Shoryuken review: The Razer Panthera Evo arcade stick offers new and interesting features over its predecessor

By on December 31, 2018 at 12:00 pm
Panthera_Evo

What? Razer Panthera is evolving!

The Razer Panthera — the PlayStation 4 follow-up to the Razer Atrox — is already a very popular arcade stick, offering Sanwa Denshi components, opening case for easy access, and sporting some of the currently speediest inputs in retail fight sticks. Alongside a Kenny Omega-supported ad campaign, Razer has launched a new version of the Panthera this year: the Panthera Evo. This new model offers some significant improvements over the original Panthera, while losing some aspects of the original that may be missed by some players.

The Panthera Evo sports a slightly slimmer and lighter case than its predecessor, which is a small positive for transporting it, but it may prove too mobile on the lap for some of the more enthusiastic strong-handed players. The new thin grip pads on the base do work well to compensate. A major improvement to the case design in the Evo is the sloped front edge, which I personally found much more comfortable on the wrists than the boxy original Panthera (and Atrox) case.

This new controller is PlayStation 4 compatible (and PC compatible via XInput), but not PlayStation 3 compatible. Hopefully you won’t miss the little glowing Razer logo on the front, because along with the absence of that flourish, it’s immediately apparent that there are some even more dramatic design changes here. Most obviously, the Evo does not open and allow immediate access to the joystick and button components for replacement/modification. Instead, the Evo is designed to allow easy replacement of the panel artwork — a callback to the Mad Catz TE2 in the sense that you can swap the artwork out without removing the pushbuttons. However, the Evo corrects most of the problems I personally encountered with the TE2’s approach to this idea. I found the TE2 plexi to be too loose, and the risers that leveled the buttons to the panel surface left the buttons a shaky as well. On this stick, the top plexi is thick and solid, and the buttons are firmly held in place, risers included.

A rubber stopper can be popped out to allow the removal (or tightening, at need) of the joystick balltop. After that, removing six screws from the base and one tiny one next to the lever allows you to pop the plexi right off, and the stock razer artwork is on a loose sheet that comes right out afterward. This is an interesting system, as it really does allow new art to be swapped in and out at will. Razer already offers alternate panel art you can download and print yourself. I do find this to be an interesting choice, however — I personally would rather have easy access to the wiring and buttons, and this art-swapping mechanism puts the guts of the stick behind another six screws to awkwardly get the “true” upper panel open. Performing either of these operations will require you to use both standard-sized and fine-work screwdrivers. For those that want to get at the components, this seems to be a step backward in design, when you can get right to the insides of a TE2, original Panthera, Qanba Dragon, or Victrix’s new fightstick — or even get right into any HORI RAP model via only a mere six screws on the base.

The components themselves are a mix: it uses the usual square-gated Sanwa Denshi JLF (pretty much the expectation on anything that isn’t HORI these days), but substitutes Razer’s own pushbuttons for the matching Sanwa buttons that were used on the original Panthera. Why? I dunno. They are basically the same button: these feel almost identical to Sanwa buttons, and only time will tell if they wear out faster or slower than the Sanwa equivalent. In terms of user experience, I noticed no difference, except they may be a little spongier than Sanwa. I used the italics because the difference so negligible that it may be imagined, or even occur within Sanwa’s own production variations. They are really close. Basically, if you like Sanwa sticks and buttons, you’ll be fine. If you don’t, you can still swap other parts in without too much difficulty, but it’s just a bit more of an operation getting in there than on competing fight sticks of this quality.

razer panthera evo controls

The easy-art-swap isn’t the only new feature on the Evo: it also corrects a glaring omission to the prior model: a headset jack. Razer goes a step further by adding volume controls to the controller itself, a very nice touch. It still includes the other button functions and PS4 touchpad of its predecessor, and the SHARE/OPTIONS buttons are still on the right side of the case (and there is still a lock switch, if desired). The cable compartment is a new addition; on the Panthera the cable was stored in the case itself, so something new was required. Unfortunately this stick loses the braided USB cable (I’m a fan of those), but has an interesting design that lets you brace the cable base outside of the spring-loaded compartment, or tuck it all inside for easier transport. It’s an unusual and intriguing approach, and effective enough.

In terms of performance, Razer has tested well for low latency in the original Panthera (that is, after a firmware update corrected its original sluggishness), and this model lives up to the legacy. I found it extremely responsive, and comfortable to play on in all respects. It’s a solid competitor, and Razer seems committed to keeping it that way.

Launching at the same cost as the original Panthera — $199.99 USD — the Evo offers a mixed bag of improved design alongside some changes in priorities. If  you like to get inside your stick quickly and easily, then the original Panthera is still a better bet (and it is currently discounted). Otherwise: the improved comfort, the addition of headset compatibility, and ability to swap art out with no fuss make this a worthy — if in some areas, unusual — successor to the Panthera name. It is available now on the Razer Store.


Pros:
  • Compact and comfortable design.
  • Easy-to-switch (no adhesives) panel art system.
  • Sturdy mix of Sanwa Denshi and Razer components.
  • Headset jack with on-stick volume control.
Cons:
  • Access to joystick/pushbuttons for repair/replacement is awkward, and it cannot be opened without tools.
  • May be too light, and move around too much on the lap of rougher-handed players.
  • Not PlayStation 3 compatible.

Razer provided Shoryuken with a review model of the Panthera Evo fight stick.

Shoryuken.com Editor-in-Chief. Street Fighterin' since there was only a "II" in the title.