I love arcade games. There’s no better feeling than going to a seaside town and listening to loud and obnoxious classics with the speakers cranked up. For some, it can be hell to play on machines that everyone else has abused over the years, but for me, this is my childhood. About five years ago, I had a lofty goal of bringing these arcade classics to my gaming PC, but only if I could play them roughly as intended.
For FPS on rails I need a light pistol; for racing games, a wheel; and for fighting games, an arcade stick. Very early on in the project, I had three classic arcade games that I wanted to configure the devices for. These were Street Fighter III: Third Strike, Sega Rally Championship, and any of The House of the Dead series. However, my scope has now expanded to four, with the other game being Time Crisis. The key challenge was that I wanted to use official ports built to run on my gaming PC or use officially re-released versions of the classic games before resorting to emulating the original arcade games.
My first purchase was years ago, and it was the Razer Panthera arcade stick. I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time trying out arcade sticks months before through loaner units, but this is the one I stuck with. It’s the easiest device to set up of the four, as everything is plug-and-play, even with a switch that enables PlayStation 3 compatibility if I fancy using it there.
The key selling point of this fighting stick was that if you broke the buttons or pulled too hard on the stick, you could repair the broken parts by opening it up and using the provided tools to replace them with genuine Sanwa parts. So far, I haven’t needed to replace any of them, but sadly, this fighting stick is no longer in production. I also don’t see any mention of the successor to it, the Razer Panthera Evo, outside of a few pages on the website. If you want my recommendation for a Fight Stick, both the Nacon Daija and Mad Catz Ego use similar, high-quality Sanwa parts and work well on gaming PCs, even if broken parts are a bit more difficult to replace.
The only persistent issue I have with this Fight Stick is that most games do not include an option to manually change game icons. To their credit, Capcom recently started doing this with games like Monster Hunter Rise, but not for their retro fighting collections. It’s a bit of a learning curve to remember that the X button on an Xbox controller is the square button on a PlayStation-based pad. I resorted to post-its for a short while to remind myself of Xbox buttons when navigating menus in Mortal Kombat 11. However, I soon completed my first game of key objective, Street Fighter III: Third Strike, as it’s officially out. via Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection. The arcade stick works here and with more modern games with a minimum of fuss.
My biggest fights come with light weapons. Until a couple of years ago, it was impossible to get them to work on LCD or OLED screens. This all changed when the Sinden Light Gun hit the market. The gun comes in two flavors: $105 USD / £90 GBP for the base model and $160 USD / £140 GBP if you want the blowback feature. As a fan of Light Gun games, I wanted to get behind one as soon as possible, so I went with the recoilless weapon. It uses a camera at the end of the device as a webcam source and to emulate the mouse, so when it’s active the cursor will trace the screen and frankly it’s a miracle. The gun has a decent build quality, with fully customizable buttons and a wired USB for lossless connectivity.
From time to time I have trouble getting the light gun to work properly, as my setup includes two LCD screens, and on top of them two decorative square pieces of art. The gun gets confused, sometimes thinking these paintings are more screens, so I have to angle them in a way that doesn’t throw off the Light Gun camera. Also, the settings menu is a bit complicated and it was necessary to watch some YouTube videos from external sources to work out the calibration issues. However, by applying a white border around the screen, I soon blow up my screen like I’m in the arcades.
The accompanying Sinden Arcade Pedal came separately, with many thanks to Sinden for the unit. It costs $250 USD / £200 GBP for one or $475 USD / £380 GBP for a set of two. Essentially, these pedals emulate the pressing of a single button on the keyboard. This chunky pedal is easy to set up, especially when running arcade versions of Time Crisis via emulators like MAME. One is enough for me, since I only care about the first few Time Crisis games, but two pedals are required if you want to play future installments in single player. If nothing else, it’s more justifiable as a luxury purchase if it really emulates the old-school arcade feel, and having tried it myself, I couldn’t go back.
The Sinden Light Gun requires a bit more work than I expected to play House of the Dead Remake nice. However, the original arcade House of the Dead works fine with the Sega Model 2 arcade game emulator, which is handy as I’ll need it for games that work with the wheel. The PC ports of the second and third games can also be easily found on Archive.org and set up without a problem with the Sinden Light Gun, although I did have to install a dedicated program to force House of the Dead 2 to switch screens. Since the gun doesn’t work with the PS3 and House of the Dead 4 and Scarlet Dawn aren’t available on PC, I’m out of luck on this front.
Finally, let’s discuss the newest addition: the Thrustmaster T128. This wheel is a mid-range option, retailing for around $200 USD / £170 GBP, and it comes in PlayStation and Xbox button varieties. I should point out that Thrustmaster kindly provided me with my Xbox configured Thrustmaster T128. As my first wheel peripheral, the device is principally Simple to set up, although I do wish the pedal cable was about a meter longer to help me manage cables and ensure the device reaches my feet.
The build quality of the wheel is outstanding, with tons of buttons that I can assign to change gears, change views, or whatever else I need. It doesn’t come with a manual gear shift, instead opting for flex paddles, but this suits most arcade racers. I can map the paddles as 1st and 2nd gear, while the nearby red buttons can be 3rd and 4th gear. For more modern games, like Forza Horizon 5, I can switch gears with both paddles as initially intended. The steering wheel’s force feedback helps with immersion, especially when driving on gravel in Forza Horizon 5. Even when emulating games like Sega Rally, it still gives a bit of pull to simulate how the original arcade machines work. It’s so well made that I had the confidence to launch it into corners, quickly turning the wheel and trying desperately to stay on track.
I had to refer to the manual when learning how to attach the caster to my desk as I had no idea how the clamp worked, but the instructions are well written. My only remaining issue is that the pedal won’t stay put. It’s durable, to be sure, but it slides around my admittedly thin carpet, like it’s trying to play on an ice rink. I imagine this would be worse if it had a hardwood floor. It has rubber soles on each of the four corners, but I find they don’t do much.
I was lucky to find a PC copy of the original Sega Rally. It’s almost the same as the Sega Saturn version, works fine on Windows 10. I couldn’t get the port to work with the wheel though, as it checks for old devices that don’t exist anymore. So instead, I opt to bite the bullet and download it for the same dedicated Sega Model 2 emulator that I use to play the original House of the Dead. To my utter delight, the wheel is instantly compatible without interfering with my Sinden Light Gun setup, as the control inputs are game-specific. However, it’s worth noting that it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that I could test without playing the game by watching Val’s number go up and down as I press the pedals while still in the settings menu.
Of course, my search for a complete arcade conversion is not complete. I still think my next goal would be a proper flight stick that runs the arcade Star Wars Trilogy (the one where you use a flight stick to fight Darth Vader in a lightsaber duel), but that’s quite a while. For now, though, I’m happy to be able to play these retro games using peripherals as intended, and cost aside, it’s largely been a pain-free journey. There’s never been a better time to relive the glory days of the arcade, and with a little help from well-made peripherals, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune or take up too much valuable living space.