NOTE: The photos on this page are poor quality scans from my ancient instant camera (zero megapixels for you Pokemon kidz out there;). I have also linked some much better photos courtesy of my friend Xavier, who runs ADF informatique, distributors of computer components and HotRods in Europe. Thanks Xavier!
There's been a lot of excitement surrounding X-Gaming's newest product, the X-Arcade control panel. Combining real arcade design and some highly prized features like programmability and unlimited console and computer compatibility, gamers and especially arcade emulation fans took notice. And now it's here. But is it good?
Heck yeah! =)
Once removed from the (very nice) packaging, the first thing I noticed was the X logo and the smooth black finish of the overlay. It really looks good. Very much, in fact, like the HanaHo HotRod (read Atila's HotRod review), which is no surprise since HanaHo worked as a partner towards the X-Arcade's design. But there are some differences. The shape of the X-Arcade is slightly different, flaring out on the sides. The materials and wood are thinner and lighter than the HotRod, but still feel and look great. You'll also find a button on each side of the unit to "insert coins," or use as pinball flippers. Each player has 8 buttons (one more than the HotRod), and contrary to some worries, the 8th button doesn't get in the way. The joysticks are replicas of Happ Supers, and I like them. They feel a bit lighter than the Happ originals, but they performed great and seemed very sturdy.
Click here for better photo of X-Arcade inside the packaging
Click here for better photo of X-Arcade & HotRod together (side view)
Click here for better photo of X-Arcade & HotRod together (front view)
(Linked photos courtesy of ADF informatique)
Let's get the most important thing out of the way before continuing with the technical features - gameplay. If the controls suck, all the fancy electronics in the world are useless. Fortunately, that's not the case with the X-Arcade. I'm an old Robotron freak, so that's the first game I tried. It's also a great way to test 2 joysticks at once. The game played flawlessly, and I was able to discern cardinal and diagonal directions with no problems. Next I tried a few fighting games, and again, everything performed great. Fireballs and dragon punches came out perfectly. Basically, the controls felt great, and basically do what your hands demand. Every emulator I tried worked just fine, and the ability to remap the buttons was especially helpful with some Windows emus that dislike the "Alt" key. From Kawaks to ZSNES, the X-Arcade got the job done. At no time were there any "ghosting" issues, and 2 player simultaneous games were solid.
Click here for better photo of X-Arcade's interior
Click here for better photo of X-Arcade's interior closeup
(Linked photos courtesy of ADF informatique
Back to the hardware. Aside from the gaming controls, you'll find a few interesting things in back, including a 4 position switch and a button. Position 1 gives you a standard MAME -hotrodse layout, with the extra 8th buttons mapped to "5" and "6." This is a hard preset, and cannot be changed. However, the other 3 positions are fully user programmable. This is easily done by pressing the rear programming button one time, causing the red LED on the top right of the panel to go dark. Then you simply press the control you want to program, and the keyboard key you want it to represent. After you're finished, you just hit the program button again and the LED comes back to life. Pretty simple, and useful for those few programs that might need a different layout.
The one feature that really intrigues me is also, unfortunately, the one feature I wasn't able to test yet. The X-Arcade has the unique ability to use adapters for any game console, so it's not just for your PC! This panel would be awesome for fighting and action games on various consoles, like the Dreamcast, X-Box, Playstation 2 etc. I hope to try some adapters soon, and I'm sure they'll be great. This is a superb feature, because it means not needing to buy new controls for every new console. I like it! When I can test the X-Arcade with a console, I'll update this review.
Nothing is perfect, and neither is the X-Arcade. Following are some notes you may want to keep in mind.
1) I've been told that some X-Arcades need adjustment (easily done by opening the unit) to tune diagonals, but I should note that my unit had perfect diagonals out-of-the-box. But these are arcade style mechanical parts, so mileage may vary - the good news is that it's not hard to remedy. Opening the X-Arcade is easily done via 6 screws, and adjusting the joystick sensitivity is as simple as bending a metal leaf. Note the same issue exists with EVERY arcade stick based product I've used. The Happ Super Joysticks in my HotRod are the same way.
2) There are a small number of emulated games that have multiple-button moves that don't work perfectly with keyboard encoders. One example is Final Fight, where super attacks (button 1 + button 2) aren't as consistent as they should be. Every keyboard based controller I've used (and some gameport controls too!) has been this way to some degree, with the HotRod being the most accurate, and the X-Arcade being relatively normal. The simplest response is to map a 3rd key to perform the combination for you, or use the "Steady Keys" option in MAME for example. But the overwhelming majority of games don't have this issue, so it's a minor concern. Plus, since my unit is very early, this could easily improve later since according to what X-Gaming tells me, they continue to tweak and improve the encoder as I write this.
3) Some programming issues... One minor quibble I had was the mode selection switch is a bit stiff, and it takes a little care to be sure which of the 4 slots are selected. Sometimes programming and/or mode switching caused my mouse to stop responding, but I found that unplugging and replugging the X-Arcade fixed this. Annoying, but it didn't happen often. One real negative is that my unit coudn't map the arrow keys properly - very odd and annoying, especially if you're playing some older PC games or emus (like the new s11emu) that are hard-coded ONLY to the arrow keys. Still, the limited programmability is better than no programmability. And again, my unit is very early, and this may be fixed later. Every other key I tried programmed OK.
Keep in mind I've been VERY happy with my HotRod, which has no programmability at all, so none of these issues really come across as significant to me, but I've duly pointed them out for you, the reader.
In my opinion this is a fantastic product, no doubt about it! It brings real arcade controls home to your PC and your consoles in one device, making it an excellent value. It looks great, plays great and has some unique & useful features like programmability. If you're still fiddling with a plastic gamepad or plain old keyboard, you'll be amazed how much more fun and realistic emulated games can be using an arcade panel like the X-Arcade. Plain and simple, you're gonna love it!
The MSRP of the X-Arcade is going to be $199.95 with one extra adapter other than PC, but Pre-order pricing at the moment is $149.95 + 1 adapter, or $169.95 + 2 adapters. There is still promotional pricing on the web site for Christmas and New Year customers. A $50 discount will be reflected at checkout. Console Adapters MSRP will be $39.95, but that price could easily dip to around $30 since that's just suggested retail.
One final note - READ THE MANUAL! Although it's a pretty simple device to use, and can basically just be plugged and played (no drivers needed ever!), you will NEED to read the manual to properly use the programming features etc. In short, RTFM. ;)
Click the picture above to visit the X-Arcade homepage now!