A fighting game controller on a budget…

I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone who knows me that I enjoy playing fighting games, especially ones from the Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter series of games.

The problem, however, is that I have an Xbox 360. As much as I enjoy my 360, the standard gamepad has one glaring flaw: the d-pad is nowhere near precise enough for fighting games. I remember when Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 came out for Xbox Live Arcade, and I was struggling to get moves off using the d-pad on my wireless gamepad. It finally got to the point where I ended up buying a HORI EX2 gamepad once Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was released, simply because I had read that it had one of the best d-pads of any Xbox 360 gamepad and I wanted something that didn’t frustrate me when trying to play. What I read turned out to be accurate: the d-pad was indeed flawless, though over time the controller did develop an issue of the left analog stick not recognizing when it was “centered”.

However, that still left me with the standard wireless gamepad if I wanted to have someone locally play against me as player 2. I rarely if ever have friends over who are fighting game fans, but I wanted to get a second controller just in case it ever happened. Being as I’m not a tournament level player, I couldn’t justify the cost of a $100-150 arcade joystick just for a few games. While the HORI EX2 pad was inexpensive, I wanted something a little cheaper, as this would only be used for fighting games. I ended up stumbling across the answer in the form of PDP’s Versus Controller for Xbox 360.

PDP Versus Controller
PDP Versus Controller
What made me interested in the Versus was the direction controller setup. Most dedicated fighting game controllers use either a decent d-pad or an arcade-quality analog joystick for the direction controller. The Versus controller goes for an interesting blend of both approaches, in that it uses a thumb joystick. It’s the same size as a d-pad, but the internal workings are those of an arcade joystick. In essence, it’s a joystick that is controlled by your thumb. It feels weird to use, at first, but it didn’t take me long to get used to it. In fact, after a bit, I was finding it to be more efficient to use than the HORI EX2’s gamepad when playing Street Fighter games. Mortal Kombat games are taking a little longer to get used to, but I’m finding that some moves I had no problem with on the arcade versions (Shang Tsung’s soul steal fatality on Mortal Kombat II, for example) but had issues with on a d-pad are easier on the Versus.

What took longer to get used to was the button configuration. While the Versus has the same face button layout at the HORI EX2, the buttons on the Versus are far larger. This had led to a number of times where I’ve found myself pressing the wrong button, as my thumb was hitting where I was used to it being on a regular gamepad. In addition, the LT and RT buttons are not triggers, but bumper buttons like the LB and RB buttons on a standard gamepad. This also takes a little getting used to, especially as the Block button on Mortal Kombat games is mapped to the RT button. The Back and Start buttons are on the very top of the controller, and are small to boot. I’ve fumbled looking for them on more than one occasion. Still, despite the issues I had getting used to the different layout, the buttons themselves were responsive and I had no problems once I adapted to them.

At the time I’m writing this, PDP has only three of the Xbox 360 Versus controllers left on their site, selling for $15. As they’re clearance items now, once they’re sold they’re gone. Fortunately, Amazon has them as well, but for $10 more. I would try getting one from PDP first, before going the Amazon route. Still, if you want a decent dedicated fighting game controller but can’t justify the cost of an arcade joystick, you can’t go wrong with a PDP Versus.