high-end stick when your entry-level stick breaks. If you’re unhappy with the fightstick as a means of control, then you won’t be stuck with a $200+ fightstick that you’ll never use again. This is the path I went through, as I started out by purchasing an entry level Hori stick first before graduating to a Mad Catz TE.

Fightstick Growing Pains

One thing you should know about transitioning into a fightstick is that there is a learning curve to using it. Simply using a fightstick will not instantly make you better. In fact, if you aren’t already familiar with a fightstick, your performance will likely dip dramatically. It will feel awkward and you will lose a lot. The temptation to simply give up and go back to a regular controller will be strong. If you cave to that temptation, that’s fine. Fightstick as a control method isn’t for everyone. However, if you want to make fightstick controls work for you, you have to work for it. If you want this bad enough, then you’ll take the short term pain for long term gain.

To ease into that transition, the rest of this post will provide some tips on how to use a fightstick. This may seem like silly stuff, but these little nuance can make the world of difference.

How to Hold a Joystick

There isn’t a standard joystick grip. You will find videos and guides everywhere showing you different grips, all of which people will say are the right one. In the end, it all comes down to what feels comfortable to you.

I struggled with this for awhile, until I saw a YouTube video of Daigo showing off how he holds a joystick. Unfortunately, I can’t find this video now. What I can show you is the grip I learned from that video. What he does is place the stick part of the Japanese ball-top joystick in between his ring and pinky finger. From there, he wraps his index finger and his thumb around the ball.

The big adjustment you’ll have to make here is the muscles required to move your character. With a control pad, you’re using your thumb to move your character. With a joystick, the movement will primarily come from your wrist. Take the time to get comfortable with all of the movement options your character has available (and you likely take for granted). Hop into training mode and get comfortable with walking, jumping and dashing. One of the things I took for granted in my transition was dashing in Street Fighter IV. On a control pad, I tapped in the direction and that was it. On a fighstick, I’ve found that dashing takes a more nuanced approach. If I tap twice hard, the dash won’t come out. However, with a more quick and gentle approach, dashes come out every time. It’s getting used to things like this that will make or break your transition.

How to Press the Buttons

The button layout on a fightstick are the primary reason I switched. I love having the large buttons laid out in a way that are easily accessible to all of my fingers. As with the fightstick, there isn’t necessarily a correct way to hit these buttons. What it’s going to come down to is your ability to hit the button you mean to hit.

As a start, I place my fingers at the beginning of each round in a “home” position. My thumb rests above the button on the bottom row, farthest to the left. My other fingers rest along the top row. From there, I always use my thumb as the reference point.

For moves that require you to hit multiple buttons at the same time, go with whatever finger configuration works best for you.

Specific Input Tip

The biggest hurdle I faced during this transition was learning how to input special moves. Besides the challenge of having to learn how to control movement with your wrist and hitting buttons with all of your fingers rather than just your thumb, the coordination of these movements is different between a control pad and fightstick as well. On a control pad, I find that you can time your button presses so that they’re in sync with the last directional input. With a fightstick, the difference is that you need to complete the directional input before hitting the button. The timing is tight, but I find this style of input works better on a fightstick.

In Closing

Learning how to use a fightstick is going to take time and effort. Odds are, it’s going to take more time and effort than you originally hoped. For me, it took about a month of practice before I felt I was better on fighstick than I was on control pad. Hopefully with the tips above, you’ll be able to make a smooth transition.

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2 thoughts on “Universal Fighting Game Guide: How to Transition From Control Pad to Fightstick

  1. tactfulgamer April 26, 2013 / 2:51 AM

    Thanks for this. I just picked up the Injustice Fight Stick and my performance has dramatically decreased.

    These simple explanations going into the nuances really do make the difference. As I was reading your illustrations, my mind was visualizing all the patterns I struggle with in my transition. The only reason I was able to visualize them, is because you are actually describing my trials. Thank you for this. I really thought I just suck with the stick, but it does take practice and I do really feel in time I will be better not just because of my growth in famaliarity, but also its button layout will extend an edge onto my skills I develop.

    • Jett April 30, 2013 / 10:17 AM

      Glad to be of service 🙂

      Haven’t tried that stick, though I’ve heard it’s good. If you ever have any other specific fighting game questions, let me know and I’ll do my best to answer.

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