Welcome to KiLLerCloWn's X-Arcade Review Page!
The X-Arcade's development has been public for quite a while and it's release has been anticipated eagerly by the gaming community. We always knew the following: It's production was in close co-operation with the HotRod, a proven top class arcade controller. We also knew that durable arcade hardware would be used for the construction and that it would be fully programmable. Lastly, we knew the X-Arcade would look similar to the HotRod and have a similar layout. I own both controllers and I can say here already, both are top notch products, both are worth their money and I enjoy using either immensely. And since I did a lot of comparison during my testing this review will reflect the impressions I gained evaluating the different aspects of both controllers. With the X-Arcade being the main star of this review of course. (Please excuse the low picture quality, the images were taken with my crappy webcam :))
Let's start with the arrival of the package: The X-Arcade arrived safely and neatly packaged at my door. The whole controller came inside a cardboard box with transparent plastic on top allowing a glimpse of the joy awaiting you inside. The entire box was wrapped inside a larger box and cushioned by hundreds of foam bits securing the soft lie of the product. Inside it's own retail box the X-Arcade was further secured by two foam holders which kept it firmly seated. It is safe to say that with this packaging your product will arrive safely without any damage whatsoever. This excellent first impression was only topped by the MAMEWorld logo proudly displaying on the top panel. Nice! I knew this would be the case but seeing is believing, and it does make us a bit proud here at MW :))
Nevertheless, opinions can't be bought, so it's off to unwrap the bugger and give it some serious testing...or is it? Naaaa, I don't think I've ever used anything without opening it up first. What's the pleasure of hammering the buttons if you don't know what it looks from inside first. So, out of the box it goes, and....it feels surprisingly light. I expected it to be a bit heavier. Hmmm, so I lean on it a few times, give it a few good bangs (*goddammed another spaceship gone* style), my table shakes, the X-Arcade doesn't and I come to the conclusion that it's very sturdy and solidly built. I guess if you unpacked an arcade controller for the first time you'd actually be impressed by it's weight. The HotRod however weighs noticeably more. I don't think it's any more sturdy or durable in the end, but it's definitely a lot heavier and leaves a more robust impression when used. So, off to the bathroom and on the scales: The HotRod weighs in at 5.2 kg, the X-Arcade at 4.2 ....both rocksolid arcade controllers.
Alright then, out comes the screwdriver and off go the screws at the back: Aaaaahhhh, what a beautiful sight! Buttons and joysticks arranged neatly and the cables all nice, tight and orderly. Tight fitting contacts, clean layout, spotless presentation, that's what we like to see! Very impressive, on go the screws again and we're moving towards the real testing phase, yeehaaw...:)
Connecting the X-Arcade to your PC couldn't be any easier: Connect your keyboard to the X-Arcade and your X-Arcade to the PC using the PC adapter (there will be adapters for all major gaming consoles as well, making the a very versatile gaming solution for many platforms!) No installation software is needed, your PC reads button pushes and joystick movement as keyboard inputs, basically it thinks you're using your keyboard. Therefore all games, even the ones without joystick support can be played with this controller. Open up notepad, hit and wiggle everything and you'll get a row of letters and numbers, everything seems to work fine. Start up MAME and use the HotRod controller config with which the X-Arcade is 100% compatible and fire up the first game: Twin Cobra, an all time favourite. The one thing you'll notice immediately is the top class response and sensitivity of the buttons. I don't think I have ever been able to hammer an arcade button with such speed and precision as these. Absolutely outstanding! The best arcade buttons I have ever experienced. Snappy, fast and ultra responsive. I'm in love! But hang on, how come I'm only half way through the second stage and already lost two helis? Hmmm, sth is not quite right. I go back to the start and do some research: Seems like I can't hit the diagonals as regularly as I wish. Fire up a few different games, Last Blade, Marvel Superheroes, 1943 and the impression persists. Plug in the HotRod and I realise, it's not me it's definitely the stick. The HotRod has less travel and easier to hit diagonals, the like or dislike of which is of course also largely down to personal taste. So I open up the X-Arcade and slightly bend the metal plates which press the contacts of the joystick controllers to make them more responsive. And hallelujah, it works, super responsive controls with precise diagonals. In the meantime I have spoken with others who also own an X-Arcade and they confirmed to me that they didn't have this problem at all. I guess a hand manufactured product can need some fine tuning at times, nothing a complete newbie couldn't do and sth others might not even want to do due to different tastes in joystick behaviour. In the end, the first run of tests with the adjusted contacts was highly satisfactory. Great and precise controls with outstanding button response.
Off to play some more games over a prolonged period. The impression persists, this is a top class product. Robotron is a dream with the two joysticks. Pac-Man and all other 4 way games plays a lot better than with the HotRod, there seems to be a lot less room for mistakes, blocking the controller by hitting accidental diagonals. I'd still recommend a dedicated 4 way controller for these games, it's not ideal and the HotRod allows to change the joystick from 8 way to 4 way, but out of the box the X-Arcade performs a lot better in this kind of game. However now I do notice the difference the weight makes. The X-Arcade does move slightly during long sessions of hectic gaming. This is mostly due the lesser weight but also to the plasticky support buttons at the bottom of the X-Arcade. The do not grip as well as the more rubbery ones on the HotRod and in combination with the lesser weight the unit is slightly more unstable. This does of course also depend on the surface you pose it on. I also now notice the nuances in the difference between the HotRod and X-Arcade joysticks. The HotRod joysticks, on top of offering less travel, are slightly smaller in height. I have relatively small hands and therefore the HotRod sticks sit more naturally in my hand and combined with the lesser travel give me more comfort and control. This if course varies from hand to hand and personal preference and in the end I don't think it had any real effect on my performance or comfort. ...Lastly I also noticed that the X-Arcade's slightly wider flaps offer more comfort for your left arm during prolonged play as there is more space to rest it compared to the HotRod, however I prefer the slightly more inclined surface of the Hotrod in terms of comfort. For me a combination of both would be perfect. One this I really liked about the X-Arcade are the two buttons in the lowest, the third row of buttons. When sitting at your desk playing they are much more comfortable to use as button 1 and 2 in classic 1 or 2 button arcade games than the upper two rows. A nice touch and I have programmed them to be my shoot and jump/fire and bomb buttons for my favourite classics.
Last thing to check then: Programmability. This is definitely a plus for the X-Arcade and it allows compatibility with virtually all games and game platforms. If a game does not allow you to use a particular keystroke (some emulators for example do not allow you to use the "Alt" key which is part of the default HotRodSE config) you can create different profiles for different games or platforms. They are easy to program and hard coded into the keyboard encoder which controls the output of the X-Arcade. It works easily and flawlessly. My only gripe is that you can't program the arrow keys so if you have a game which requires arrow keys for movement and does not allow you to change this there is nothing you can do about this. The only game I know which does this is the FIFA Soccer series by EA. My unit being a pre-sale build, this might be changed as other reviewers have noted the same.
Finally, the last step. After you've opened it all, played and tested it all: Read the documentation! You will have to read this to learn the very easy procedure of programming your buttons and everything about the X-Arcade is explained very clearly several times. A very complete and easy to understand document and nothing was left out. In combination with a great website and almost instant support response by the X-Arcade Team, plus the close relationship they are actively seeking with the gaming community it can safely be said that for all after sales matters you'll be good hands.
In summary: The X-Arcade is a very well thought through product. It is built with high quality custom designed arcade parts. It is a solid and sturdy construction. Playability is outstanding. Precise controls and super responsive buttons make gaming with the X-Arcade a joy. Minor gripes come in the shape of a slightly unstable posture during prolonged hectic play and the lack of programming support for the arrow keys. I also prefer slightly less travel in my joysticks such as the HotRod offers but prolly would never have noticed this if I hadn't had the head to head comparison.
Pros and Cons
In the end I will give the X-Arcade a score of 94%. An outstanding overall performance and the fact that the minor gripes I had are mostly down to personal preference leave me no option but to rate this controller almost perfect! A great job by the X-Arcade team and a great product for any gamer out there. You could argue that some points should be detracted for lack of trackball or spinner, but I rated this product for what it is: A two player arcade joystick, and as such, it can take on any other out there.