arcade joysticks explained

So before we get started on what the various flavours of arcade joysticks there are- we should really touch upon what an arcade joystick can't do…

If you you want to play a modern game like call of duty and the like, then you’re better off using a joypad. Aside for optical sticks- traditional arcade joysticks don’t have any analogue capability.

If you’re playing Out Run for example- it's only full left or full right. There's no way of graduating the degree of turn. For racing games we would recommend an Xbox pad or a 360 Wireless Steering Wheel…

A rather interesting controller by Mad Catz, handy for certain titles but not your typical arcade joystick.

Let’s not digress and get started…

You need to look deep inside yourself and think what do I want out of my arcade machine. Aside from inner happiness and gaming nirvana- Do you want a good all-rounder arcade joystick which serves its purpose well? Or do you want to focus on a particular era?

There is quite a simple way of categorising arcade joysticks- Japanese or American? Chances are if you’ve grown up playing arcade machines in Europe you’re used to the American Bat-top variety. 

If you’re a fan of fighting games- chances are you’re a lover of Japanese arcade joysticks.

You’re reading this page as you used to play arcade games. Now think back to what the controls were like. Every country had their favourites. Nowadays Sanwa controls are mostly in today’s machines. However back in the golden age of arcade gaming it was all about where you were playing which dictated what controls were being used.

Right: A rather interesting controller by Mad Catz, handy for certain titles but not your typical arcade joystick.

My Arcade Joystick personal opinion

Being in Europe I was used to the bat top Happ style arcade joysticks. However I appreciate the precision and short throw of a Sanwa stick when playing a bullet hell shooter or one on one fighting game. I am more than comfortable using a Happ Competition stick which has been well used (read later on) as its sensitive enough for my needs. Everyone is different- this is right for me and we always try to find the best controls on an individual basis.


There are some clients who ask if they can have both styles of arcade joystick on the same panel. Along with those- an analogue stick for the flight sim/driving games along with spinners and trackball…

This would be known as a “Frankenpanel”. It’s trying to achieve too much and will result in an uncomfortable mess to play on. Our advice is make an educated choice on what you want. Lesser used controls (like analogue sticks etc) can be either wireless or catered for via a joypad (either the original or one pad for all like the xbox-one joypad). After all, a modern pad like the one mentioned has been painstakingly designed to cater for all the various genres of game.

Full on control panel with trackball, joysticks and buttons

An arcade joystick can’t do everything i’m afraid

Sometimes you want to play on the original pad (if it’s extremely individual like an n64 joypad).

In which case this can be done via a converter which your joypad plugs into and the converter plugs into a usb port These are conveniently situated at the front of all Bespoke Arcades machines.

You can’t replicate the joyous experience of playing a game like Missile Command without the appropriate hardware- in this case an authentic arcade trackball. These fit perfectly on one of our Evo or Nu-Gen cabinets.

The other more notable inclusion on a control panel is a Spinner for games like Arkanoid. Both can be added to most control panels without impeding playing with arcade joysticks and buttons. You can see more info on our options page.

In one corner the Bat-Top
Happ Suzo Competition Arcade Joysticks

Bat-TopHapp Suzo Competition Arcade Joysticks

One thing about a Happ competition arcade joystick is the longer the joysticks are used the looser the handle becomes. This is no bad thing. Our showroom models feel finger light but nonetheless accurately responsive. This is without rebounding in the opposite direction when springing back to its neutral position. We always show the difference to our visitors. We only stock the Competition variety of Happ arcade joysticks. They also manufacture the Super and Ultimate arcade joysticks, however these are inferior compared to the Competition.

One can either wait for the spring to naturally loosen or you can swap for an alternative. The microswitches can also be switched. This can further fine tune the actuation and tension of the arcade joystick to your particular taste. We stock a variety of micro microswitches to cater for all preferences. And we would be happy to show you the options.

Left: Here is a trusty Happ Competition Arcade Joystick, the favourite choice for European gamers

4-8 way switchable Arcade Joystick

4-8 way switchable Arcade Joystick

Via a simple pull up and twist of the arcade joystick handle, this will switch an internal gate to 4 way or 8 way. It sounds great and on the whole it works well. However in my personal opinion this arcade joystick is far too stiff and does neither job incredibly well. If you mainly want to play the 4 way games and occasionally the 8 way ones then this would be my recommendation albeit begrudgingly…

Right: Here is the rather stiff 4-8 way arcade joystick, best for 4 way titles

Japanese Sanwa Arcade Joysticks

In the other the Japanese Sanwa Arcade Joysticks

So right off the bat Sanwa has one particular benefit that Happ Suzo doesn’t have- quick changeable restrictor gates. These interchangeable plates allow the arcade joysticks range of travel to differ. For example most one on one fighting gamers prefer an octagonal gate so you can really feel the ridges of the different directions as well as a minimal travel for the player to execute is or her direction.


If you want to focus on the more modern era of arcade gaming and fighting games- then this arcade joystick might be right for you. However they are perhaps most deficient when playing dedicated 4 way games like Pac-Man or Donkey Kong. It’s just too easy to hit a diagonal by accident. If you want this feel but also the precision then read onto the servo powered arcade joysticks.


Thanks to the tiny diagonal ranges this would be the pertinent choice for 4 way gamers. Via a twist underneath the arcade joystick, one can switch to 8 way. Definitely the less popular stock arcade joystick for arcade enthusiasts with the Seimitsu arcade joystick coming in 2nd for most requested Japanese joystick.

Seimitsu LS-32 Arcade Joystick

In terms of feeling, this stick isn’t as loose as a Sanwa JLF arcade joystick but no way near as stiff as a new Happ or JLW stick so is a popular choice. This is also a one for the fighting gamers due to the short travel distance to engage movements.

Left: The choice of fighting game enthusiasts- the Sanwa JLF arcade joystick

The Next Generation servo powered arcade joysticks

Servo Powered Arcade Joystick

Servo Powered Arcade Joystick

So what arcade joystick caters for both 4 and 8 way tastes well, working in conjunction with games menu software to automatically switch between 4 and full 8 way mode? Well this would be our servo powered joystick. Originally a stock Sanwa JLW arcade joystick, then hopped up with a servo powered restrictor plate. This servo gets instructed by the front end to the joystick’s dedicated interface whether the game being played is 4 or 8 way. The gear switches accordingly to the correct position.

This model of arcade joystick comes in either bat top or ball top flavours and facilitates 4 and 8 way gaming perfectly suiting both street fighter aficionados and 80s or 90s European arcade enthusiasts alike. Perhaps one of the most expensive choices but definitely the most versatile if that’s what you care about.

Left: The Next Generation servo powered arcade joystick

Optical Arcade Joystick

Optical Arcade Stick

It’s an optical arcade joystick so doesn’t have the microswitch feel. Each arcade joystick has its own interface on board and powers the buttons too. So what’s the advantage of optical?

Well it has analogue properties, so depending on the game you’re playing- it would be suitable for Out Run for example as it could be used to sweetly graduate a turn unlike a standard joystick which is all or nothing.

Things can also be changed on a per game basis. So Q-Bert for example can be set up to be played at an angle. Or for 4 way games, the ambiguous diagonals’ presses can be edited out via the included software so there would be less room for error and you won’t be able to blame the arcade joysticks for your hi score run being cut short!

Customise your optical arcade joystick

This arcade joystick can be further hopped up to include a rotary dial with fire button on the top for games like Ikari Warriors. There aren’t a huge amount of games which use this functionality. Forgotten Worlds and Midnight Resistance are great examples of arcade titles which are timeless and don’t play half as well without that rotary dial on top.

The user can also use various restrictor plates as to refine the arcade joysticks' range of movements. The stock joystick (without restrictor gate) has a ridiculously long throw so most people opt for one.

In all honesty

Having said that out of all the joysticks we stock- these are perhaps the least popular. They simply don’t feel like the joysticks we know and love. Definitely one of the most impressive but a tad alien for most tastes. Fundamentally your standard arcade joystick isn’t microprocessor powered or analogue. We all love the click, click of a microswitch. Having said that the programmable capabilities definitely add scope for other titles.

The original arcade of Star wars for example runs great as it traditionally uses a very individual flight yoke. The analogue optical arcade joystick offers gameplay which is just as accurate albeit less authentic (everyone loves the original Star Wars arcade controls). It’s part of what made the game so memorable to play.

There’s always temptation to add one of these sticks onto a control panel along with a pair of more traditional sticks. Don’t do it- you’ll be in Frankenpanel territory.

Dual “Joysticked” games

Dual “Joysticked” games

There are some games like Smash TV and Robotron 2084 which require the use of 2 arcade joysticks simultaneously. In this case a game can use both arcade joysticks on one of our standard 2 player control panels to work on behalf of one player for that particular game.

So what about player 2 being able to join in? Smash TV or Mercs comes into its own thanks to 2 player optimised carnage. Well in this case one can set up a modern gamepad to take care of your compadre’s control requirements and will perform admirably. Of course on our 4 player models, both players have 2 joysticks.

  • Robotron 2084

    Robotron 2084

    Speaking of Robotron, in the past we have had purists who want the feeling of the old Robotron control panel. Now these Wico joysticks are long since extinct, however we have access to modern alternatives which perform almost identically to their ancient predecessors.

    Most joysticks chosen serve 99% of games admirably but there are some titles which had a distinctly individual stick. 

  • Tron


    One of the most attractive arcade cabinets which really stand the test of time in terms of looks and gameplay is Bally Midway’s Tron. This arcade machine sports a very individual control panel- a rotary dial and microswitched flight stick.

    If this is what you want we can certainly accommodate thanks to a Happ heavy duty arcade stick and a custom Tron replica moulding. Imported from the US- we can replicate this layout. But again we would recommend this in a hot swappable configuration as its not the most versatile of layouts. We have definitely seen worse however.

    This is an example of the lengths we go to to ensure you get exactly what you want in your dream arcade machine.

    Everyone is different and we try to accommodate for this whilst giving honest advice so you understand the limitations of your choice and you ultimately won’t regret the decision.


These are mostly confined to the very early titles pre JAMMA (which stands for Japanese Amusement Machine Manufacturer Association). This is a standard agreed format upon so arcade titles could be easily swapped, essentially like big video game cartridges. So early games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong need bespoke converters so the boards run on a standard JAMMA setup.

If you would like a dedicated JAMMA replica- just ask away. There are bars, offices and households scattered throughout the world with one of our cabinets installed. The main advantage is you can accept money like a traditional arcade cabinet. There are many who would simply say you can but i’m afraid that’s breaking the law… Here at Bespoke Arcades we like to keep our nose clean and honesty intact! After all- we work with these companies. Household brands such as Mortal Kombat and Capcom have used our cabinets and continue to do so. There’s a reason we’ve been around for over 15 years 😉

In conclusion

So these are the joysticks we regularly use and recommend depending on peoples needs and wants. There are undoubtedly more joysticks on the market like Crown for example and various other Seimitsu joysticks available however we don’t regularly use these. Therefore I can’t really give you an honest opinion or vouch for their various attributes.

We only stick to the best parts possible for Bespoke Arcades machines and the proof in in the play :). By default customers can choose from a JLF or a Happ Competition stick as standard but we also stock the other sticks mentioned too.

If you want to read more about arcade joysticks, then take a look at Slagcoin where you can get into nerdy levels of detail. It’s been a while since the site was updated but the info is just as relevant as it always was.

It delves into not only buttons but control panel design so it gives you a good outline into the do’s and don’ts and basic ideas of building a good control panel.

Any arcade joystick questions? Just ask away...

So hopefully this clarifies some of what you might be wondering about. Bespoke Arcades has over 15 years of experience satisfying clients contact us if you have any questions whatsoever. 

Over the years we have learnt that most customers have specific needs when it comes to their arcade machine. It’s not a case of simply “I want to play arcade games”. We understand that most clients have a specific era or genre of game they want to focus on. And others want a good “all rounder” so we always advise impartially so your hard earned money isn’t wasted and you get exactly what you’re after. Every Bespoke Arcades machine will be your dream arcade machine which will last for decades to come.

You’re in good hands with Bespoke Arcades

We’re always happy to help (on arcade related things only i’m afraid 😉 Rest assured you can rely on us to provide expert and honest opinion.Added to that- every customer gets lifetime support. If you have a problem, then we take care of it- simple as that. Which is why we’re sold by Home Leisure Direct, Liberty Games, The Games Room Company and Harrods. No other multi game arcade machine manufacturer is distributed by all of the UK’s leading Games room resellers or the finest store in the world.