Street Fighter veteran? Tekken supremo? Dead or Alive savant? If you’re serious about fighting games, a regular old gamepad just won’t do.
An arcade-style fighting stick is what you need. One with massive buttons that can take punishment while you’re bashing out combos, and a joystick you can waggle like a butter churn to pull off spectacular super moves.
Up to now, Razer had only made arcade sticks for Xbox consoles, but ever since Capcom and Sony made Street Fighter V a PS4 exclusive, gamers have been begging the company to launch a PlayStation version.
This is that stick - and I’ve put one through its paces at CES.
The Panthera is essentially an updated version of the Xbox-friendly Atrox, with the same basic shape, easy-to-access internals and button layout.
Any discerning fighting game fan knows the best arcade sticks use authentic Japanese Sanwa parts (accept no substitutes) so it’s great to see Razer sticking with them here.
The eight main buttons are satisfyingly responsive, and I had no problems pulling off combos with the joystick either. I thought the joystick felt a little looser than the one I have at home, but I won’t know for sure until I get a full retail model to review.
There are two matching buttons on the side to match the PS4 controller’s Start and Share buttons. Are they easier to accidentally hit here than if they were on the top or at the back of the stick? Maybe, but that’s why there’s a lock switch on the top plate.
Razer has added a few PS4-specific touches here too, like the dedicated touchpad, and L3 and R3 buttons. These come in handy in Street Fighter V’s training mode, so it’s great to see ‘em so easy to access.
You can toggle between PS4 and PS3 inputs, so it’s backwards compatible with the previous-gen console if you fancy playing some older titles. Oh, and it’ll play nicely with PC games too - it’s just a standard USB cable.
Razer has switched out the cable release, though. This was fiddly and prone to failing on the Atrox, but the new one looks a lot more robust. Handy if you’re a tournament fiend that regularly takes their stick out of the house.
The light-up Razer logo on the front of the stick lifts up the top plate, revealing the cables and circuits inside - as well as a replacement top for the joystick.
The Panthera will ship with a Japanese-style ball top installed, but there’s an American-style bat top (and tool for swapping it out) in a dedicated tray inside the stick. It only takes a few seconds.
It’s ripe for customising and modding underneath, in case you fancy getting your hands dirty (and voiding your warranty) with custom circuit boards for playing on different consoles.
You can’t swap out the cover plate art though - it looks like the acrylic scratch plate is glued on, not screwed. Serious fighting game addicts might end up scuffing and scratching it over time, too, without being able to replace it easily.
Razer Panthera initial verdict
Razer didn’t need to do much to the Panthera to make it a great stick - and it hasn’t. It’s fixed the few issues I had with the Atrox, and added all the buttons PS4 gamers need.
There’s not a huge amount of choice when it come to arcade sticks, but Panthera will have to beat the Mad Catz Tournament Edition 2+ if it wants to become the weapon of choice for fighting game fans.
I’ll wait until I’ve tried the Panthera side-by-side with my Mad Catz stick to declare a winner. Fingers crossed I’ll be able to give it a full review later in the year.