Hey there guys and gals.
When I took an interest in getting a Retro-Bit Power Stick for my NES last month I did some searching around for reviews of it online, but all I could find were YouTube video reviews done by popular YouTubers who were sent the controller by Retro-Bit for review. Unfortunately none of the people doing the reviews were very knowledgable about what makes a good arcade stick and I got the distinct impression that they didn't spend more than 10 minutes or so using the controller before doing their review. With that in mind, I'd like to provide an honest and unpaid review of this controller so that others who might be interested in purchasing one will have a good idea of what to expect from it. After the review there will be a detailed upgrade guide for installing real arcade parts in the controller and some final thoughts on the upgraded controller as well. Let's get started!
Aesthetically speaking Retro-Bit did an outstanding job on their Power Stick. The casing looks just like the original NES Advantage arcade stick that it's design was based off of, minus the turbo fire and slow motion buttons that is. The gray color of the housing matches the gray of official NES controllers flawlessly, as does the red color of the buttons and text and the black color of the joystick and borders around the buttons. The whole thing just looks great, and the housing feels very solid as well. At 6 feet in length the controller's cord is a little shorter than the original NES controller cord, which was around 8 feet, but it gets the job done and the plug on the end of the cord fits quite securely in the NES's controller port.
When you pick it up though is when this controller starts to leave a bit to be desired. The first thing that those familiar with the original NES Advantage will notice is that the Retro-Bit Power Stick is very light weight, and it doesn't take long to figure out why. The original NES Advantage had a solid steel plate for the bottom panel, whereas the plate on the bottom of the Retro-Bit Power Stick is just a sheet of plastic. Fortunately the rubber feet on the bottom of the controller work extremely well, much better than the rubber feet on the original NES Advantage actually, so the controller will not slide around on a table during use. When sitting in your lap it does feel rather light, but on any flat surface it's rock solid.
Moving on to the joystick and buttons, that's where the main issues with this controller reside. The joystick is a clone of the highly regarded Sanwa JLF microswitched arcade joystick, but unfortunately it's not one of the better clones. The joystick that comes installed in the Retro-Bit Power Stick feels quite stiff and will likely give the user some wrist cramps after 10 or 15 minutes of pushing it around. It comes with a square gate installed in the restrictor plate, which isn't very ideal for playing Pac-Man and similar games that rely primarily on the cardinal directions (up, down, left, & right) but it gets the job done for most games. The buttons, which are generic 30mm microswitched buttons, fare a bit better. They do require quite a bit more force to press down and activate than premium arcade buttons like Sanwa and Seimitsu but they're not bad either, at least for the first few days.
After a week or so of use the buttons began to get stuck down from time to time and the joystick wasn't always responding to inputs, but I can't say I'm terribly surprised. Those familiar with real arcade components will be able to tell after just a few seconds of use that they joystick and buttons are just cheap imitations of real Sanwa and Seimitsu arcade parts, but that's actually not problem for me since this joystick was designed to be upgradable with real arcade parts and I purchased it with the intent to do just that. So, let's get to the upgrading!
For this upgrade I'll be going through the installation of a Sanwa JLF-TP-8Y-SK arcade joystick with an octagon gate and two Seimitsu PS-14-G arcade pushbuttons, though any 30mm size snap-in arcade button should work just as well. I'll also be swapping out the original joystick balltop for a slightly more nicely cast Sanwa brand balltop, though that step is completely optional and the original balltop is just fine if you don't mind the casting lines on it.
To get this upgrade started the first thing we need to do is remove the 6 screws from the plastic plate on the underside of the joystick, so get a small phillips head screwdriver ready.
Unfortunately only 1 screw is visible when you flip the controller over. To find the others you'll have to poke through the white quality control sticker and peel off the 4 rubber feet. Don't worry though, those feet have some seriously sticky glue on them and will stick back on very securely once we're done.
With the rubber feet and screws removed, we can set them aside and take a peek inside the little beast.
Now that we have the controller opened up you'll find it's a lot simpler inside than you may have imagined. Just one PCB, a couple snap-in style buttons with quick-disconnect leads running to them, and a Sanwa JLF clone joystick with one simple connector attaching it to the PCB. You can also see what I meant when I said that the joystick had a square gate in the restrictor plate by taking a look at the square cutout in the plate around the base of the joystick shaft. This square shaped gate makes it easy to reliably move the joystick in the diagonal directions, but not so easy to move the joystick up, down, left, or right precisely. That said, let's start by replacing the joystick.
First, insert a flathead screwdriver into the screw on the bottom of the joystick shaft to keep it in place while unscrewing the ball from the top of the joystick.
With the balltop now removed, to take the joystick itself out simply pull the connector off the left side and unscrew the two screws securing the joystick to the housing.
Now we can take a look at stock joystick compared to a real Sanwa JLF joystick. You'll notice that they're very similar in design, however the stock joystick has a different plastic shaft cover with no dustwasher, and the stock joystick has a slightly taller shaft as well.
If you're fond of the taller joystick shaft and it's proprietary shaft cover it's easy enough to remove the joystick shaft from the stock stick and install it in the Sanwa JLF stick, but I prefer the lower profile of the Sanwa joystick (which is much closer in size to the original NES Advantage joystick) so we'll be sticking with the regular Sanwa JLF parts for this upgrade. Before we install the Sanwa JLF joystick though we should take a minute to swap out the JLF's default square gate for an octagon shaped gate that will be much better suited to playing classic NES games with. To do this just flip over the JLF joystick and press the 4 circled tabs inward to pop the restrictor plate off.
With the restrictor plate removed now it's time to take the square gate insert out of the middle of the plate, which can be done by gently pressing upward on the insert from the underside of the plate while turing the two tabs on top counterclockwise.
To install the octagon gate insert in the restrictor plate just reverse the process, sliding the octagon gate insert into the top of the restrictor plate and pushing down gently while turing the gate clockwise until it clicks in place.
With the gate insert swap completed, snap the restrictor plate back on the bottom of the JLF joystick and we can move on to installing the completed joystick in the controller.
Now that we have an octagon shaped gate on our joystick it will make it much easier to precisely move the joystick in all 8 directions, since there is now a cutout for the joystick's shaft to come to rest in for every direction rather than just the 4 diagonal directions. To complete the joystick installation just place the Sanwa JLF's plastic shaft cover and dustwasher over the metal shaft on top of joystick then insert the joystick assembly into the controller's housing the same way you removed the original joystick, placing it over the two screw posts in the housing then reconnecting the joystick cable from the PCB and securing the joystick to the housing with the two screws. Once that's done just screw the original balltop (or a custom one of your choosing) onto the top of the joystick's shaft and tighten it down via the flathead screw on the bottom of the joystick shaft, then you're done with the joystick installation.
The last thing on our upgrade to-do list is swapping out the stock buttons for a couple real arcade 30mm snap-in buttons, so start by removing the 4 quick-disconnect connectors from the terminals on the bottom of the buttons. Don't worry about which terminal the black and red connectors were attached to, there's no polarity on these type of buttons so it doesn't matter which terminal the black or red wire is connected to. Next, squeeze the tabs on the sides of the buttons to pop them out through the top of the housing.
Now that we've got the original buttons out, let's install the new Seimitsu PS-14-G buttons on the left.
Just slide in the new buttons from the top the same way you removed the original buttons and... hey! What the heck!?
They don't fit! They're standard 30mm snap-in style arcade buttons so there's no reason they shouldn't fit, but there's no way they're going to fit. The holes are about 1.5mm too small to fit the buttons and no amount of force will get them in there. What did the instruction manual say about upgrading the buttons again?
Easily replace the joystick and buttons huh? Well, there's no way these new buttons are going to fit so let's e-mail Retro-Bit and see what they have to say about the matter. To their credit, it only took the representative from Retro-Bit a couple hours to reply to my question.
Alright, so they want you to use Sanwa brand buttons and some sanding may be required to get a perfect fit. For the time being I put the original buttons back in the controller's housing then placed an order for a couple Sanwa OBSF 30mm Snap-In Buttons from my preferred arcade parts supplier FocusAttack.com, and about 4 days later they arrived in the mail.
Alright, lets try this again...
Nope, Sanwa buttons don't fit either. Alright, I guess it's time to do some sanding! For this I'll be using a couple small metal hobby files though sandpaper would work just fine as well if you don't have any hobby files, it'll just be a little slower.
I decided to start with the B button hole, slowly and carefully filing away material from the inner rim of the hole. File off a little material, test the button to see if it fits, file a little more, test fit again, and so on. You can always take more off but it's a son of a gun to put it back on if you take too much off. After 3 or 4 minutes of filing and testing...
Success! Out of curiosity I decided to try the the Seimitsu buttons that I had originally purchased for this controller as well, and sure enough they fit too now...
...though I think I like the color and shape of the new Sanwa buttons a little better so I'll be sticking with them for this controller project. To give you an idea of how much material I had to remove to make the buttons fit, here's a view of the button holes from the top and the bottom. The B button hole has been filed out at this point but the A button has not. Keep in mind that the B button hole is on the left when viewed from the top but on the right when viewed from the bottom.
With the B button hole widened just enough to accommodate a 30mm snap-in arcade button, both the Sanwa and Seimitsu buttons snap in rock solid secure with no wobble or side to side movement at all. And don't worry if the filing work doesn't look perfectly even, the rims on the top of the buttons will cover up any imperfections along the edges of the button holes. As long as the new buttons fit securely that's what matters. That said, I did a little filing on the A button hole as well and would you look at that!
Alright, now that the new buttons are snapped in securely just connect the quick-disconnect connectors from the controller's PCB to the terminals on the bottom of the buttons, once again remembering that it doesn't matter which terminal the red or black wire connects to since there's no polarity to worry about here.
Now the final step is just putting the big plastic plate back on the bottom of the controller, but I quickly discovered that this controller's button problems weren't over just yet! As it turns out, both the Sanwa and Seimitsu 30mm arcade buttons are a little too tall to close up the controller with the plate on the bottom once they're installed. Fortunately, there's a fairly simple solution to this...
By carefully bending the terminals on the bottom of the buttons down towards the front of the joystick at about a 30° angle you can reduce the height of the buttons enough to close up the controller without any problems. Alternately, if you'd rather not mess with trying to bend the terminals on the buttons for fear of breaking them there are low profile arcade buttons such as the Seimitsu PS-15 buttons that are short enough to fit in the Retro-Bit Power Stick's housing without having to bend the terminals on the bottom, I just didn't have any on hand and didn't feel like ordering yet another set of buttons for this controller so I went the bendy route. With that, just put the plate back on the bottom of the controller, screw the 6 screws back down, stick the rubber feet back on (and they should still be plenty sticky enough to stay in place, mine were even after removing and re-installing them 4 times over the course of this project) and you're finally done!
So, after all that work what do I think of the Retro-Bit NES Power Stick? In short, it's the best darn NES arcade stick I've ever had the pleasure of using and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone willing to get their hand dirty doing the modding work. For a very affordable $52 ($25 for the Retro-Bit Power Stick and $27 for the Sanwa JLF Joystick, octagon gate, and Sanwa OBSF 30mm buttons) you get a controller that is leaps and bounds ahead of the original NES Advantage arcade stick in terms of parts quality and precision control. That's crazy affordable for an arcade stick with real arcade parts in it, as all my other arcade sticks with real arcade parts in them set me back a bare minimum of $150 to $200, and there's just no comparison between how well this upgraded Retro-Bit Power Stick controls and the original NES Advantage.
The counterpoint to all this praise is that in it's stock form the Retro-Bit Power Stick is actually a fair bit worse than the original NES Advantage in the control department, so if you're not comfortable with doing the modding work on it then I'd suggest spending $25 or $30 and investing in a used NES Advantage instead. With the modding work to install real arcade parts done the Retro-Bit Power Stick is an absolute beast of a controller and likely the best option there is for a readily available NES arcade stick, but without the real arcade parts it leaves a lot to be desired.
Lastly, if there was any feedback I could give to the designers at Retro-Bit for improving the Power Stick it would be to swap out the plastic plate on the bottom of the controller for a steel plate like the original NES Advantage had to give the controller some extra weight and enlarge the button holes just a tiny bit so that real 30mm arcade buttons fit without having to file or sand out the button holes. Other than that I think it's a wonderful project for NES enthusiasts who don't mind doing a little modding and I would love to see a 6-button Sega Genesis Power Stick produced some day. As it currently stands there are no Sega Genesis arcade sticks available that can be easily modified with real arcade parts, and there are certainly plenty of games on the system that could benefit from such a controller.
Having now completed the modding work I'm really thrilled with my Retro-Bit Power Stick and I may very well save up to buy and mod a second one at some point, because I can't think of a better way to enjoy Smash T.V. on the NES than with two of these beauties. Until then, best wishes and happy gaming to you and yours.
Edited by Jin, Sun Aug 12, 2018 3:35 AM.