Joystick Arcade: the best game controllers for your retro projects

joystick arcade

There are a lot of arcade joystick controllers for video games on the market, some of them for DIY arcade machines, such as those compatible with boards like the Raspberry Pi or with Arduino. They don’t have a high price, so they turn out to be a very interesting device to manage your projects and enjoy them like a child.

Choosing the best of these arcade joysticks is no easy task, as there are many of them, and sometimes the differences between them are conspicuous by their absence. But there are some whose small details can make the difference. If you are interested, you can read on to find out what these controllers are, and how to choose the best ones.

What is an arcade joystick?

arcade machine in arcades

Let’s take it one step at a time. The first thing is to make it clear that a joystick is a joystick. Its name comes from the English “joy” and stick. These peripherals were especially popular in the gaming industry in the past, that’s why nowadays they are quite used by those who start retrogaming projects.

These devices are intended to provide a control interface for a multitude of video games, allowing the handling of the game elements in a very simple way. Its operation is very simple. A lever is attached to a support, and has X and Y axes with microswitches driven by the movements of the lever in the axes of freedom that allows. A processor will process the signals and translate them into movements.

On the other hand there is the term ‘arcade’, that is, those arcade machines that became popular a few decades ago and were offered in arcades, shopping malls, bars, etc. Therefore, an arcade joystick is called like that since they are the typical ones that could be used in these machines.

What do you need to know to choose the best arcade joystick for your project?

joystick arcade types

It depends largely on the type of project you are going to create. You may be interested in one or the other, but most users use them to create their own cheap retro machines using a Raspberry Pi so they can play classic video games much more authentically using emulators.

On the other hand, depending on what you are looking for, there are two main features that stand out from the rest when choosing a good arcade joystick

Types of arcade joysticks

Within these arcade joysticks there are several types. Basically the differences lie in the aesthetics or form that these controllers have:

  • American (Elongated Handle): This type of arcade joystick has an elongated handle, with a shape similar to a lever. Some people prefer them to be held in the palm of the hand for movement. In this case, they are usually screwed onto the panel.
  • Japanese (Ball type handle): they are ball shaped, and you can hold them differently from the American ones, just using your fingers. It is a matter of taste or the type of arcade machine you are trying to imitate. In this case they are usually integrated into the base of the machine.

Be that as it may, they all tend to have the same internal mechanism. They have four microswitches to detect each of the 4 movements that the handle axis allows. Each one is operated by moving the lever in the direction it is.

Hardness and travel

It is even more important than the type, since the performance of these two parameters will depend to a large extent on them. I am talking about the hardness and the travel of this type of arcade joystick.

  • Hardness: is the force with which you have to move the handle to operate the joystcik.
  • Travel: is the amount of distance that the lever must travel from the center (idle state) to the point where it operates the microswitch to generate some kind of movement.

To know what type of hardness and course to choose you must have a clear idea of the type of video game you are going to play. In case there are several, you should think about which genre you are going to play more. For example:

  • Fighting games or vehicles: in these cases, such as Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Space Invaders, Battle City, etc., it is best to choose an arcade joystick with greater hardness and little travel. That way you’ll control your movements better and generate greater precision.
  • Platform games: videogames like Sonic, Mario Bros, etc., what is required is more agility, since the precision of the movements is not so important in these cases. For these titles, the ideal is a medium-long and soft route.

If you play all sorts of videogame genres, you probably prefer an arcade joystick with hardness and intermediate travel that allows you to play more or less optimally in all sorts of titles. In addition, if you want to make it easier, you will probably be interested in an already mounted and complete control panel like the one that offers MiARCADE and even some complete and cheap arcade machines:

The best arcade joysticks you can buy

kit arcade for retro gaming Amazon
Within this market, you can highlight some types of arcade joystick that stand out from the rest:

  • For all types of video games: ideal for playing both video games in which you have to drive a ship, a car, fighting games, and also those of platforms. They have an intermediate hardness and distance to offer good results with any title.
  • To handle vehicles and video games of fight: this joystick arcade has a medium-long route, with a smoothness that will make your movements of the most precise thing so that your game is a great experience, obtaining the performance that you look for.
  • Complete kits: you will also find some packs that include two arcade joysticks and buttons, as well as wiring and control PCBs, so you have everything you need to set up your DIY arcade retrogaming project.

To integrate with your Raspberry Pi, some of these add-ons have a USB connection for quick implementation without adding code or using other electronics, or worrying about GPIO pins, etc. It will be as simple as mounting them with the included cables and components, integrating them with the housing or bracket you have prepared for them, and connecting the cable to the SBC board chosen by the USB port. In the case of Arduino it would not be like that, because in that case you would have to create a sketch and make the board recognize the movements and do some action…

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