Capcom may have slightly fumbled the launch of Street Fighter V, but there's no denying that the title is a formidable addition to the company's long and proud lineage in a genre that it has arguably dominated since the early 90s. However, as any truly dedicated player will tell you over and over, the interface you use to engage with this one-on-one blockbuster is of vital importance; the DualShock 4 holds up better than you might expect when it comes to pulling off Super Arts and countering incoming blows, but that segmented D-Pad shreds thumbs with worrying regularity. There's no doubt that if you really want to play Street Fighter V properly, you're going to have to invest in a decent controller – and for many, such products start and end with Japanese manufacturer Hori.
Hori has been around for decades and has built up a solid reputation not only with fighting game fans, but gamers in general. More often than not, its controllers are seen as on par or superior to official alternatives, and Hori's name certainly seems to have more respect in the industry than those of competing peripheral makers. As fighting games have become more and more popular on the competitive circuit we've seen a rise in the visibility of such sticks; seasoned pros can be seen taking part in events with their personal Hori stick at their side. The Hori Real Arcade Pro 4 Kai is the latest entry in this range, and its release is clearly designed to capitalize on the arrival of the aforementioned Street Fighter V.
The stick is something of a monster, even when compared to Hori's previous home arcade controllers. It's 17 inches wide, 9.5 inches deep, and weighs 2.2kg. The top section is plastic while the underside is metal, and this arrangement gives the controller a reassuringly heavy feel. If you're using it on a flat surface then it won't move around with use, but it's not so chunky that it feels like it's going to cut off the blood circulation in your legs should you decide to rest it on your lap.
One of the major selling points of a Hori controller is the quality of the parts used. On this model, we've got Hori's Hayabusa stick, which – according to the manufacturer, at least – cuts down input load by 15 per cent. The Kuro buttons are apparently less prone to wear and tear – 60 per cent less, so we're told. Marketing guff for sure, but the bottom line is that both of these control elements are top-class, and during our review we certainly had no complaints with build quality or overall responsiveness.
One of the main reasons that Street Fighter fans swear by arcade sticks is the six-button control scheme used by series since Street Fighter II. You all know the score by now – punches and kicks are spread across three buttons each, with weak, medium, and strong power allowing you to mix up your attacks. On the DualShock 4, the four face buttons are for weak/medium attacks, while the strong punch and kick commands are mapped to the R1 and R2. It's a workable setup, but not one that serious players will want to tolerate. On the Hori Real Arcade Pro 4 Kai, the buttons are arrayed arcade-fashion – punches along the top row, kicks along the bottom – with L1 and L2 stuck on the right, giving an eight-button layout. This arrangement means that Street Fighter V can be played just like a true arcade game, which is ironic when you consider that Capcom hasn't launched the title in that particular arena (at least not yet, anyway).
Next to the eight face buttons you'll find the Options button, which is thankfully spaced far enough away so that you don't end up pressing it accidentally. On the right-hand edge of the controller there are a multitude of buttons and switches, some of which can be used to toggle certain features. The PS button is also located here, as is the Share button. You'll also discover a Turbo button and the L3 and R3 commands, which aren't accessible in the normal way because the controller lacks the dual analogue sticks of the DualShock 4.
The switches are where things get really interesting. One allows you to switch which DualShock 4 "stick" the controller is replicating (D-Pad, left analogue, right analogue), while the other toggles between PS4 and PS3. That's right, PS3 owners – Hori hasn't forgotten you guys and as long as your console is rocking update 2.80, then you can use this controller with it. It's also possible to plug it into tablets and other devices which support USB controllers – such as Android-based micro-consoles, for example. The turbo mode supports three different speed settings – 5, 12 and 20 presses a second – and this can be altered using a switch. It's also possible to re-map buttons using the Assign feature, which is useful if you fancy customising how which button does what.
Around the back, there's a plastic flap which conceals the three metre cable. The stick isn't wireless (input lag is the bane of all true warriors, Gouken probably didn't say once) but the length of the cable didn't present us with any issues during review. The biggest complaint here is that the process of packing it back into the compartment is quite fiddly, and certainly becomes a bit of a chore if you're looking to tidy the stick away after every gaming session. Also on the back edge you'll find the PS4 touchpad, which is quite awkward to reach – mercifully, few games actually make use of it. Other features of note include a hand-grip on the bottom edge for easy transportation and soft, spongy panels on the base for increased grip when rested on a flat surface.
Hori's stick is perfect for games like Street Fighter V; moving from the DualShock 4, it's genuinely striking how much better it feels. Precise stick movements are easy to pull off and the big, friendly buttons are responsive and have just the right amount of travel. However, it's usefulness thankfully isn't limited to just fighting games – it can be used with any title in fact, although the lack of true analogue control and twin sticks means that some games will be rendered almost unplayable. However, as a rule, any game where you use the D-Pad is fair game; we found that a lot of the retro-style releases on PSN were perfect candidates for Hori's stick. The ability to use it on the PS3 is a wonderful bonus, too, as is the compatibility with PCs and other USB-ready devices.
The most glaring sticking point is obviously the price. At £129.99 in the UK, the Hori Arcade Stick Pro 4 Kai isn't cheap – even less so when compared to the (already pricey) RRP of the DualShock 4 itself. Because it can't be used with every single game, the appeal of the controller is limited further, and there will be some who are put off by the device's imposing size – unless you have ample storage, hiding this beast away is going to be tricky.
As a result, Hori's stick certainly isn't for everyone; if you have no interest in Street Fighter V or other fighting games then it's hard to recommend. However, the niche that this kind of product serves is growing all the time, and Capcom's long-term plan for Street Fighter V should ensure that more and more PlayStation 4 owners will look towards such sticks to overcome the limitations of the DualShock 4 and take their talents to new heights. If you're one such person, then Hori's effort comes highlight recommended – having the right tool is half the battle, and for fighting addicts, Hori is rightly considered to be the master.
Thanks to Rice Digital for supplying the Hori Real Arcade Pro 4 Stick used in this review. Do you have an arcade stick for your PS4, or are you in the market for one? Twiddle our joystick in the comments section below.