In an initial draft of this review of the first collaboration between accessory maker Mad Catz and publisher Namco Bandai, I overused the word "satisfying" when describing the experience of using the arcade fightstick they sent over. My need for a thesaurus aside, that's precisely the feeling that comes with using this hefty—and pricey—new controller for your ever-expanding collection of fighting games, and there's an obvious level of love and care that's gone into crafting what can only be described as an arcade-perfect controller.
The first thing you'll notice about the Soul Edition stick is that it's got a bit of weight to it. According to its Amazon product page, with packaging it weighs a little under 22 lbs. (and the lovely box it comes in isn't exactly heavy). What this means in a practical sense is that you're probably not going to be keeping this one in your lap too much while playing your favorite fighter.
That's not to say you couldn't: with its metal base, you'd imagine that it might be a little uncomfortable, but the smooth surface can accommodate you on that front if that's your particular play style. For everyone else, the controller can be firmly secured to whatever playing surface you choose to use it on by the sturdy rubber stoppers on the bottom. Besides providing the weighty controller with a simple feeling of stability, this also lends to the overall impression of a sit down arcade experience. It's a wired controller, which might turn some of you off, but the USB cord folds nicely into a compartment in its front and you've got about 13 feet of cable if you need to get far away from the TV.
Back to that word "satisfying" again: both the buttons and the stick itself have a very familiar, very welcome feel of the best kind of arcade cabinets with the best elements of the home control experience. To the former, the buttons are large with responsive input, without any excessive noise when you're hammering away at commands because, oh man, guys, that online player using Voldo is totally cheating. According to the specs on the official product page, this is the "Namco Noir" layout, and while I didn't know there was a name for it, the button layout does have that slightly arced style in Namco arcade cabinets. The stick is the strongest element of the whole controller, though, generating a "click" as it catches in the cardinal grooves in which its set. Again, I'll refer you to that product page which insists this was made from arcade cabinet-style parts, although I'll have to take their word for it, based on the quality on display here, I don't have any doubts about that.
The Start and Back buttons are located on the front side of the controller, presumably to avoid accidental pauses during gameplay, but in practice means you might have to search out both buttons when you need to quickly back out to the menu for some reason. The Xbox guide button lives in a small section at the upper left of the controller with the Turbo functions and controller locks (which allow you to turn off the guide and the turbo, respectively). This whole section takes up such a small part of the overall real estate for the controller, though, that I think the lock might have been overkill provided for only the most paranoid players. This same section also has a switch that allows you to switch between left and right stick controls in case you want to use your controller for titles that aren't just fighting games.
Presentation-wise: this thing is nice without being too ostentatious. Its sides are translucent hard plastic while the top is a colorful, slick SCV graphic. This surface seems to be made of sturdy stuff and doesn't scuff at the first sign of a little abuse. The overall impression is one of solid construction with a little bit of visual flair thrown in to distinguish you at tournaments or simply if you take the controller to a friend's house. The whole shebang comes in a stylish art box with a viewing window that you might be hard-pressed to throw away.
If I have one complaint, it's that the buttons might be a little large for some gamers with delicate, tiny mitts like my own. Note that I said "a little"—I'm not interested in softening my criticism or anything, but the button are slightly larger than expected, so it might take some gamers a little time to orient their finger position during matches. I'd advise you to practice a bit before going head-to-head with anyone just to get comfortable with the setup.
It's one of the nicest sticks on the market right now, hands-down. And with the resurgence of fighting games going on and the major enervation of the fighting game scene, you might need any advantage you can get.