The Evolution of Sega Arcade Sticks – a Retrospective

From the days of the Master System, Sega saw a market for production of its own arcade sticks and went on to produce at least one for every console that followed. Some were pure gaming heaven, some were frankly pretty useless and it is my intention to look back at each of them in turn (European models) hopefully giving an insight into their respective pros and cons. All release dates are European also unless otherwise stated.

Click on images to enlarge.

The Sega Control Stick (Sega Master System) – A rocky start?

I must confess to never owning an original SMS back in 1987 and it wasn’t until 1990 when the SMS II was released that I started on my adventures with Sega (not owning a single Nintendo console until the release of the N64 7 years later!). That SMS II was my first Sega console and I loved it. That love was stretched to the limits when I got my hands on the awfully designed but well made Sega Control Stick. It needs to be noted that there is something fundamentally wrong with the design of this stick, not only in layout but in ergonomics and it’s lack of erm… control.

First up is the layout, to put it bluntly – it’s backwards. Take a look at any arcade stick that followed and the buttons are on the right, stick on the left. The SMS standard controller is conventional and predictably has a D-pad on the left, buttons on the right. So why Sega, did you make a right handed stick? Yes, it has two buttons on the left and a disproportionately large stick on the right.

My second and last points are down to ergonomics. The all-plastic base is too small and lightweight and the aforementioned stick too large for any real arcade action. Start letting rip in a good fighter and the stick just wont stay put or worse, the stick ends up turning in your hand and the character/spaceship/cursor you were controlling is no longer going in the intended direction. It hasn’t even been endowed with suckers on its base to aid with this flaw when used on a flat surface and consequently, you end up chasing it around whatever surface you have it on.

Worth having as part of your collection? Maybe. Worth having to play games with? Stick with the pads.

Arcade Power Stick (Sega MegaDrive) – Now we’re talking…

What can I say that hasn’t already been said a thousand times already? These utterly sublime arcade sticks were released around 1990 in 3 and (the harder to find) 6 button flavours featuring a good weighty metal base, an 8-way microswitched stick (in the correct position!) and buttons that almost feel like they have just been transplanted straight from a coin-op. Adding to the firepower are ‘Megafire’ buttons above each regular button the repeat speed of which can be altered via the ‘Megafire Speed’ slider. The stick also features a separate ‘Start’ button.

A quote on the box reads: “We bring the arcade experience home” and with these sticks they managed to do just that, playing those arcade ports on your MegaDrive just got that much more authentic and your highscores just got that bit higher.

The build quality of this stick is legendary and you can really give them a hammering without detriment. The only flaw, if you can call it a flaw, is that it didn’t come with 6 buttons from the off.

Virtua Stick (Sega Saturn) – Bigger, but is it better?

Released around 1995 in Europe (a year after the Japanese version), the imposing Virtua Stick was originally designed to compliment one of the Saturn’s earliest versus fighters – Virtua Fighter and has a 9 button set up that mimics the 9 buttons on the regular Saturn control pad (including the 2 shoulder buttons). It is also endowed with turbo buttons and a slider to alter the rate of fire when turbo is engaged.

The Virtua Stick is larger than the Arcade Power Stick and also has a weighty base made of metal making the stick nice and stable during frantic gameplay. The stick and buttons feel arcade-like but to me not as responsive as the APS and it is slightly lacking in the same quality ‘feel’. That said, these sticks can soak up some punishment and I still use my original Virtua Stick without issue some 18 years on from when I first tested its mettle with a bout on the fantastic Virtua Fighter.

Arcade Stick (Sega Dreamcast) – Who’s the Daddy?

Using the second Japanese version of the Saturn Virtua Stick (HSS-0136) as a cue, Sega set about designing the mother of all sticks for their last ever console, the wonderful Dreamcast. Released in 1999 this stick was made to arcade-like standards and was their biggest yet. I don’t often say this about gaming peripherals but this stick is almost over-engineered.  It is often used as the stick in MAME-type arcade cabinets because of this and consequently commands a fairly high price second-hand, especially when boxed.

This built-to-last-forever stick has a metal base and thick 2-tone grey plastic casing with a microswitched arcade stick and 6 arcade size buttons that would sit proudly on any coin-op you could imagine. It has a separate start button and built in port to plug in a single VMU. Lets face it, this stick looks the business and does the business.

By far my favourite stick of them all, always a pleasure to use and one I would recommend to any Dreamcast owner as a must-have accessory.

So Sega, you were finding your feet, it was early days and you gave us the utterly terrible Sega Control Stick, which you more than made up for in the years that followed. The lessons learned culminated in what I believe to be the best arcade stick for any console made by the manufacturer itself. I for one can certainly forgive them that one mistake.

Author: Ant Harper

Father, Husband, website developer, avid gamer since the mid-70s and collector of just about anything video game related. 8-Bit microcomputer and Sinclair specialist with a huge Sinclair related collection of his own. Blogs about retro gaming here but occasionally elsewhere when people ask. Bored of Mario and never much liked Zelda. Performs quirkafleegs for cold hard cash. Often found destroying ice crowns in the Lands of Midnight. Remembers: Lunar Lander. Plays: Steel Battalion, Gears of War

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  1. It’s a pity you don’t have a HSS-0136 on-hand – they truly are legendary, using authentic Seimitsu buttons & joysticks in some revisions. Additionally, they released a version for the Dreamcast which was just Saturn stock with a Saturn-to-Dreamcast converter under the hood!

  2. I would love to own one! I’ll keep looking :)

  3. Remember, during the Master system days, up until Nintendo dominated the market, most joysticks were either right handed (2600, Odyssey 2) or ambidextrous (Intellivision, Colecovision, 5200, Astrocade, Arcadia 2001.) I wish more people made right handed options. With a right handed stick I can pull off dragon punches with near-100-percent will-to-action accuracy. Try to find a custom joystick builder who can make a right handed stick for all those old systems as well as the new.) Both hands can type equally as well, so put the joystick in the strong hand, which for 90% of the people is the right hand. Many great Donkey Kong players at the time “crossed their wrists” to play the stick with the right hand. Makes me wonder if Nintendo started the lefty-only trend to suck in more quarters.

  4. Thank you Ant Harper. The lone lefty company until Nintendo made systems was Vectrex. Back in the 80’s there was a 2600 left adapter where you rotate the joystick 90 degrees clockwise, and special ambidextrous joysticks made by third parties. You think this would be a good ambidextrous joystick design if there was a way to invert North and South, East and West, and “electronically move” certain buttons. Here’s an image of my Sinister Stick. [img] [/img]. The name Sinister means “Left Handed” in Latin, and has a reference to the game Sinistar. I just need to talk to some local help near Cleveland about fixing it.

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