If you haven’t checked out Xbox Live Arcade on the Xbox 360 yet, you should definitely give it a try. Xbox Live Arcade is a growing collection of arcade games, both classic and new releases, ready for download from Xbox Live. At the time of this review, a selection of 48 games was available for download; each game priced at about $7. A free trial version of each game can be downloaded before buying it.
Those of you who have been playing these games, know that the original Xbox 360 controller is a poor match for many of these simpler games, especially the classic hits. Mad Catz realized this was an issue and came up with a simpler, arcade-style controller, the Xbox 360 Arcade GameStick. Their idea was to grant classic game lovers with an experience much closer to playing an actual arcade game.
The GameStick is reasonably priced at $39, especially since it comes with three full-version Xbox Live Arcade games including Frogger, AstroPop and TimePilot. The games alone would cost you about $21. A 48-hour Xbox Live Gold trial membership is also included in the package. The GameStick features an arcade-style joystick with a button on top, a four-direction D-pad and a 360-degree spinner – accompanied by all the buttons found on the original 360 controller. There is also a Turbo button, although I couldn’t figure out its purpose while playing any of the Live Arcade games. The GameStick feels like it’s well constructed and matches the colour scheme of the Xbox 360. It connects to the 360 via a standard USB plug.
The two biggest advantages that this controller offers over the original 360 controller are the large joystick and the D-pad. The joystick offered the feel and motion similar to that of a typical arcade joystick. It allowed me to perform all the special moves in games such as Street Figher 2 Hyper Fighting, that were almost impossible to perform using the original 360 controller. The single button on top of the joystick worked particularly well with games like TimePilot and allowed me to play the game with a single hand. The first time I played the classic game Ms. Pac-Man, I discovered the benefit of the GameStick’s D-pad. Unlike the multi-way D-pad on the original 360 controller which is great for complex modern games, this D-pad is restricted to only four directions – up, down, left and right. Many classic games require the player to move only in these four directions and this D-pad worked much better than the one on the original controller for these games. The problem with the multi-way D-pad on the original controller is that it tilts easily in all directions and it’s not always clear exactly which direction you might be pressing it in.
The arcade-style joystick and the right thumbstick are interchangeable and performed the same actions during gameplay. For most games, I preferred the feel and handling of the joystick. The locations of the left/right trigger and shoulder buttons are somewhat inconvenient but most Live Arcade games don’t even use them, so this wasn’t much of an issue (except with Street Fighter 2).
I found myself holding the GameStick with both hands during most games that I played, although its boxy shape certainly wasn’t as comfortable to hold as the rounded original controller. For some games however, I discovered that it worked better when placed on my ottoman or coffee table. Placing it on a flat surface allowed me to use the arcade-style joystick and press the buttons much like I would on an arcade machine. Street Figher 2 was definitely easier to control like this. Rubber feet on the bottom prevented the GameStick from sliding on my coffee table.
Overall, the Mad Catz Arcade GameStick is a nice Xbox 360 accessory for any gamer that plays Xbox Live Arcade games. It certainly enhanced my enjoyment of the simpler Xbox 360 games that I take pleasure in playing from time to time.
Mad Catz Inc.
$39 MSRP (Canadian)