Stick It to the Man: Playing Games That Aren’t Fighters With the Dreamcast Arcade Stick

As with everything Dreamcast, the official arcade stick is something I have noticed has increased in price in the last so many years. Having been looking to add a second stick to my setup, I've discovered its average listing price on eBay now clocks in at well over £80 (close to double what I paid for mine back in 2018 when I finally decided I should get one for my beloved white box), although at the time of writing, it appears UK second hand retail chain CEX are currently selling them at a much more respectable £65!

Despite being a fighting game fan, I am the sort of fan that doesn’t actually fully understand the concepts of blocks, cancels, charge characters, spin characters or laser tappers. Okay, I made those last two up, but they definitely sound like the sort of things I imagine people on modern online fighting lobbies mutter to themselves as I lose my 115th game in a row: ‘this guy is trying to play a spinner like a lazerT, the idiot!’ Probably.

Anyway, I do own a number of different sticks - mainly for Xbox consoles, but also for some others - but not because I'm some sort of fighting purest as evidenced in the intro. It’s mainly because of my love for arcade games, which leads me back to the Dreamcast. With its focus on arcade conversions or at least arcade-style home gaming, I decided to bypass the merit of discussing the DC's fighters and go straight to discussing the games of other genres in my collection that offer arcade stick compatibility, which is normally indicated by a handy logo on the back cover of the game (thanks, Sega). However, this isn't always the case, I'm looking at you, Midway. Come see me after class, please...
I hope this piece proves to be useful for anyone who hasn't yet purchased an arcade stick and wants to know if it's 'worth it' for games other than fighters. Or maybe if you have one sat in a cupboard collecting dust, hopefully this article will give you the drive to get it out and give it another go, as it's frankly a glorious piece of kit.

Virtua Tennis 
This was one I was instantly drawn to try when I first got my own arcade stick. Its inclusion here offers a rare chance for me to give a shout-out to anyone who ever played the Virtua Tennis arcade machine that was in the Scream pub "The Pulpit" in Cheltenham during the years of 2001 and 2003. Unless you are the person who broke the lob button on the player two side, in which case I hope all the hinges fall off your PAL Dreamcast cases because you are a monster.

My first ever experience of Virtua Tennis was on said arcade machine, and I remember actually being disappointed when it appeared in the pub, as it was a replacement for my beloved Virtua Striker. I reluctantly had a go anyway, and then another, and then the next thing I knew, I'd bought Virtua Tennis for the Dreamcast (later that day, if my memory is correct).

The arcade stick is obviously perfect for this game. I’ve always felt the standard Dreamcast controller was a tad unwieldy for the game and that this is one of the very few drawbacks that the Virtua Tennis series has against it. But with the arcade stick, the smooth movement of the stick and the really effective yet simple amount of buttons offers a perfect way to play, to the extent I now want a second one for the rare chances I have a second person in the house willing to play Dreamcast. The arcade stick also has the added benefit of not causing D-pad indentation on your hand like the standard controller can. Surely that alone makes it worthy of purchase?

Final verdict: Get your stick on! Stick > Controller > Fishing rod (in that order).

Virtua Striker 2 ver 2000.1
I am overly fond of this game. Even though it has numerous flaws and actually plays a terrible game of football, I still love it. I love playing it on the arcade stick even more than the standard controller as it controls in the same stuttering and janky way that the arcade did. Oddly, the game itself would only let you use the D-pad when using the standard controller and not the analogue stick, so getting to control the game with the stick is a much nicer feeling all round, and is a clear improvement over the controller, as long as you can forgive the game for all its other issues.

Final verdict: GOOOOAAAALLLLLL!!! *ba da bum ba*

Virtua Athlete 2K
Those who know me, know I love track and field games. I can see that they are ultimately dumb and shallow, yet still they have been responsible for some of my best competitive and multiplayer memories on virtually every console up to the Xbox 360, which was when those kinds of games (and the people who’d play them with you in person) all seemed to vanish.

Prior to officially joining the staff for the Junkyard, I made an overly elaborate comparison of the three athletics games that found their way onto the Dreamcast and that was actually the first time I ever played Virtua Athlete 2K.

I was not overly surprised to see it had arcade stick support, as it is effectively a more serious reskin of the Sega Saturn great Athlete Kings/DecAthlete (originally of the arcades). So is it any good with the arcade stick? Well, not really no. The button mashing is more satisfying on the arcade stick due to the larger buttons, but the game is significantly harder with this control method. I tried to adjust to compensate, thinking this might be from my many years of using the standard controller for these kinds of games, making me unfamiliar with the arcade controls, but it isn’t. For the quick precise nature of this sort of game, the wider spread of the buttons and control on the arcade stick isn’t ideal.

Final verdict: Controller or bust if you want to go fast.

Millennium Soldier: Expendable
A cult classic favourite amongst the Junkyard staff, and a bit of an under-appreciated gem. If you’ve never played it, it’s a pretty great top-down shooter that still looks and controls pretty good. Despite the fact that games like Millennium Soldier: Expendable are typically referred to as "twin stick shooters" nowadays, and the Dreamcast controller obviously only has one stick, playing this archaic throwback is still easy to get up to speed with, and I would wager you will start to enjoy the game within the first minute you spend with it. Although why they didn’t implement a Smash TV-style four-way shooting control on the controller which utilises the face buttons, I'll never know.

But how does it handle with the arcade stick? Well, not that great. The actual control of your character movement on the stick is as smooth and responsive as you’d expect, but the issue is that the strafe buttons, which are typically mapped to the triggers, are not easy to press whilst still shooting on the arcade stick. Because of this, it actually feels harder to play with the arcade stick than the standard controller. It still could be worth a try, though, as you may not have the tiny child-like hands that I possess, but for me, it’s a no.

Final verdict: Stick good, strafe bad.

Ready 2 Rumble Boxing
The first Dreamcast game I ever played, the chunky, cartoony characters hide away a still enjoyable arcade boxing brawler, even in 2023. Hearing the intro being shouted and the music building and swirling before seeing the comic-style font of the menu are immediate giveaways to how the game plays in many ways.

Despite having the arcade stick compatibility icon on its back cover, the game actually requires you to go and set up the buttons via a menu... well, if you want to block and dodge, that is! Strange foible aside, you’d be forgiven if you just assumed this was another arcade port to the Dreamcast, as it plays perfectly with the stick, and the buttons feel satisfying to mash on when either brawling your way to victory... or desperately trying to get your fighter up off the floor because you are tragically bad at the game. I am being dramatic, of course, as the latter obviously never happened to me...

Final verdict: Stick and move, it’s got the arcade groove.

Silent Scope
The beauty of Silent Scope was always the gargantuan sniper rifle attachment with its working scope that made you feel like a big tough guy when up at the cab, which helped to compensate for your weedy nerd arms, no doubt. 

So trying to replicate such an experience on a home console using a controller was always going to be a big ask, because then it's just you and your regular-sized arms, or whatever. Anyway, why does Silent Scope have arcade stick support, and is it any good? Well, kind of, and by that I mean it is slightly better than using the controller as you get an improved range of movement whilst aiming.

My personal gripe with the home ports of the game is that the boss battles are still far too hard, but playing the game with the arcade stick, I’ve actually put way more time into it than I have in the many years since I first got my nerdy little arms on the Dreamcast version. If you own both the game and the arcade stick, I’d recommend giving it a go, as flicking between scope/unscoped, and fast/slow crawl aiming is a lot more manageable than with the standard controller, I've found.

Final verdict: Some scope for improvement (sorry).

NBA Showtime: NBA on NBC
Midway are one of those companies that will forever remain close to my heart as a lot of their games are huge favourites of mine, including NBA Jam, which obviously has very close links to NBA Showtime, an offshoot that made its way to the Dreamcast.

Considering their origins as arcade games and their simplistic arcade controls, it was surprising to see that the arcade stick isn’t listed on the back of the game's box as a compatible peripheral (certainly not the PAL version, anyway). Despite this, you can play the game completely fine with the stick, and the game responds accordingly by changing the turbo control to the C button (normally the right trigger on the standard controller). With the arcade stick, the game plays and controls smoothly in terms of movement, but that was to be expected really. I may possibly still prefer the normal controller, although this is no doubt down to one glorious summer during the Dreamcast's heyday when I was constantly playing this game four player. I still have mine and all my old housemates’ player data saved on a VMU somewhere, despite the fact they are a set of bastards who think they are too good for me and my Dreamcast these days!

Final verdict: White sticks can jump.

NFL Blitz 2000
Another game from the Midway stable where it seems they couldn’t be bothered to note any arcade stick compatibility on the back of the box. They also forgot to print the name of the game on the spine too, so who knows what was going on at Midway back then.

Again, this is originally an arcade game, and just like NBA Jam, has seen an Arcade 1Up machine released in recent years. As expected, it plays great with the stick. The game has a one button passing mode where by pointing at the receiver highlights them and the B button throws. Using this mode is significantly easier with the arcade stick and is actually, to me anyway, easier than the standard mode, where a button icon shows over the player you wish to pass to.

Final verdict: Put me in the game, coach!

Gauntlet Legends
Okay, I would just quickly like to point out that I have never worked at Midway or owned stock in them, and neither has anyone else from my lineage! Yes, this is another game from Midway, with no official support listed anywhere on the box or even in the manual. However, this is another arcade conversion, so it plays wonderfully with the stick. 

Like NBA Showtime, the game recognises the arcade stick is plugged in and even changes the control menu to show you a rendering of the stick instead of the controller. So Midway were obviously au fait with the process of programming in arcade stick compatibility, but I'm at a loss as to why they never officially displayed it on the packaging of their games, as someone somewhere had to create the in-game art you see below.
The game only has three buttons needed to play and is at its core just the same mindless walking around and killing things we know and love from the original Gauntlet, except this time with some light RPG mechanics and character progression thrown in. This is another one that just feels better on the arcade stick for obvious reasons.

Final verdict: Use the arcade stick (I'm out of game-related puns at this point.)

UEFA Dream Soccer 
Somehow less playable.

Final verdict: Needs burying in a desert.

So there you have it, proof that the arcade stick is a useful and warranted part of any collection, even if you're not a fighting game fan. There is still plenty of uses for it outside of fighting games, with most offering more than a token consideration as to why you should use it or at least give it a try over the standard (beloved?) Dreamcast controller. So maybe consider picking one up. If nothing else, with the way things are going, it's going to be worth over £100 in two years from now anyway. So consider it like investing in gold.

Have you tried the arcade stick with any non-fighting games? Let us know any we've missed that are worth checking out in the comments section below, or on our various social media channels.


DCGX said...

Very cool roundup! I always use the arcade stick where I can, but I had no idea for some of these. Very useful information.

Lewis Cox said...

This is a great piece, Kev! Very funny too. It’s also made me want to check out NBA Showtime, with the arcade stick, of course!

Also, Cannon Spike is a game that functions slightly better with the arcade stick.

Marvin said...

Great article, I have not tried a few of those with a stick yet! I think you nailed the spirit of it by mentioning the arcade to home console experience of the Dreamcast. I would add all of the amazing DC SHMUPs and Atomiswave ports like Metal Slug and Blue Dolphin. Mr. Driller and Dynamite Cop, too!