"So, what do you think of it then?"
I'm standing behind the Street Fighter IV cabinet at ATEI, the UK's only amusement arcade exhibition. Around the machine loiters a group of twentysomethings, all of whom invented or lied about the names of companies they work for in order to gain access to this supposedly industry-only exhibition. They lied because of this game and this game alone.
We're playing winner-stays-on. The kid on the right, Akuma, is on a seventeen-win streak. He's wearing a single, fingerless leather glove on his right hand, presumably to absorb the sweat that comes from being a champion. It is super-dramatic.
The arcade stick can be either the beat-'em-up aficionado's closest ally or most damaging adversary. Players can grow as attached to their control stick as they do their on-screen character, learning each one's nuance and personality intimately. On-screen characters might be the visualisation of a player's thought processes, but the controller is the facilitator, the very bridge over which will is made action.
If the controller is in any way lacking, through design or defect, then the game is broken with it, as any Rock Band player with a sticky orange fret button can tell you. In beat-'em-ups, where precision and response are everything, the control stick's importance is elevated yet further. In this genre a controller doesn't need to be defective to be game-breaking. The feel in the hand, the weight and the bulk on the lap, the resisting click of the buttons and the size and slipperiness of the ball top can narrow or widen the distance between victory and defeat. And in a beat-'em-up, the distance between victory and defeat is the only distance that ever matters.
2009 is the year of the beat-'em-up's renaissance, one singlehandedly brought about by Capcom's Street Fighter IV, a game that promises not only to draw back into the fold those players long put off by the genre's increasing complexity but also a new generation of gamers. It is a momentous occasion, the passion Capcom has managed to rekindle for its flagship series both unexpected and wonderful. So it's only right that a suite of licensed controllers, built with the game's peculiarities in mind, should accompany its release. And who better to make these crucial peripherals that...um...Mad Catz?