Best known for their popular TE line of premium arcade fightsticks, Mad Catz jumps into the entry-level market with the Fightstick Alpha. Contained in a small shell with a price tag to match, Mad Catz hopes that this product can provide fighting game players with the experience of using a fightstick without breaking the bank. Is this the starter fightstick for you?
The Fightstick Alpha is one of the smallest fightsticks I’ve ever used. Besides a small surface area that is barely enough to house the six action buttons and joystick, it also sits really low to the ground. Height wise, it’s barely taller than two DVD cases stacked on top of each other. Some players will appreciate its portability, though there are some disadvantages that come with its design.
For one, it’s light. Besides being small to begin with, the casing is built entirely of plastic. Thanks to the padding on the underside of the unit, I didn’t have issues with it sliding around in the heat of the moment, though it’s hard not to have that in your mind when using such a small fightstick.
More troubling to me was lack of surface area to rest your hands on. I have tiny hands, but my hand was resting right at the lips of the stick where it angles downward. Having used other entry-level fightsticks in the past, this is the only one where my hands felt cramped due to the lack of surface area on the controller. I understand that its small form factor helps keep the price down, but a bit of real estate just below the buttons and to the sides would go a long way towards this being a bit more comfortable.
When it comes to features, the Fightstick Alpha is pretty bare bones. Built-in PS3 and PS4 compatibility is a huge plus, though you’re not getting much else. I don’t miss the lack of turbo fire, though some may scoff at the lack of a headset jack.
Most premium fightsticks feature eight action buttons on their face. This sort of features eight. Besides the six main buttons, two small buttons at the top act as L1 and L2. These work fine within the context of navigating menus, but you probably won’t use any of these in the heat of battle. I can live without them, but it’s something to be aware of when considering the purchase of a fightstick.
The most crucial aspect of to get right in any fightstick are the joystick and buttons. As with all entry-level fightsticks that I can think of, this does not use competitive-grade Sanwa parts. Can’t speak for what these actually are, though they are serviceable. The joystick is a little loud, though I never had any issue with it registering my inputs properly. As for the buttons, it may take a minute to adjust to these if you’re used to Sanwa buttons. They require a deep press to register, and they’re not as sensitive. Once you get used to it, they work fine.
I only got to use it once, so I can’t speak to its durability. However, should the joystick or buttons break, you should know that this is not easy to mod with your own parts. While it’s not impossible, it’s certainly not easy, as you’re going to need to do some soldering, unlike premium fightsticks where you can just pop a new joystick or buttons in with little hassle.
As an entry-level option, the Mad Catz Fightstick Alpha is not bad. Once I got used to the overall feel and form factor of it, I didn’t miss a beat. However, you need to know that this low-cost alternative to a Mad Catz TE or a Hori HRAP comes with a number of setbacks, from its small footprint, light weight, lack of L1 and L2 buttons and parts that aren’t made by Sanwa. If you’re just getting into the scene and want the arcade experience in your hands at a low price, this technically fits the bill. However, due to its faults, I strongly recommend just saving up and buying a higher end product.