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7 Best Arcade Lever in 2024

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7 Best Arcade Lever in 2024

Figure 1-1. Guilty Gear Strive Arcade Stick, or Fight Stick

Table of Contents
  1. Introduction
  2. Importance of Controls and Levers for Pro Gamers
  3. Japanese Based Levers
  4. Korean Based Levers
  5. Chinese Based Levers
  6. American Based levers
  7. Conclusion


Introduction


Gaming, oh how far this simple little medium has come from the early days of pong and Tetris to the massive cultural icons of Tekken and Call of Duty. Gaming nowadays is hailed by the majority population of earth as their preferred medium of enjoyment. Beating out even the likes of Hollywood in terms of revenue and fan loyalty. But sadly, much had to be lost for gaming to reach the level it is at right now. While many will say that along the path to this success, gaming has lost what made it unique and while not wrong to a certain extent I would disagree with this testament. For I believe it has evolved rather than changed. We can easily see what games defined which era. In the 80s and 90s the early days were defined by innovative ideas and Mascot games such as Nintendo’s Mario and SEGA’s Sonic. At the same time, the 2000s was a decade of the impossible with games like Halo, Half-life, and GTA 3 completely breaking all boundaries of gaming. And the 2010s saw the domination of the FPS and multiplayer genre. This leads us to the current era, the age of VR, live service, and free-to-play games with monetization. Do you see a pattern in this change of decades? If you don’t then worry not, for it is a simple thing yes, but one that is quite hard to pinpoint. Controls are the main things that have changed throughout every genre and decade.



Importance of Controls and Levers for Pro Gamers


[Image: arcade_lever-2-arcade_stick_in_tournament.jpg]
Figure 2-1. Fight Sticks with Levers in Pro Esports Tournaments

Now for some, this might seem weird since you either started playing games in the 5th console generation or you are a PC gamer. But controls for games have changed much since the early days of arcades and while it has led to much more accessibility for players it has also introduced a new factor into the gaming equation, lag. Digital controls are the most commonly used these days and they have all but wiped out the analog controls. This has had a very negative effect on the genre of 2D fighters. Many of the gamers who play casually might not notice this, but the exact combos required for games such as these are quite hard to execute on normal analog sticks, which has led many pro players to either mod their own arcade-style controllers or buy premade ones. But what sets them apart from each other are the levers used in the fight stick. Levers are the basic core mechanic of the arcade stick which governs how the stick functions and interacts with other buttons and combos. Most of these levers share designs based on the region they are from, but the way that design is implemented is vastly different. Each lever is unique and handles differently, which is why many professional esports athletes spend large amounts of time finding the one that suits them the best. Because in the heat of battle, one small wrong input due to the controller can be the difference between victory and defeat. So, to help you find the best one for you we have chosen 7 of the most used and recommended levers ever made.

[Image: arcade_lever-3-hotashi.jpg]
Figure 2-2. Pro Gamer Hotashi with Regional Champion Fight Stick by HORI


Japanese Based Levers

  • Sanwa
[Image: arcade_lever-4-sanwa.jpg]
Figure 3-1. Sanwa Lever

Of all the levers mentioned in this list, none is more popular than the Japanese-based Sanwa Lever, and with due reason as it was one of the first-ever levers to be used in Japanese arcades. Meaning for many early gamers and esports players this was the lever associated with quality and control, two things that are crucial for one to choose the right lever. Quality dictates the amount of tension and leverage the stick is allowed and without a doubt, Sanwa levers are the best in the game in this regard. Using the same spring mechanic since the early 90s they have allowed players to make some of the most daring moves within the shortest of times due to the levers allowing sticks to return to neutral at a faster rate. Naturally one would think that the spring design is illogical as the point of contact for the lever can easily be broken with force. But alas that is where Sanwa’s other major attribute comes to play control, the levers allow for a greater level of control over the stick making it so that the natural tension and torque on the base never exceeds the limit. All of this results in one of the most widely acclaimed levers in the whole gaming and esports scene.

[Image: arcade_lever-5-qanba_obsidian_2.jpg]
Figure 3-2. Qanba Obsidian 2, equipped with Sanwa JLF lever and Sanwa 30mm OBSF buttons

But that is not to say that the Sanwa lever is the best one ever, for that matter is highly subjective and depends on the game and the player. For example, Sanwa Levers are great for games such as Guilty Gear strive as they allow the control needed to execute the Ludacris combos of the game, but a game such as DNF Duel might not be best suited for it as it asks for a greater travel time of the stick based on the mechanics of the game. As for buying them, they can either be bought directly from their store or from third-party sellers such as Amazon or Alibaba. You could also get the pre-made options, but many pro players don’t recommend it as you will need to mod it anyway. Some popular models of the levers are (JLF-TP-8YT-SK, JLF-TPRG-8BYT-SK, JLFD-TP-8YT, and JLW-TM-8).

  • Seimitsu
[Image: arcade_lever-6-seimitsu.jpg]
Figure 3-3. Seimitsu Levers

Next, we have another Japanese-based Lever called the Seimitsu Levers. Gaining mainstream popularity in the early 2000s, Seimitsu Levers are known far and wide for one attribute that makes them not only stand out amongst their peers but also be called the best by fans, response time. Compared to their homeland counterpart Seimitsu Levers have a far shorter throw than most of the levers giving them the fastest response time imaginable. While they were not as openly used in arcade cabinets due to Sanwa supremacy, many of the early models saw great use in the modding seen as many pro players for early anime games such as Guilty Gear Xrd preferred the quicker response times to execute some truly deadly combos. Later, they would also gain widespread use in the Under Night In-Birth series of games as it called for faster cancelations and parries. Combined the fact that Seimitsu was also selling arcade-style buttons alongside the sticks and levers was just a cherry on top. The shorter travel and activation time of the button coupled with the lever gave players with higher response times an unnatural edge. 

[Image: arcade_lever-7-sega_blast_city.jpg]
Figure 3-4. Sega Blast City Arcade Cabinet, equipped with Seimitsu LS-56. Unfortunately, there is no fight stick that comes with Seimitsu lever by default, which means you need to mod your arcade stick to install a Seimitsu lever.

While nowadays the levers have switched up quite a bit due to esports being monitored by central bodies and not allowing certain modded levers. But one using the current models can still feel the difference between the Seimitsu and the rest of the competition. Some of the most popular models are (LS-56/58, LS-40, and LS-32.) If you're looking to buy the levers separately then you can try the bulk sellers on Ali Express and Alibaba, whereas arcade controllers with the levers and buttons can be bought directly from Amazon and manufacturers' site.



Korean Based Levers



Now for our next lever, we are traveling to the land of K-Pop and electronics South Korea. While in modern years we have seen Korea become famous for its music industry we can't disregard the fact that South Korea is responsible for some of the biggest advancements in gaming from as early as the StarCraft days. Hence it comes as no surprise that South Korea has also created some of the best and most innovative controllers in the market, levers, and sticks included. One of the biggest names in this regard is Etokki a simple arcade controller and stick manufacturer that is by some estimates the largest of its kind in South Korea. Now while the other names mentioned above manufacture and produce their levers, people might be confused about why I didn’t add levers to Etokki’s production lineup. Well, that’s simple it's because they don’t produce them, rather they source them for companies such as Taeyoung Fanta, Myoungshin Fanta and Samducksa (Crown). One more thing to note is that most korean levers has circular gate (at least all Korean levers in this article), and their gates are un-swapperable to others such as square and octagonal gates. As these three are the biggest producers of Korean-based levers.

  • Taeyoung Fanta
[Image: arcade_lever-8-taeyoung_fanta.jpg]
Figure 4-1. Taeyoung Levers

In regard to build quality and overall design, the Taeyoung can easily be compared with the best of the best like the Sanwa. This is due to them sharing many of the core engineering team back in the early days, but the core mechanic of the lever is vastly different. Using a rubber ball instead of the Sanwa’s spring system the Taeyoung can offer a greater range of motion and smoothness to the controls. But be warned as the actuator on many of the Taeyoung levers is either a hit or a miss. Taeyoung levers can easily be bought through third-party sites such as Amazon or their official site if you live in South Korea.

[Image: arcade_lever-9-etokki.jpg]
Figure 4-2. Etokki Omni Arcade Stick, equipped with Taeyoung Fanta Lever
  • Myoungshin Fanta
[Image: arcade_lever-10-myoungshin_fanta.jpg]
Figure 4-3. Myoungshin Levers

Using the same lever design as the Taeyoung ones, Myoungshin used a different stick and collar to set itself apart. This results in the travel time of the stick feeling far smoother and more responsive than compared to the others. But to achieve this they have to use a very grippy-like substance on the actual handle of the stick which many fans have shown an active distain for, as it can cause problems in a long-drawn-out fight. But still compared to many of the others Myoungshin lever sees the greatest action in the modding scene as they are quite easy to come by and can easily be modded into other controllers and arcade machines. Making them the best option for a rookie starting in the world of arcade controller modifications.

[Image: arcade_lever-11-makestick.jpg]
Figure 4-4. MakeStick X Prime, equipped with Myoungshin Fanta Lever
  • Samducksa (Crown)
[Image: arcade_lever-12-samducksa.jpg]
Figure 4-5. Samducksa Levers

Samducksa (Crown) is one of the most famous levers in South Korea, and the joystick lever produced by Samducksa is distinguished by numbers according to its types. There are three main types of Samducksa levers: the 303, 307, and 309 levers. The 303 lever is recommended as a general-purpose lever for 2D fighting games and most arcade games. The 309 lever is designed for 3D fighting games, like Tekken, known for smaller neutral range and wider 1379 (diagonal) range. As for the 307 lever, its internal guide is designed in a perfect circular shape, aiming to provide a comfortable feel when rotating the lever, depending on the individual.

[Image: arcade_lever-12_1-samducksa-oct.jpg]
Figure 4-6. Samducksa's Octagonal-like Circular Gate

As previously mentioned in the Korean lever introduction section, it's worth being cautious here that all Korean levers feature a circular gate that is not replaceable. In other words, all of the 303, 307, and 309 models have circular gates, but the 307 model implements a more perfect circular gate compared to the others. For example, while the 303 model may advertise a circular gate, it actually features an octagonal-like circular gate. Therefore, assuming lever movement in the 1379 (diagonal) direction, the angled 303 model, as it has octagonal-like circular gate instead of a complete circular gate, would be more advantageous. However, the 309 model, which is similar to the 303 model, is more popular than 303 model. This is because its neutral zone is slightly smaller than that of the 303 model, and its diagonal zone, such as 1379, is wider, which is generally known to be advantageous, especially in 3D fighting games like Tekken.

Samducksa levers are also compatible with most of popular fight sticks like HORI and Qanba.

[Image: arcade_lever-13-joytron.jpg]
Figure 4-7. JoyTron EX Revolution V5, equipped with Samducksa Lever


Chinese Based Levers

  • Bao Long
[Image: arcade_lever-14-bao_long.jpg]
Figure 5-1. Bao Long Lever

Next, we have one of the cheapest options for anyone to get into the world of levers and arcade controller modding, Bao Long. It is a Chinese-based company that unlike the rest focuses more on all the parts of a gaming machine, ranging from micro switches and capacitors to levers. Their levers are not originally theirs by design as they have copied some of the most popular ones from Japan and Korea. But regardless they still have a different feel to them many have claimed this is due to the way they put them together or due to the parts being used having different properties compared to the original. For example, they have some that copy the Myoungshin design but are different in terms of smoothness and handle grip. It is also important to note that the lower price means that the build quality is not going to be great, it is upset by the bulk purchasing option which is still a lot cheaper than some other high-end levers. But aside from starting in the modding scene, they are not recommended, as they tend to malfunction at the worst possible time. They can be easily bought from sites such as Ali Express and Alibaba or their site.

[Image: arcade_lever-15-pandora_box_2023.jpg]
Figure 5-2. Pandora Box with Trackball 2023 Edition equipped with SUPRETRO U3 8200 jamma and Bao Long lever. Bao Long levers are commonly integrated with Pandora Box or cheap arcade sticks.


American Based levers

  • MAS
[Image: arcade_lever-16-mas_inside.jpg]
Figure 6-1. MAS Arcade Stick internal parts including the lever

Now we finally come to the world's current hub of esports tournaments such as EVO and Combo breaker, America. Compared to the eastern regions we have seen a sharp decline in the production and manufacturing of American-based levers in recent years. Many point to the cheaper cost of production as the reason while some say it’s the constantly evolving gaming industry of America. But none of them touch upon the core issue, that is America can't compete with the Eastern companies anymore. Because they never stopped their arcades in favor of home consoles, Japan the most storied country in terms of arcades has the best levers. It's not to say there are no longer any American-based levers as MAS still manufactures some to this very day in small batches for either retro arcade machines or arcade-style controllers. A key feature among them is the lever actuator which is unique and can easily be modded into anything you like. A famous example of the MAS lever-based device is the Super Stick which was created for the Sega Genesis but is still in use to this day.

[Image: arcade_lever-17-mas.jpg]
Figure 6-2. MAS-based Fight Stick

Can American-made arcade sticks make a comeback in America? Despite the dominance of FPS games like Valorant and Apex Legends in the USA and Canada, there's hope due to the diverse gaming culture. Nostalgia for classic arcade games and their appeal in retro gaming, along with their fit in competitive gaming, suggest a potential revival. Innovations in game development could also reintroduce arcade sticks for a unique gaming experience. As the birthplace of arcade games, the U.S. holds a special place, and while challenges exist, the groundwork is there for arcade sticks to regain popularity as America has technology, huge market size, and many fighters in EVO.



Conclusion



So to finally sum it all up, no one lever is inherently better than the other. As each has a set purpose it is best used for, such as Sanwa and Etokki-based ones being best used for anime games with longer strings of combos and easily lenient counterattack windows such as the new Guilty Gear Strive. MAS and Seimitsu-based ones are the best for a game with faster combat and more time-based combos such as Under Night In-Birth and BlazeBlue. While the Chinese Bao long levers are entirely dependent on the batch and original model. I hope this article either helps you make an informed decision about which type you will get or is a catalyst for you getting into the arcade controller modding scene. Whichever path you take always remember the controllers can help but, in the end, it is the skill of the player that matters the most.
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