Are you a 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.
One like Razer’s Panthera - the company’s first PS4-friendly arcade stick.
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 been putting it (and my button-mashing abilities) to the test to see if it's a must-buy for fighting game fans.
The Panthera is essentially an updated version of the Xbox-friendly Atrox arcade stick. It's got the same basic shape, easy-to-access internals and button layout, but now it works with Sony consoles instead of Microsoft ones.
The rubber padding fitted to tthe underside of the stick keeps it in place, whether you're playing on a table or on your knees, but keep in mind this is a big piece of kit - you'll need to find some room for it if you can't balance it in your lap while you're playing.
Any discerning fighting game fan knows that 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. Out of the box, everything felt that little bit tighter than the Mad Catz Tournament Edition 2+ I've been using since Street Fighter V launched last year, with none of the rattle or looseness I've come to expect from the TE2+'s buttons.
There are a further two buttons on the side, which 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. Flick it and both buttons deactivate, so you don't accidentally pause the game mid-match and forefit to your opponent.
Razer has added a few PS4-specific touches here too, like the dedicated touchpad, and L3 and R3 buttons. These come in very handy in Street Fighter V’s training mode, so it’s great to have easy access to them here - something you won't get on a cheaper stick.
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.
It's long enough to stretch across your whole living room, and is still detachable like it was on the Atrox, but Razer has switched out the cable release here. The old one was fiddly and prone to failing on the Atrox, but the new one looks and feels a lot more robust. It should come in 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 is actually a button: press it and the top plate pops up, 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, so you can experiment with both and see which one you prefer. I'm a ball top die-hard, but it's great to have the choice.
The Panthera is ripe for customising and modding underneath, in case you fancy getting your hands dirty (and voiding your warranty) to make it play nicely with different consoles. There's a handy wire diagram on the lid, showing where each of the buttons connect, and the wires are colour-coded as well. There are even mounting points for adding custom circuit boards. It's as comprehensive as off-the-shelf arcade sticks get.
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 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 will need, no matter what their fighting game of choice might be.
There’s not a huge amount of other options when it come to arcade sticks, but Panthera easily matches the Mad Catz Tournament Edition 2+ for both build quality and responsiveness. The interchangeable joystick tops and easy access internals could make it a winner if you're planning on becoming a travelling tournament regular, but not being able to customise the artwork underneath the scratch plate might irritate anyone looking to create something truly unique.
As for me, I'm perfectly happy with the default graphics - you spend more time looking at the screen, rather than the stick on your lap, anyway. If you're a dedicated fighting game fan, you should absolutely make this your weapon of choice.