Hands-on review of the X-Arcade “Indestructible Arcade Joystick”

 

Economy:  This microswitch joystick is on the affordable side.

  • As opposed to original Wico leaf sticks which can run between $35 and $50 per stick, plus another $13-$15 to buy a replacement grommet, which is often not the correct light “density.”
  • Sanwa JL series joysticks run from $20-$50.
  • IL Eurosticks start at $12 apiece.

Endorsement: 4 of the Extreme Master Robotron players prefer this model of stick.

  • Ken H being the world record marathon holder playing for 100 million points, 23hrs non-stop on 1 credit.
  • John M. being the “Tournament Settings” record holder by reaching 1.2 million points on just 5 men.
  • At Kencade, the sticks are used in a high traffic home arcade and have been in several live events in the Pacific NW, logging many hundreds of hours without needing adjustment.

Advantages:  Many home enthusiasts may already have this stick in their aresenal as the X-arcade panel is an entry level item for folks getting back into classic gaming on the home PC via MAME.

  • The light action allows many hours of fatigue free play, unlike a wico optical that has a heavy spring design causing shoulder and arm exhaustion after short periods of play.

Design:  The stick and base are clearly a simplified imitation of the Wico 360 Optical Joystick design.

  • Using a spring inside to help self-center
  • The joystick shaft appears to have the same specs as a real Wico 3.5inch ball-top joystick shaft as you’d find in many original arcade games.
  • The handle is a hybrid medium between a true batstick and a true ball top. Right at the happy medium where you can choose the desired grip of hands ontop or using finger tips.
  • The stick has a slight texture which I presume is to help mask molding imperfections without the need for extra time and cost of having someone polish it up.
  • The microswitches are typical as expected for the price point.
  • One observation is that the switch alignment is slightly askew per the fast assembly process, meaning when the stick is centered, you will notice the plastic buttons on the switches are in slightly different states of compression by up to 2 millimeters.  It doesn’t appear to affect performance, but is a clear indicator of fast assembly processes.

Modification:

As received in the box, the stick is inadequate for a high paced, precision shooting game like Robotron 2084, or Berzerk.  Listed below are the modifications loosely based upon feedback and experience from Ken House.

Microswitch adustment-

  • There is also a short video clip to show the actual x-arcade switch modification concept- Youtube

Remove the 8 microswitch button assemblies from the sticks with a phillips head screwdriver.

  1. Gently pry the plastic case open with a thin knife blade.
  2. The next step involves precision bends.  If you are unfamiliar with eye balling gaps in the thousands of an inch or millimeter range, then a feeler gauge might be of assistance. The adjustment is similar in spirit to adjusting the spark plug on a lawnmower or adjusting the gap on timing points in a 60’s era British motorcycle.

The stock switch has a “long” throw and a heavy trigger point to fire the switch.  This results in poor gameplay performance.

xswitchmod

  1. Gently remove the lower metal contact strip by wiggling it from the plastic switch case.
  2. Using 2 needle nose plyers, firmly grasp the metal so the tabs are not visible and bend up the contact a degree or two.
  3. Replace the strip and check the gap.
  4. Keep readjusting until the gap is about 1 millimeter wide
  5. Gently remove the upper contact strip.
  6. Follow the same process but only bend it a “hair”
  7. Replace and check, when it is correct you will almost not be able to tell if the contact is closed.
  8. When pressing the plastic actuator button, you will be able to see and hear the point click closed.
  9. If you can’t tell, use the feeler gauge to confirm the contacts aren’t closed while in a state of rest (unpressed) button.
  10. Once the contact is properly adjusted you will notice the plastic button requires less depression to get the point to fire closed.  And the trigger point of the movement is greatly reduced in the pressure required.  Aurally you will be able to notice the click sound is softer and quieter than the stock switch.
  11. Adjust all 8 switches to ensure they are similar in feel, sound, and visual gap.

Gently replace the case, noting proper alignment.  And don’t forget the metal arm that needs to be put back in place. The assembly only goes back together one way!

IMPORTANT- The outer metal arm needs no adjustment as it rests properly against the joysticks round actuator.

xarcadeback

 

Panel Design tip- The joystick is long enough to work in a ¾ inch wood panel without needing to route the base down into the wood.

  • The top of the stick will be about 2.5 inches from the panel surface.
  • For contrast, an original Defender/Joust joystick sticks up 1.5inches
  • A multi-williams dual purpose Joust/Robotron/Defender stick will stick up 2 inches.
  • An original Robotron’s sticks are 10 inches apart.
  • Using 10/24 thread,  1-1/4 inch long machine screws works well for securing the bases to the panel. counter-sinking the screw head is recommended so it sits flush with the panel top.

xarcadepanel

Post-review-  Testing this in a JROK Robotron/Joust setup.  The stick feels “plush” and has good circular movement.  The action is light enough for quick response.

My personal observations

  •  The switch engagement isn’t as fast or precise as a real optical switch, but the downside of the Wico optical which has a centering spring possibly made out of the material in a dumptruck’s leafspring, requiring gorilla arms to move it.
  • The action is not as quick or smooth as an IL stick, but the downside of the IL stick is that there isn’t always a smooth circular plate in them, and the skinny bat only works with one style grip.
  • I don’t find this stick would be a better replacement than a cheap “short shaft” Zippyy stick for Joust or Defender.

So the X-arcade stick is the happy medium of all worlds from design to gameplay to price.  Resulting in a high quality experience for anyone walking up to play a game of Robotron.

BERZERK!- The best analysis comes from playing Berzerk, as it requires exacting angles with precisely timed button presses.  If your angle is slightly off, or the stick malfunctions, the player will be done for.  I can say that the “modded X-Arcade stick” is THE BEST stick experience I’ve ever had with Berzerk.  The angles are crisp and exact, the action is light enough to give prompt player movement without being too lo0se causing erratic navigation.


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