That’s my final verdict after weeks of playing arcade style games with multiple input types on multiple platforms. If you want to play an arcade game, you need a joystick.
How did I arrive at this conclusion you ask? (I know… you didn’t ask…) There were a number of games that proved the point, but it was best illustrated when playing Raiden Fighters Jet.
Raiden Fighters Jet may be my favorite shooter of all-time. It was created by Seibu Kaihatsu in 1998. It’s essentially the place where the Raiden series of games came to an end as Raiden III and Raiden IV were developed by a different group. I’m a strong believer in the ownership of a series by a particular development team, as it’s the very rare example where a sequel by another studio even comes close to the original titles. That’s especially true with shooters, which have a very distinct feel to them that comes from the people involved in making them. If you’re like me, you know a Treasure game when you play one without ever seeing a developer splash screen. Raiden has this same quality because of Seibu Kaihatsu.
That’s peripheral to the issue at hand, but if you ever get the chance to play Raiden Fighters Jet, do so. It’s awesome.
As for the joystick, it was pretty simple. I downloaded MAME and a ROM of the game to see what the emulation was like. The game is available at my local arcade, but I honestly hadn’t looked at MAME in years and thought this was a great opportunity to take a look at it again and see how far it has come. Needless to say, MAME has come pretty far. The list of emulated games is ridiculously long. It also would provide me the chance to play a game at home with different controllers and then go back to the arcade and see which was best. The arcade won, by a mile.
I easily scored higher and lasted longer on a single credit in the arcade than I ever could at home. While the sounds aren’t quite right in the MAME version, everything else seemed pretty close. It’s possible that the timing is off a bit, and that would certainly cause me issues at home, but scorewise, there was just no comparison between playing with a keyboard or a Playstation controller, and playing in the arcade with a joystick and dedicated fire and bomb buttons.
The controls are just tighter, with instantaneous response. My selected jet zips through bullets with ease when I’ve got joystick control. Shots are fired much faster with arcade buttons, too. And bombs can be dropped in life-saving situations where at home I became all thumbs at times. I have always been a huge proponent of playing each original game on its own hardware and once again I felt like that opinion was reinforced. Emulation doesn’t just rob you of the satisfying feeling of topping the scoreboard in your town, it also removes the pinpoint control you get there.
I also think there’s a psychological barrier to enjoying arcade games when they’re played at home, but that’s probably a post for another day. I was much happier to play for ten minutes on one quarter standing at the arcade than I was to fire up the game for free. MAME and emulation in general has completely devalued the experience of arcade gaming, and I sort of hate it for that.
Anyway, you can’t beat a joystick for arcade gaming. All those Neo Geo games I’ve been buying are played with one too, and the fighters especially are designed with that lever and buttons in mind. Moves that would be hell on a gamepad come out like worms after the rain when you’ve got those sweet sticks in your hands. I’ll never go back again, and am contemplating building one of my own for future arcade style action on various platforms.