This weird controller is my new favorite way to play fighting games

Fighting games like Street Fighter or Tekken were born and raised in the arcade, and even today when fans play at home, many still play using a traditional arcade-style controller, or “fight stick” with a joystick and big round buttons. That includes me, but recently I’ve been trying out a new style of controller that’s won me over that blends old and new together.

It’s called the Mixbox (from $269), and it essentially rips out the joystick from your typical arcade controller and replaces it with WASD-style keyboard keys.

Rather than using an old-fashioned 8-way arcade joystick, or a less specialized analog stick-style controller, using that familiar quartet of keys sounds like a much more familiar and precise control method. And that’s exactly what the Mixbox offers, for both better and worse, and is part of why it’s become my new favorite way of playing fighting games.

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(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

First though, a few issues. My main complaint with the Mixbox is its build quality. The metal and plastic parts are solid and sturdy, but the whole thing lacks polish, with many exposed rough and sharp edges due to its bolted-together design, and even a loose screw on one of the feet when I unboxed it.

This is made worse when you consider the cost of the thing. The Mixbox starts at $269, but the Universal version with the optional PS5 compatibility that I tested costs $429. Buying this is as much of an investment as buying a new console, so I would have preferred a slightly higher quality finish. Fortunately, the real negatives end here.

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(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

Although the Mixbox ditches the traditional joystick, it keeps the big Sanwa Denshi buttons (the gold standard for arcade buttons) so you can make sure you’re hitting the right attacks at the right time, or just have an easier time frantically mashing. It uses the Vewlix button layout, which some dedicated fighting gamers don’t like this style, preferring the flatter Noir arrangement of buttons, but I’m personally used to Vewlix buttons and so I’m not fussed by this.

Lots of buttons, wide compatibility

You’re spoiled for buttons though, with four on the back and three on the side. These allow you to make use of all the inputs you’ll find on a regular gamepad, including the touchpad you find on recent PlayStation controllers. You won’t need these during fights, but navigating in-game and system menus or setting up training mode becomes much easier when you have all possible shortcuts at your disposal.

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Something that is potentially super valuable is the wide compatibility. The standard Mixbox works with the best PC games and best PS4 games, which should be suitable for the majority of fighting gamers. The version I got to test is the Universal Edition, which supports the Playstation 4 (including PS4 games played on a PS5), Xbox Series X and Series S, PC and Switch and others, as well as PS5 games via an optional upgrade. This is fantastic if you have your fighting games spread across several different platforms, like I do. Rather than having to buy controller adapters, you can use the cable to plug in and get going quickly and easily.

Very customizable, easy setup

There’s even more customization on offer when you make your order, too. You can get the WASD keys installed at an angle for a more comfortable hand position, and pick one of three Cherry MX key switch types to get the directional feedback you prefer. You can even buy “Reverse” versions of the black and universal models that swap the keys and the buttons around, good if you are left-handed.

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(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

Setting up the Mixbox is just as easy as you could hope for. It easily worked with my PC as soon as I plugged in the USB cable and booted up Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus, with all the buttons behaving as they should without needing to rebind any. Likewise in Street Fighter V and on my PS5 with Guilty Gear Strive.

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(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

My biggest fear going into testing the Mixbox was about special move inputs. Press-and-hold “charge move” inputs seemed like no problem, but I did wonder if motion inputs, such as the traditional quarter-circle-forward fireball or the zig-zagging uppercut, would take some getting used to. To my surprise, I was able to conjure Hadokens, Gun Flames, Shoryukens and Vapor Thrusts first time, even on the older Guilty Gear XX with its stricter input timings. If these worked fine, I’m sure the less fiddly inputs of games like Mortal Kombat or Tekken will pose no challenge.

Learning curve a bit steep

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