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Review: Razer Atrox Arcade Stick

Posted by Ken Barnes

A pro stick for pro players.

When it comes to tournament-grade arcade sticks, the choices for Xbox 360 gamers are pretty limited. Then again, they’ve been limited for most consoles over the years. Many have tried to emulate the arcade experience, but few have even come close, generally coming up with cheaply made (but expensively sold) rectangular boxes with round buttons and a stick, that don’t really capture the feel of the arcade in any way. Hori and Mad Catz have come close, but PC peripheral manufacturer Razer seem to think that they can go one better.

Right out of the blocks, the Razer Atrox Arcade Stick brings an impressive list of features. The entire top of the device lifts up, giving you access to the internal wiring of the stick and buttons. This means that modding is an absolute breeze. If you want to switch the Sanwa Denshi buttons out for something else, you can. There’s even a little chart on the underside of the case lid so you can tell which of the colour-coded wires are for each button. Don’t like the ball-top stick that’s provided by default? Razer have provided a screwdriver and bat-style top that each have their own home inside the case, allowing you to switch tops over within seconds.

Use the screwdriver that’s stored inside the case, and switch it out for the provided bat-style top in seconds. How about a bit of personalization? You can change the sheet under the Perspex top-panel in a matter of seconds, too. That’s a bonus, given that the somewhat cheap-looking “snake” design that comes as standard is a bit of an eyesore. Alongside the standard A, B, X, Y, LT, RT, LB, RB configuration, a small control panel at the top left of the stick allows you to switch the stick so that it controls the right analog input, the left analog input, or the d-pad. A lock button is in place to prevent you from pressing the “Guide” or “Start” buttons accidentally (either of which would get you disqualified from most tournaments automatically) and eight rapid-fire control buttons, which light up to let you know when they’re in use.
Connection is via detachable USB cable, and while the unit we were provided with for review contained a USB-B jack on the stick side, we’re told that the units that are being shipped to customers come with a custom jack that minimizes the chances of having the cable ripped out by accident. This change comes as a result of Razer going so far as to send out beta versions of the Atrox to modders and arcade professionals in order to find out what needed changing. This is an honourable strategy, which shows that the company is truly trying to build the ultimate arcade controller.

In testing, the default configuration is fast and unfalteringly responsive. The buttons are rounded nicely to make them fit more naturally under the fingers, and the stick is superb to use, with motion not being restricted at all. We tried it with a selection of fighting games and there wasn’t a single missed step in any of them. For kicks, we also tried out some older-school arcade titles via Xbox Live Arcade. It’s only when you’re playing something like Konami’s timeless Track & Field that you realise exactly how much of a hair-trigger the unit has when it comes to button presses. The lightest of touches on the button casing resulted in our athlete missing his timing altogether. For modern fighting games, this is a boon of course, but with your classic arcade titles, it’ll take some getting used to.

In terms of the layout, we’d say that there could have been a tad more flexibility with regards to how far the stick is from the main 8 buttons – maybe it could have been put on a lockable slider to allow owners to set it as far away as they’d like – but it isn’t a showstopper by any means. The top row of the standard button layout runs B, X, Y, LB, as opposed to competing sticks which have X, Y, RB, LB along the top. This could make switching from your old stick a little bit tricky, although with a little effort, you can of course just rewire the buttons as you’d like them. The base of the Razer Atrox is rubberised, and during our testing, we found that it pretty much just locks right into position no matter where you place it. On a bog-standard table, it barely moved an inch during a pretty heated session of Injustice. It’ll fit pretty much perfectly on most laps, although the weight of the thing – mainly due to the weight of the hydraulic arm that holds the lid in place – might cause discomfort during extra-long sessions, but your mileage will obviously vary there.

If anything lets the Razor Atrox down, it’s the price. In the UK, the stick will cost you – wait for it - £179.99, which is even harder to swallow when you consider that in the US, the stick costs $199.99, or the equivalent of £130.

The price alone puts the stick firmly into hardcore territory. Razer have made standard PC drivers available for those who want them, but this is still more or less strictly a one-console stick. Nobody who occasionally dabbles in a bit of DOA, or who from time-to-time plays a little Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown is going to be splashing out almost as much money on an arcade stick as they did on the console that they’ll be plugging it into. The Hori Real Arcade Pro VX SA “Kai” can be readily obtained for £60-£70 less than the Atrox in the UK, is just as responsive, and has almost as many features.

In terms of nice touches though, the Razer Atrox has the edge. So much thought has gone into the design of this stick that you can FEEL it as you start to explore the device when you first take it out of the box. You'll feel it when the hydraulic arm pushes the lid out so you can get to the internals, and then locks that lid in place while you tinker around. You’ll feel it when you realise that there’s enough space inside the case to carry the USB cable and as many spare buttons as you could possibly need as you bundle it all up to carry off to a tournament. Heck, you could probably get your phone, your wallet, and your favourite hat in there, if you fancy. You’ll feel it when someone suggests a game of something that you’d prefer to use a bat-style stick for, and you just quickly switch the tops over before the game has had a chance to finish loading. We had a review unit provided on loan from Razer, so money didn’t come into it for us, but we imagine that if we’d splashed £179 on the device, those feelings probably wouldn’t have been so strong.

Whether or not the price is reflective of the product, is purely going to be down to the individual player. Some will prefer this stick and say that it’s worth twice the asking price. Others will prefer the weight and feel of the higher-end models produced by Mad Catz or Hori. What we can tell you though, is that the the Razer Atrox is a well-designed, tough, responsive arcade stick that should at least be on your list of sticks to try out if you’re thinking of taking your fighting game skills into the big leagues.

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