I struggle to play fighting games with a standard controller. The dexterity requirements are simply too much for my lonely thumb navigating the face buttons, and I refuse to adapt the ‘claw’ technique of using fingers on the top. I’ve muddled away with Killer Instinct, and Dead Or Alive 5: Last Round for a while, since all my arcade sticks are for the Xbox 360. But, with the announcement of backwards compatibility for Xbox 360 titles, it started to make some sense to buy a new arcade stick to play the significant back catalogue of arcade titles that played well with a stick.
So, after having the Razer Atrox sit in my virtual shopping trolley with Mighty Ape (it was on sale) and watching their stock slowly deplete by about one a week until there was just one left, I pulled the trigger and bought it.
There’s a lot to like about it, from the genuine Sanwa parts, to the fact that you can press a button to pop it open, and a compressed-gas lever-arm thingy will keep it open and in place until you close it again. Unfortunately, before even plugging it in, I could hear the infuriating noise that could only be a screw loose inside the casing. Worse, on painstaking inspection, the screw clearly wasn’t just rattling around in the easily accessible open area
“This is the hidden price you pay for buying something on sale,” I told myself. The last stick I bought, the Mad Catz Arcade Fight Stick SOUL Tournament Edition isn’t a matter of public record, but I bought it for a relative pittance ($80) and had to invest a significant amount of time testing and correcting some serious issues with both the buttons and the sticks. Sure, returning is an option, and the folks at Mighty Ape are nothing if not friendly and reasonable (their Banana Points rewards system is ridiculously out of date to the point of offending long-time customers, but they’re great) but that involves setting aside social anxieties and engaging with humans, whereas fixing the issue could be as simple as me, the machine, and some time.
The Atrox comes with ccustomisation as part of the design, and has a wee double-ended screwdriver fitted on the inside of the case. Other things to be found on the inside: a bat-top which can substitute the ball-top which comes fitted standard for the stick, and the detachable 4m cable with a fancy braided outer layer. The screw driver isn’t the total solution, though, since the shaft of the screwdriver is quite short, and the rogue screw just happens to be trapped in behind the front bumper, which some deep holes, too narrow to reach the screws. My fiancee thankfully has a pink hammer with several screwdrivers concealed in the handle, so with a bit of force the screw was recovered and the need to confront anyone with my mild customer dissatisfaction was averted.
The screw had somehow dislodged (or, for all I knew, never been properly in) from one of the pins that holds on the detachable face plate – a feature that I’m thankful for if only because the stock artwork on the top is generically ugly, a mash of the Razer logo which I’m not fond of and green circuit boards, which is about aesthetically pleasing as a still of the weird downward flowing glyph-codes from The Matrix.
Removing the face plate to get at the artwork actually involves unwiring all of the buttons so they can be popped out, and unscrewing the ball-top; an ordeal I haven’t gone through with yet partly because the “quick connect” connections on the Sanwa buttons require more force than I’m comfortable exerting on something I’ve just bought, and the surface area of the artwork is larger in both dimensions than a piece of A4 paper, so I have no easy way to replace it with anything.
Jumping straight into Killer Instinct, the Atrox’s benefits became immediately apparent, and the Dojo training challenges that I’d given up achieving on the standard pad came together in one session. The button layout is such that you already have the standard rows of punches and kicks, ascending in severity from left to right. This means that RB and RT (R standing for “Right” for the unaware) are actually placed to the left of LB and LT. Upon noticing this, I made a mental note to compensate for this should the occasion arise, as LB and RT often get used to navigate left and right respectively… but no need! Upon playing around in some non-game situations, I discovered that this very thing was foreseen by the software engineers, and the buttons are flipped for the purposes of navigation.
Sadly, the Atrox isn’t designed as a “use where and if you can; the console will think it’s a gamepad” device, and it seems the software has to be written specifically to support it. I tried loading up Shovel Knight, and was greeted by a message saying “No gamepads present, please connect a controller to proceed”, and buttoning past the prompt only causes it to spring back up. Worse still, I attempted some backwards compatible games (remember, the original impetus for purchasing?), N+ and Alien Hominid HD, neither of which, and I’m willing to form a blanket rule based on this anecdotal evidence, took any input from the stick. The whole backwards compatibility aspect is still in preview for now, but I don’t consider this a good sign.
I don’t regret purchasing the Razer Atrox, it’s made Killer Instinct fun to play to a degree that I didn’t actually expect, but I find myself fervently hoping that the backwards compatibility for 360 titles starts supporting non-standard game devices.