Shoryuken Review: Razer Panthera Arcade Stick for PlayStation 4

By on December 31, 2016 at 1:00 pm
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Back in 2013, Razer released their first arcade stick: the Atrox for Xbox 360. Coming out after an extended beta test period, the Atrox was initially well-received by the community. Our own review found it to be a well thought-out arcade stick, boasting a surprising degree of customization, albeit at a high price point.

While the Atrox reviewed well however, the stick faced issues as time went by. The first of these was with its USB connector–a custom plug based on a design used for car audio–which started failing after a few months. This was most visible at Evo 2015, when EG|Momochi’s stick failed during grand finals. Later on, some folks complained that the casing, specifically its hinges, failed–something which indeed happened to the then 2-year-old test unit sent to Shoryuken.

The biggest problem with the Atrox however was the fact that it was an Xbox 360 stick, meaning that many players, including more than a few pros, needed to have it modified to run on PlayStation 4. This led to occasions where modded Atroxes failed at tournaments. The most notable of which was at Final Round 2015 where the Atroxes of Infiltration and Fuudo, both playing for Team Razer, failed due to issues with said modifications.

With these problems in mind, once the company started producing PlayStation 4 peripherals, many rightfully believed that a new arcade stick was on the way. This new arcade stick is the Panthera.

The Basics

On the surface, the Razer Panthera looks just like an updated Atrox, and that is basically what it is.  Despite the issues that it faced, the original Atrox was a solid design that just needed a few kinks ironed out.

The Panthera shares the same form factor, layout, and features as the Atrox, with just about the same degree of mod friendliness as its predecessor.

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What has changed however is the new control area on the Panthera’s top panel. The Panthera follows in the footsteps of the MadCatz Tournament Edition S+ by moving its control area towards the center of the top panel, instead of the upper left. As with the TES+, the Panthera’s control area also sports a touch pad.

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On a smaller–but still pleasant–note, the Panthera still comes with an optional bat top for its Sanwa JLF lever just like the Atrox did.

Build Quality

Build quality is the area that’s likely of most concern to prospective Panthera buyers, given the issues that the Atrox developed. On the surface, the similarities of the Panthera to the Atrox may indeed seem worrying. However, closer inspection will show that some effort has been made to address any niggling issues the Atrox had.

The entire top cover now seems to be of a different design. Of course this was a given, due to the changed control area. However, the changes go beyond that. The plastic that comprises most of the top cover now seems to be thicker, and there’s simply more of it under the metal panel than before. The top panel acrylic is now also firmly bonded into place. The result is a top cover that feels much more solid than the Atrox, at the cost of some customization.

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One interesting thing is that the gas strut that was in earlier Atroxes–but removed from the Ultra Street Fighter IV version–has returned in the Panthera. The Panthera already features beefy, spring loaded hinges on the top cover, so our guess is that this was brought back to control and limit the movement of the top cover and prevent any unnecessary wear and tear on the hinges themselves. The downside of this is that it takes some force to close the top cover.

Another major change is to the USB connector. The Panthera now uses the same screw on 5-pin aviation connector that MadCatz uses for their Tournament Edition 2’s Pro Cable. This design has proven to be quite reliable in the MadCatz controllers and has less points of failure than the multi-pin car audio jack that Razer used in the original Atrox.

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Complimenting this is the fact that the USB cable itself is now covered with a threaded outer skin. This should help prevent any extreme folding when stuffed into the Panthera’s crowded cable compartment – something that could result in internal cable breakages if not for the threading.

Ergonomics

In terms of ergonomics, the Razer Panthera doesn’t stray from its Atrox predecessor. As with the latter, the Panthera uses Razer’s version of the Taito Vewlix layout. The buttons are now arranged in the familiar layout with face buttons on the left and shoulder buttons on the right.

With the control area now moved to the center, one interesting thing that the Panthera gains is that the L3 and R3 buttons, as well as the touchpad button, are now more easily accessible by the players right hand. This could be a boon for any players who map functions to these in training mode.

Like the Atrox before it, the Panthera has its start button on the right side panel of the case. As with the Atrox, this means that these buttons can get accidentally hit when playing in close quarters, meaning that players will have to engage the tournament lock.

On a minor note, said tournament lock, alongside the stick selector and console selector toggles on the control area have a nice, textured design, giving them something of a more premium feel.

Customization

The Atrox’s friendliness when it comes to being modified is already well known. Being based on that stick, the Panthera carries this over as well.

The Panthera contains the same hexagonal screw panel that allows for the mounting of new control boards. It also comes with the same color-coded internal cabling, and handy wiring guide as the Atrox.

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One area where the Panthera loses out on is in its top panel. The top panel acrylic is no longer screwed on, but rather it seems to be glued on instead. This means that any players looking to customize the top panel artwork will need to do some extra work compared to the previous stick, as well as with the Panthera’s main competition from MadCatz, the Tournament Edition 2 and 2+.

Performance

One of the biggest issues that any arcade stick can face when it comes to performance is whether or not it has any input lag. To test this, we used out totally unscientific method of simply wiring out two arcade sticks to a single button and using them to test if they cause trades in game. For this, we tested the Panthera alongside the MadCatz Tournament Edition 2, and ran Street Fighter V.

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The results of the test, in-game footage of which you can see below, are interesting. For the most part, the inputs come out at exactly the same time, resulting in traded hits from both player 1 and player 2. However, there were a couple of times in both rounds where the TE2’s input came out slightly faster. That said, this was a rare occurrence and, about 90% of the time, their inputs come out at the same time. While we don’t have the equipment to actually measure the difference, this points to the TE2 being only just slightly faster than the Panthera, with the difference coming on those occasions where they barely just miss being on the same frame.

Of course, the above test doesn’t necessarily reflect real world conditions. As such, we also took the Panthera (and the TE2) to the regular weekly Friday Night Fights tournament at PlayPad Gaming Hub where some of Metro Manila’s best Street Fighter V players compete.

Here, we had the Panthera used on one of the stations for the actual tournament, letting the players try it out. The feedback in general was positive, with no reports of the Panthera feeling laggy, dropping inputs, or disconnecting. The only negative bit of feedback, if you can even call it that, was on how it felt like the older Atrox, and not a new stick.

Value

When it first came out, the Atrox was considered quite pricey at $199. Nowadays however, most premium arcade sticks retail for around the same price. With this in mind the $199 price point for the Panthera no longer seems as daunting, what with its competitors being priced similarly.

The question then for any prospective Panthera buyers if any advantages it has, such as its greater customize-ability, outweigh those of similarly priced sticks such as the MadCatz Tournament Edition 2+ or the Qanba Obsidian.

Conclusion

The original Razer Atrox has something of a troubled reputation. While it initially came out to good reviews, many issues with the stick soon came to light that, alongside a what was then high price point, gave it a less favorable reputation in the community.

The new Razer Panthera for PlayStation 4 does its best to address those issues. Effort has been made to beef up the sticks sturdiness, though at the cost of some customizability. Additionally, the Atrox’s biggest issue–that of its USB connector dying–has been addressed with a new connector design, similar to that used by the competition.

The Panthera’s price on the other hand has remained the same as the Atrox’s, something which has developed into a non-issue considering that most professional level arcade sticks now sit at that same price point.

Now, while only time and extended play can tell on its long-term quality, based on our time with it, the Panthera is a solid sophomore effort from Razer. It represents an evolution of an already revolutionary design that addresses the issues with the original Atrox, while also showing Razer’s commitment to competitive fighting games.

Pros

  • Highly customizable just like the Atrox with the easy open top panel and honeycomb floor for easy PCB mounting.
  • Top cover feels sturdier.
  • New threaded USB connector using the now standard threaded 5-pin aviation connector works much better than the connector used in the older Atrox.
  • PS4 (and PS3) support, with touchpad–something earlier PS4 sticks did not have. Bat top included.

Cons

  • Top panel art can no longer be easily changed.
  • Atrox-based form factor still holds some stigma, and needs further long-term testing to verify if the case issues have been resolved.
  • PCB may occasionally be slightly slower than the MadCatz TE2’s.

D3v has worn many hats within the general fighting game community. The self proclaimed "Asian white boy" from the Philippines has done everything from arcade stick modification to match commentary. When not writing for Shoryuken's front page, D3v spends part of his time running tournaments in the Philippines, including the country's biggest fighting game event, Manila Cup.