By now everyone should know that the Razer Onza is currently my number one choice for Xbox 360 controllers. In a limited selection of premium grade, Xbox 360 peripherals, I believe that there is market for companies producing high quality products with a targeted focus towards Competitive Gaming. Razer stepped up to the plate and delivered a controller that is, in my opinion, better than the standard Xbox 360 controller for most shooters. While it’s definitely not perfect, I believe Razer set precedent in a lot of ways in regards to what a console controller needs to be and how it should perform. I sincerely hope they continue to improve upon the Onza.
Now enter third-party peripheral giant, Mad Catz, and their co-branded Major League Gaming controller. Mad Catz has been in the game longer than most care to remember and the vast majority of their products are assembled in the cheapest, quickest manner possible. Twelve years of the “fastest manner possible in cheapest manner possible,” process has arguably given them one of the worst reputations in the gaming industry. On the whole, the last twelve years in the console gaming hardware manufactures hasn’t deviated too far from that mindset. Dozens of companies, literally saturating the space with products that are of lower quality, with a high failure rate and gimmicky features. Mad Catz helped contribute to the lack of innovation we have witnessed in the last 12-15 years of all controllers, across all systems.
Within the last few years however, Mad Catz has attempted to change their M.O., specifically after Mark Julio, @MarkMan23 on Twitter, joined their staff in late 2008. Mark has a deeply enriched background in the competitive fighting scene and helped Mad Catz establish themselves as the “de facto” for competitive controllers in the fighting game community. In a surprising move in 2010, Mad Catz acquired arguably the second best console headset manufacturer in Tritton Technologies — quite the smart move in my opinion. At the time, I think Mad Catz had probably been exploring their options to enter the headset market, but I think their reputation may have thwarted the effort to make a “Mad Catz” headset. I imagine it would have been difficult to compete with Astro Gaming, Turtle Beach, and Tritton without having a solid reputation. Presumably MLG or Mad Catz looked at this as an opportunity to enter the premium everything-not-fighting-games controller market. This is an ideal situation for Mad Catz to further establish their new brand identity.
Now that we have some substance to the story, let’s talk about the controller.
NOTE: The Videos are from RobskiiTV (@R0bskii), interview by @GoldenboyFTW
Mad Catz Curves vs. Razer Sharp Edges
The form factor of the MLG Mad Catz controller has a sort of mixed appearance to me — kind of like a cross between the S-Pad (it has a little bulk), the Mad Catz Call of Duty controller (along the top band), and the standard Xbox 360 controller. I held it for a good 25-30 minutes and it felt pretty comfortable. I can’t say I was too fond of how “chunky” the controller appears, but holding it felt natural. The fact that overall weight of the controller can be adjusted, makes it a more flexible peripheral than what most of us are accustom to seeing in console gaming — adjusting weights has always been a PC mouse thing. The two weights, located in a compartment along the backside of the controller, can be removed for a lighter holding experience. If you are one of those people that took out the vibration motors in your controller, than this is a feature you will definitely enjoy.
In direct comparison to the Onza, I have to say that holding the MLG-Mad Catz Controller felt a little more natural. The Razer Onza took a little while to get used to holding, but I’ve grown to love the design over time. The form factor has a “Razer” type of feel, with sharper edges along the top of the controller and on the left and right wings of the controller. The biggest inconvenience lies in the sharp edges near the multi-function buttons on the top portion of the controller. Manipulating your fingers on the shoulder buttons can be cumbersome and in rare instances painful if you graze those sharp corners. I think out of the box the MLG-Mad Catz controller may be more user friendly in terms of adjusting your hands to the controller.
Modular Sticks vs Adjustable Tension
Razer innovated, but Mad Catz may have one upped them with the modular design. Essentially each analog stick can be interchanged with another, effectively eliminating the need to buy a completely new controller because of one bad analog stick. The practice of interchanging analogs is actually quite popular in the custom controller market and it’s a smart move on Mad Catz end to mimic the practice. In addition to swapping out “new” analogs for old ones, Mad Catz is also going as far as enabling consumers the ability to change the “type” of analogs (i.e. tension, grip, PS3 analog, or Xbox 360 analog) for each slot. The D-Pad will also see the same type of customization options. Gamers will have the ability to select between a D-Pad that is similar to the Xbox 360, one better designed for fighters, and the standard Playstation D-Pad. The one issue that I happened to notice is that there is a slight grind when turning to the right in the current analog models (and was noted in advance) before I even put my fingers on the analog. Mad Catz is aware of the issue and I was told it will be resolved in the final build of the controller. I received word that the grinding issue has been resolved in the latest version, but I have not personally confirmed.
Razer’s adjustable tension is one of the staple features of the controller. The ability to fine tune the resistance of the analog’s movement against the force of your thumb’s movement is very cool conceptually and it delivers on some fronts. The issue that I ran into with the adjustable tension is that it caused an imbalance in the turning speed from one direction to the other. The end result created the same effects as Slow Turn and I’ve deviated away from using the function all together. As I mentioned, Mad Catz is also offering different analogs with various tension levels. If the tension gear that controls the Onza’s analogs is non-existent in the MLG-Mad Catz controller, Mad Catz may offer the first true analog experience that allows for truly uninhibited “No Slow” gameplay. Fellow editor and gaming teammate @Skyzyn uses the Onza Standard Edition controller to avoid this issue and actually prefers the analog sticks on the Standard Edition over the Tournament Edition. The analog ‘s grip on both the Standard Edition and the Tournament Edition are good, but there is always room for improvement. And the Onza D-Pad is a step in the right direction, but I’m not sure it fits for a wide variety of genres — it is definitely a savior for Gears of War. NOTE: I have yet to test the MLG-Mad Catz “tension” analogs, I only know that they do exist.
The biggest perk and potentially the biggest nuisance for Mad Catz modular design is that there are literally a ton of options. During my controller playtest, I explained how I enjoyed the “grip” on the Kontrol Freeks because it uses more grooves on the top of the analog than the standard “four” used on the MS Xbox 360 controller. The ability to swap out the analog sticks based on tension and the grip is either going to be a blessing to the competitive community or too overwhelming. Trying a few different tension analogs or a different style of grip is also interrupting to the flow of your gameplay. Not to mention, I would be very upset if we were practicing or in the middle of a major match and my teammate said, “Hey I don’t like this tension, I need to switch analogs.” Finding the right tension level can also be a problem for Onza users, but they don’t have to completely change analog sticks. The key here will be pricing, I would hate to pay an arm and a leg for parts that continually wear down and need to be replaced, but I do like that this prevents me from buying a brand-new controller if an analog stick goes bad. If the adjustable tension in the Razer Onza goes out, you’re looking at dropping another $50 on the controller. At the end of the day, it honestly does not matter because both controllers need to resolve Slow Turn. Heck, if the analogs were self cleaning, never wore down and made me a cup of hot chocolate, it all would be for naught if they did not resolve Slow Turn.
Membrane vs. Mechanical
After holding the Mad Catz controller, playing around with all the buttons and asking questions pertaining to what’s “under the hood.” I was informed that it is basically the same as a standard Microsoft issued Xbox 360 controller for the Face and shoulder buttons. The Face buttons (A,X,Y,B) are fitted with membrane technology and the shoulder buttons use mechanical switches. It’s not that membrane technology is bad per say, I understand that Mad Catz and MLG feel that some games may heavily rely on pressure-based control schemes, but honestly I don’t think that membrane technology represents the type of gaming audience that will more than likely purchase the controller; not to mention issues with “sticky” buttons are more likely to occur in membrane controllers. As far as the shoulder buttons go, I mentioned the Left and Right shoulder buttons on the Mad Catz controller use mechanical switches, as do standard MS controllers. What I specifically like about Mad Catz shoulder buttons is that there is this level of quality that I haven’t seen in other controllers. It’s almost too difficult for me to describe in words, but it definitely feels superior to the MS controller and the Razer Onza’s shoulder buttons. All-in-all I can’t argue with Mad Catz approach in membrane technology because they feel it will cater to a larger audience and a wider variety of games.
Now the Onza uses mechanical switches on the Face buttons and both sets of shoulder buttons. In my experiences with games that are pressure sensitive, the pressure input simply involves either a short press or a long press of a specific button. The Onza’s mechanical Face buttons work as effectively for pressure sensitive, in-game actions as a standard Xbox 360 controller. So the basis for Mad Catz not using a more up-to-date technology is a little puzzling. Now the shoulder buttons on the Onza take quite awhile to become accustom to using across a multitude of games. For starters there are two sets of shoulder buttons; the front set operate as the Multi-Function Buttons which are controlled by two small buttons on the back side of the controller. The back set operate as the standard shoulder buttons that are ordinarily recognized as the standard Xbox 360 controller “bumpers.” The Onza shoulder buttons can literally be suicidal (in shooters) until you become accustom to how close the buttons are located. Mis-presses occur frequently during the first few weeks breaking in the controller. Now here’s the the catch — I am hooked on the Onza because there is absolutely no replacing the multi-function buttons, especially in shooters. It would be hard for me to make the switch to any controller knowing that most First-Person shooters heavily utilize the “A” button to jump and I don’t need to take my thumb off of the analog with the Onza. I’m almost always aiming and ready to move with an Onza that can’t be said for the MLG-Mad Catz controller.
It’s all about personal preference on the button style; I personally think that Mechanical switches are better for gaming in general. Within the last few years we’ve seen a lot more “mechanical” keyboards because the input actions are executed faster than membrane technology. Immediately after I made the switch to my Onza, I fell in love with the Hyperresponse buttons. Membrane controllers just “feel” outdated, not to mention there aren’t too many games that even call for extensive “pressure” sensitive actions. The MLG-Mad Catz controller also doesn’t utilize “multi-function” buttons. It may be a difficult hurdle to overcome for the people that have become too comfortable with that feature.
The Mad Catz triggers closely resemble that of the standard Xbox 360 controller. The spring in the model that I toyed around with had an overabundance of resistance, to the point that it fatigued my finger in the span of a few simultaneous presses (simulating semi-automatic weapon fire). I was assured that it will be fixed in the final build of the controller. The placement and overall design of the triggers felt spot on and my fingers rested well on both the left and right triggers. It felt much more natural than my initial experience with Onza. As long as the spring is changed, early adopters will make an easy transition.
Mad Catz definitely has the correct trigger design, my biggest gripe with the triggers on the Onza is that it doesn’t feel like they were created to really cater towards shooters. Not that the shooting community should take priority, but “triggers” were implemented as a better control scheme for the shooting genre, why not make them the best possible triggers for that genre? At the time that I questioned the design on the Onza triggers, I was informed that the gamers that enjoy racing games felt that the current trigger design is better suited. This may sound a little brash, but in what country are racing games played more than shooters in Console Gaming? The odd thing is that the triggers are one of the most frequented complaints I have personally received, validating my feelings towards the design they chose. It takes quite an amount of extensive play time to get used to the feel of the triggers while the Mad Catz triggers currently possess a much more natural fit and design. Even after becoming acclimated to using the Onza triggers, I currently find myself using a slightly different finger positioning to make up for the discomfort. The trigger design for the Mad Catz controller should please most of you.
Early Analysis and Last Words
Mad Catz has a lot on the line with this controller. Knowing their history and perceived reputation, coupled with the fanatical and passionate competitive gaming community could mean disaster. I honestly do not think Mad Catz can afford to mess this product up. The big factor is going to be whether or not they minimize how many defective units are produced and how swiftly they handle customers that have defective products. The absolute worst case scenario would be if the product is on high demand and customers have issues that must be resolved, but are waiting weeks or months for new units. The other potential problem that worries me is the screw in attachment for the double-braided nylon cord uses, I believe, a 6-pin input at the end of the cord. They looked a little thicker than most, but anything with “pins” scares me to death because of how easily they traditionally bend. I can guarantee there will be a group of people that are continually going to bend those pins and their controller won’t work correctly. I’m calling this early, but don’t EVER unscrew that wire after it’s been attached. I’m also concerned with the price. To be blunt, I would find it difficult to purchase a controller over $100 and I hope they aren’t aiming it above that price. You have to think in addition to the up front cost your spending on the controller, you’ll likely be contributing to supplemental sales further down the line. The various types of analog sticks and customizing the faceplate design are definitely selling points that Mad Catz wants to emphasize.
Where am I most confident with the MLG-Mad Catz controller? It’s not actually with Mad Catz, but with Major League Gaming because they have a score to settle with Razer. I support the heck out of Razer and the Onza is hands down my controller of choice, but the war started when MLG prematurely banned the Onza, then the publicized antics ensued. I think both MLG and Mad Catz realize the potential for being able to nail a high-quality controller in the competitive gaming market and now there is a bit of a competition to make things interesting. Razer currently has the headstart in the premium controller market, however it would seem that they may be struggling with some of the very same issues that plague every other third-party manufacturer that has produced controllers in the last 15 years — durability. It’s one thing for a few instances to occur and a few people complain about the controller, however it is a completely different ordeal when the people close to you have numerous issues on multiple controllers. My teammates, co-workers, gaming friends and those that have in some way or another been able to contact me about the Onza have made quite the fuss about the durability issues with the controller. The good news for Razer is that they don’t have a track record for producing low-end, low-quality products. Razer may lose out on new potential customers if those customers are hearing bad comments from their gaming friends that happen to be on their second or third Onza controller. That may or may not work in Mad Catz favor, it really depends on what the feedback is like after the MLG-Mad Catz controller releases. As I previously mentioned, Mad Catz simply cannot afford to have issues with controller malfunctions — it simply cannot happen. The Onza’s price point is already tough to challenge, so Mad Catz will have to make a damn near flawless product.
If Mad Catz and Major League Gaming manage to convince some of the big personalities to use their controller, I think we’ll see exactly what happened with Astro Gaming and the A40 headset. Gradually there will be a mass adoption and everyone else will be playing catch up to add similar features while simultaneously producing higher quality products. In a direct address to Mad Catz: we need an Apple in the gaming industry! I’ve said it once and I’ll continue to harp on it until I feel that the issue is properly addressed. You cannot make this controller and continue to produce controllers like the “Pro Call of Duty” controller — it’s anti-climatic. The controller sucks, feels cheap, and I think you do the gaming industry injustice by settling on products that are low-end on the quality totem pole. Set precedents like you are attempting to do with the MLG-Mad Catz controller and watch as other companies look to improve their products and in turn force you to continue to improve your products. In the end, consumers will win and we will all be happier.
MLG Mad Catz Features vs Razer Onza Features
MLG-Mad Catz Controller
- Modular design in the same form factor
- Multiple “types” of analogs and D-pads
- Key components can be replenished
- Can be easily customized for personalized designs
- Adjustable weight
- Rubberized grips on the side (were not on the model I saw)
- Double-Braided Cable screw-in cable
- Remapping Multi-Function Shoulder Buttons
- Adjustable Tension on the Analog Sticks
- Hyperresponse Face buttons (mechanical switches)
- Improved D-Pad (over standard Xbox 360 controller)
- Rubberized Finish
- Double-Braided Cable