A closer look a very handy accessory for wandering warriors.
Competitors and fighting game fans that like to take their fight stick on the road all wrestle with how to pack these inconveniently-shaped devices we like to mash buttons on. The protruding joystick can make for some tricky or awkward transport–unless you invest in a fight stick bag that is specifically designed to accommodate it. There has been another option on the market for a while now: Phreakmods produces a replacement shaft that can be installed in the widely-used Sanwa JLF joystick, to allow you to detach the joystick top at will–making for easy packing and transport of your weapon of choice. The release of “The Link” in a new color assortment seemed like a good excuse to find out how well this mod works in hand, so I nabbed one from Arcade Shock to try it out for myself.
Before the mod
This is my HORI Real Arcade Pro 4 Kai–since modified from the factory unit I reviewed, now with Sanwa pushbuttons and a Sanwa JLF joystick.
And here is The Link.
In addition to some basic instructions, The Link includes the two sections of the linked shaft, and a hex tool. The basic premise of The Link is to replace the single-piece shaft in a standard Sanwa JLF with this linked version that can be popped off without tools–or even opening your fight stick’s case. There are no detailed install instructions, so some familiarity with what the inside of a JLF stick looks like is helpful to get this mod in place.
After removing the joystick from the HORI’s case, you can see above what it looks like; note the base as shown in the middle image–that e-clip is what holds the whole spring-loaded assembly of the JLF’s shaft together. You need to pop that off carefully–a flat-headed screwdriver can do the trick. With that removed, the tension will release and the shaft assembly comes apart into the components shown on the right.
The Link’s two-part shaft separates by pulling upward on the upper (colored black, in this case) section’s outer sheath; this releases the clamping mechanism that holds the shaft together and allows it to be lifted off. With the upper section removed, you can see the difference between the standard JLF shaft (above) and the shorter one from Phreakmods (below) that’ll replace it:
It’s a fairly simple matter to reassemble the Sanwa’s joystick components around The Link shaft, then resecure them under the spring’s tension with the same e-clip removed earlier. You can see below how the replacement shaft looks, once installed into the JLF housing:
Next, the balltop is attached to the upper part of The Link just like it would be on a normal joystick; where you would use a flat-headed screwdriver to keep the shaft from spinning in place on the standard shaft (or maybe your fingernail, if you’re hardcore), the included hex tool now serves this function for The Link, as shown here:
The completed Link can now be reunited the same way it was removed, by sliding the outer sheath up and then back down once you’ve placed the upper section back over the lower shaft.
Of course, it isn’t much good like that–we’ve got to get it back into the HORI case to try it out.
Once fully reinstalled, you can see that the separated shaft is no higher than the plexi surface of the stick, fulfilling its inconspicuous destiny of removing any protruding joystick elements.
As Sanwa sticks often use two dust washers, to use The Link, you need to leave out the inner one as it’ll mess with your ability to reattach the upper joystick section. You can still use the outer dust washer of course, but you’ll need to find a place to stash it when you disconnect.
Playing on The Link
So the real question: how does it feel? When connected, The Link is solid–there’s no give and it holds up to rough, intense play. As I use the “wine glass” grip with my fingers curled up from under the balltop, the shape of the shaft took some very brief getting used to, since it’s no longer just a single smooth cylinder. As The Link is replacing only the metal shaft in the JLF, all other components work exactly the same–so there’s no difference in stick travel, the feel of the gate, or how it hits the actual switches. Once you get the hang of sliding the sheath up (it can be done easily with one hand, by putting the shaft between your pointer and middle finger, and pulling toward the balltop), it connects and disconnects very quickly and easily.
I found that the Sanwa dust washer did sometimes catch a little bit on The Link’s surface, causing it to “click” back into place as the stick was moved–but that’s something a bit of filing down can fix, if it’s a recurring nuisance. Regular play seemed to reduce that issue. I also caught the balltop coming loose on me after a while–but that’s more due to my own lack of tightening than a functional flaw, as since I’ve retightened it, it hasn’t come loose again.
Is it worth the buy?
The Link from Phreakmods will run you $26.95 USD on Arcade Shock (and another $6.50 USD will get you a lanyard to snap the upper section onto for easy access). If you travel with your fight stick frequently, that is a fair bit cheaper than most dedicated carrier bags–and the install takes less than an hour. However, if you prefer non-Sanwa joysticks, you’re presently out of luck for this mod. If you do play on a JLF, and you’re down for some Sanwa surgery to perform this shaft transplant, I would definitely recommend it as an add-on to your favorite fight stick.