Arcade Hardware Preferences

Thursday September 28, 2023

If you didn’t already know, there is a ton of variety when it comes to inputs on arcade games. Obviously racing games will use a steering wheel, shooting games will have light guns, and Sega Shootout Pool gets a pool cue, but I want to talk about regular old levers and buttons.

The “standard”

The (Japanese) default is pretty much just Sanwa everything. It’s good shit. You can get Sanwa buttons in the snap-in style or screw-in. Choice usually comes down to what you’re putting them in, or if you just don’t feel like worrying about breaking the little tabs on the snap-ins. Sanwa levers have a square gate on them by default, making it easy to slam into the corner when you’re doing a Z input in Street Fighter. You can also use an octagonal gate, but I don’t know anyone in real life who does that.

My choice

Sanwa buttons with a Hayabusa lever

My preferred combo is Sanwa buttons with a Hori Hayabusa lever. I like the Hayabusa levers because they are loose. So loose that people have asked me if my lever was broken. Most of the time I’m pretty light with my fingers, so I like being able to move the lever with very little force. I don’t dislike Sanwa levers at all, and I frequently switch between the two because I have Sanwa levers on my Versus City. Every other Versus City I play on also uses Sanwa levers. No matter the lever, it’s gotta be a square gate. Some people might say doing a QCF is easier with an octo gate, but are these people throwing fireballs and not also doing DPs? Z inputs feel like shit. The art on the arcade stick above was done by my lovely grandmother.

Hayabusa buttons with a Hayabusa lever

My other arcade stick has Crown buttons, which use mechanical switches like your sweet gamer keyboard. In that picture I was still using the default Hori buttons, which are super mushy and shallow. Maybe I’ll take another picture later. In practice, Crown buttons don’t feel all that different from Sanwas. When pressing them like a normal person you can tell, but when you’re going monkey mode during a combo it kind of just feels the same. Crown buttons are slightly taller, which I do notice when pushing them lightly for a jab or something. I think if I got blue switches instead of the default “speed silver” I would feel a huge difference. I can’t say for sure if that would make me a die hard blue switch Crown user, and I don’t feel like spending the money to try them. The art on the arcade stick above was done by my friend HogoBrogh.

What I don’t like

This is supposed to be a positive post about what I like, so I don’t want to focus too much on what I dislike. However, American arcade parts are so different and so unpleasant to use that I have to talk about them.

American buttons (Happ) are concave (Sanwas are convex) and require much more force to fully press down. On a Japanese arcade machine with 6 buttons, the Sanwas are laid out in a way that follows the placement of your fingers.

Japanese layout

American cabs put the buttons in an even 2x3 grid.

American layout

This layout, combined with the extra force required to push the buttons, is hell on your fingers. I’m also pretty tall, so playing on an American stand up cab forces to me arch my wrist all the way back. I’m usually bitching about how much my hand hurts after just a couple games.

Happ levers are nicknamed “perfect 360s” since you can’t actually feel and hear the click of microswitches as you hit each direction like you can on Sanwa levers. You can spin the lever around in circles like it was the joystick of any modern gamepad. This might sound nice, but a game like Street Fighter only gives a shit about 8 directions. I find it extremely difficult to block low, jump forward, jump back, do Z inputs, etc. Like the buttons, more force is needed for it to register a direction.

The only time I ever play on American arcade machines is when I’m at this one arcade that is also a bar. The bar helps soften the blow of terrible controls. Plus, I’m still good enough at Street Fighter to smoke the drunk randoms that come up to the machine.

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