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Joysticks: Happ Super vs. Wico Ball-Top

Preramble: There are a couple of really good in-depth joystick reviews/comparisons over at OSCAR Controls that are definitely worth reading: "Joystick Review" compares the Happ Super Joystick, the Happ Competition Joystick, and the Happ Ultimate Joystick; and "Joystick Review II" compares the Happ Super Joystick to the Happ Perfect 360 Joystick.

For this review, I have compared the two joysticks that I've had personal experience with: the Happ Controls 8-way Super Joystick (microswitched) and the Wico ball-top 8-way joystick (leafswitched).


Happ Controls Super Joystick

The Happ Super joystick (with microswitches)

Of all of the Happ Controls joysticks, the Happ Super is probably the most popular joystick among the folks that build MAME cabinets...and for good reason: it's a very solid, good, playable stick. The Happ Super is kind of the "jack of all trades, master of none" of the joystick world: It doesn't have a particular area where it shines, but it's a good stick that handles a variety of games well.

The Happ Super is controlled by four microswtiches underneath the joystick. As you move the joystick in one of the four cardinal directions (up, down, left, right) the actuator on the stick handle pushes a lever which then clicks one of the microswitches. For diagonals (provided that the actuator is set for "8-way"), you're simply triggering two of the four microswitches (in other words, to move in the "upper-left" diagonal direction, you're actually hitting the "up" and the "left" switches simultaneously).

The Happ Super even looks to be the stick of choice in recent arcade applications (I'm not just talking about weirdos who build their own arcade cabinets...I mean real arcades). Why? It's durable, and it's a commonplace stick (and therefore, easy to find parts for).

Sound great, right? So why doesn't everyone use this stick? Well, believe it or not, the "clicking" of the microswitches has been known to drive some people insane. Basically, some people mind it and some people don't.

The other thing to keep in mind is that even though it's a good-feeling stick, it's probably not the joystick that you remember on all of the classic arcade games if you come from the "Golden Era". So now you're at the "authenticity" dilemma: Do you go for a good quality stick, even if it's different than the one you might remember?

I used Happ's Super joysticks in the Arcade Paradise cabinet, and have been very happy with them.

Wico ball-top 8-way joystick

Wico ball-top joystick (with leafswitches)

Now this is the joystick that I remember playing. I have to admit, playing Robotron with one of these sticks in each that's the way that it was meant to be played!

The Wico stick has four leaf switches underneath the stick. A leaf switch is basically two thin slivers of metal separated by a plastic spacer. When you move the stick, it pushes the two pieces of metal together, and viola - you have your contact.

One of the biggest drawbacks of leaf-switch sticks is that the switches do bend over time, requiring you to bend them back. But you have to figure that these joysticks used to be in an arcade environment, subjected to having thousands upon thousands of people mis-using and abusing these sticks, so in theory having these in a cabinet that's in the controlled environment of someone's home would last longer.

I used the Wico ball-top leaf-switched joysticks in the Arcade Paradise 2 cabinet, and have been very happy with them also.




Microswitches are more durable (or at the very least, much easier to buy as well as replace) than leaf-switches, so the Happ Super is the winner here. And I'll be honest: If I was outfitting cabinets to go in an arcade environment, I would probably use the Happ Super. But how much super-duper industrial durability is really required for a cabinet in a home environment? Like I said, I outfitted Arcade Paradise 2 with Wico leaf-switch sticks, and I've had no problems.

Outward Look and Feel

This is the most obvious difference. If you're yearning for that "Golden Era" arcade flashback experience, there's nothin' like the ball-topped sticks from Wico. Hell, they look cool just sitting there! However, Happ's Super joysticks do feel very comfortable...they're just not the classic 80's-style joysticks. This is strictly a matter of personal preference.


And here's what it all comes down to, isn't it?

The Happ Super has what I would describe as a "looser but more rigid" feel to it than does the Wico stick. Here's what I mean: It's very easy to move the Happ Super stick around - you can slide it around using just your fingertips if you want to (hence the "looser" description). But, even if you don't hear the clicking of the microswitches, you will feel it as you move the stick around: You will be able to feel when you cross over from the "left" switch to the "up" switch (hence the "more rigid" description). This isn't much of a big deal at all (and in fact is kind of helpful with 4-way games) but you can really feel it in more "free-directional" games where you're moving all over the place in all directions. For example, if you sweep the Happ Super joystick in a full circle, you'll be able to feel the click-click-click-click as you change the directions.

The Wico leaf-switch joystick has what I would describe as a "tighter but more free" feel to it. It's stiffer/tighter to move than the Happ Super joystick is, but it is much more "free" when changing directions. Remember how I said that you can feel the clicks of the microswtiches when moving the stick in a full circle on a Happ Super? Well, on the Wico leaf-switch stick, it really does feel like you're sweeping the joystick in a perfect, uninterrupted circle. Moving in circles or arcs is very smooth on this joystick.



So which is better? The real answer is that neither is better. They both look, feel, and perform differently, but they're both really good sticks. The Happ Super is a good choice in that it's kind of a "vanilla" joystick that's good for several different styles. The Wico balltop leafswitch is a much better stick for playing "Golden Era"-style games. I'd say that the Happ Super performs better than the Wico balltop for 4-way games (when in 8-way mode).

So which one do I like? I lean strongly toward the Wico balltop sticks, but of course, that's personal preference.


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