When I first brought the Hit Box out in Tough Cookie Gaming Cafe (incidentally the heart of Singapore’s fighting game community), DM.MCZ Xian gave me the biggest look of disdain I had ever seen on him.
“It’s an arcade stick with no stick,” I explained meekly, feeling like I had presented an unworthy offering to one of our local fgc immortal. “And there’s a tutorial DVD you can watch.”
“I’ll try it out later,” he said, turning his attention back to the running sets he was doing with Akuma player Koji. Resident Soul Calibur V maestro, DM.MCZ Shen Yuan, had also promised to stop by to give the Hitbox a go; but it was with trepidation that I left the stick (box?) at Tough Cookie. What if they didn’t watch the tutorial DVD? What if they didn’t like the Hit Box?
Obviously, those worries were unfounded when I returned to the shop later in the night. Though everyone had dismissed the tutorial, the Hit Box was literally being snatched out of people’s hands. Koji was particularly enamoured with it. Xian, too, found it a breeze to use once he had gotten used to the directional buttons. I watched him execute Ryu combos as smoothly as melted butter, listened to Koji rave about how easy it was to use, once you had gotten used to it, then sat down to give my own verdict on the stick.
The Hit Box is, at first, a curious arcade stick/box to behold. Nearly everyone who played fighting games has cut their teeth on them in the arcade, where Sanwa ball-top joysticks and buttons reign supreme. To be faced with the prospect of playing with the equivalent of a keyboard is a little strange; getting used to the fact that the upmost button makes you crouch, and the downmost button makes you jump, is another mind-boggling feat. That, and the fact that you just don’t have the familiar feel of a stick in your hands any more.
For players – regardless of their level of proficiency – making the switch from a stick to directional buttons is a bit daunting. But as Xian said, if you can do combos, you’ll be able to do them anyway, regardless of what you’re using.
The five players, myself included, who tested the Hitbox unanimously agreed that the Hit Box was a lot more lenient with its inputs, thereby making it much, much easier to use for pros and newbies alike. Instead of getting that precise qcf motion for projectiles, all you have to do with the Hit Box is to tap two buttons with your left hand. It was the same for uppercuts; and where I had once struggled with Ultras, Supers, and Critical Edges…I now pulled them off with ease. And if someone as poorly trained in fighting games as I could pull of technical moves easier now, imagine how much more elegantly so for someone like DM.MCZ Xian or DM.MCZ Shen Yuan could play.
Move execution in both 2D and 3D games also mellowed considerably with the Hit Box in play. It also seemed like the Hit Box made charge character inputs easier; watching Koji test the box out on Gen was like watching DM.MCZ Xian play. The Hit Box has absolutely no problems with button ghosting, unlike some sticks: each button input is received as sweetly as a hug from your girlfriend, making for incredible displays of combos.
That being said, the Hit Box could still use a little more improvement.
Though fully kitted out with replaceable Sanwa parts, its buttons are smaller and closer together than the ones you find in a standard fight stick from Hori or Mad Catz. Combine this with a plain black faceplate, and you might find yourself lost amidst its sea of twelve buttons. I found myself looking down more than once to make sure the button I was hitting was properly mapped – only to have to refer to a nearby Qanba stick. It might make for an easier transition from a regular fight stick to the Hit Box if it had shipped with button designations printed on its faceplate. Especially for non-regular fighting game players.
Certain inputs also seemed impossible to do. Zangief, in particular, had the SF testing players stumped. “720 motions are difficult to do,” Xian told me. “But the other characters are fine,” he concluded, after testing the Hit Box with both ‘Gief and Ryu. Some of the other players also seemed to agree that any moves that require a quarter or a full circle directional move require some advanced practicing.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are also inputs that made too easy to pull off. Because of the way the Hit Box’s buttons are laid out, it is possible to hold back while tapping forward, or to input two directions at once. In certain games, this can lead to some crazy things happening…
Then there’s the inversion of the jump/crouch buttons. Though placing the crouch button in the same bank as the left/right directionals is a godsend for joystick inputs, the direction inversion – where the jump button is located below the crouch, by one’s thumb – is something that’ll take getting used to. Shen Yuan had problems getting used to the up/down inversion. Koji reiterated this problem, adding that it might be better if the jump button were placed above the crouch button instead. Personally, I think the Hit Box’s layout is fine as it is. It just boils down to one’s personal preference, or for some regular players, having to tweak their movement habits.
The Hit Box runs a little smaller than most sticks available out there in the market, and long term play might prove to be a little tiring for players with bigger hands, since there’s no space below to rest your wrists on. Its size makes it a breeze to transport though, since you don’t have a joystick stabbing into your back or side. Overall the build quality is superb with a sturdy feel to it – each Hit Box are handmade right in the garage of the 2-man operation, Hit Box LLC. Perhaps our little nitpick here is that the edges of the Hit Box were a little too sharp than I was comfortable with.
Additionally the plastic faceplate – as with most shiny surfaces - looks superb when clean, but picks up fingerprints and grease easily. Fortunately, cleaning will be just as easy, since you won’t have a joystick in the way either. Creator Dustin told us that the faceplate is removeable, and therefore, completely customisable. The Hitbox’s pleather-coated base is also a nice change from the plastic bottoms I’m used to planting on my lap.
The Hit Box’s stickless presence might be daunting at first, especially for players weaned on the likes of Hori and Mad Catz sticks. But regulars such as Xian and Shen Yuan have proven that it just takes some quick getting used to. New players to the fighting games scene on the other hand, without the baggage of being attached to a regular fight stick, will find that the Hit Box can actually give them an early edge.
|SCORESHEET (out of 10)||OVERALL
The Hitbox is an arcade joystick made for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. The Hit Box comes in two different variants, at US$225 for the PS3/Xbox 360/PC and US$159.99 for the PS3/PC versions. Shipping to Singapore is an additional US$60 (the Hit Box is heavy). The Hitbox can be purchased here.