Hands-On: The Hit Box Cross|Up feels like cheating, but isn’t

The guys over at Hit Box Arcade are known for designing specialty game controllers that make playing games easier without breaking any rules. Their classic Hit Box turns inputs you would normally enter on a JoyStick or D-Pad into digital buttons, which made complex fighting game inputs trivial. Their new Hit Box Cross|Up, however, gives you an unprecedented amount of control over your game and can be used for far more than just fighting games. First prototyped in 2019 and only now being made available to the public, Hit Box Arcade was nice enough to send me a Cross|Up off their first official production run to try out. So what’s all the hype about?

The Cross|Up looks, for the most part, like a traditional joystick. Stick to the left, buttons to the right, we have seen this formula before. However, you may notice extra buttons, and that’s where the genius of this stick design lies. Those buttons are mapped to parts of a traditional game controller that usually don’t put on an arcade stick.

Take a look at any standard game controller. They all look the same these days. You have a d-pad, two analog sticks, some face buttons, some triggers, and menu buttons. Now take a look at any standard arcade stick. The face buttons, triggers, menu buttons, and a single joystick are there, but what about the other joystick and d-pad?

Most arcade sticks are used for fighting games and fighting games tend to not use the d-pad and both analog sticks at once. So they just chop ‘em off! The joystick on an arcade stick is usually mapped to the d-pad alone and there is simply no way to access the right or left analog stick.

The Cross|Up changes all that. Its second set of buttons are, by default, mapped to the left analog stick while the joystick is mapped to the d-pad. This gives you access to both at once, which opens up some incredible possibilities.

Its simplest application is just to make standard fighting game inputs easier. Having a hard time hitting 360 throws without jumping? Just do a half circle and press an attack button along with the “up” secondary button and you’ll never jump again. Access to an extra set of directional buttons will also make instant air-dashing, wave dashing, and all sorts of advanced movement techniques easy as pie.

Stepping up one level, the Cross|Up gives you access to certain techniques that can only be done with access to two sources of directional input. For example, pad players that are adept at finger gymnastics can hold back on the d-pad and forward on the analog stick at the same time to get an opposing directional input while standard arcade stick players cannot. This allows them to do things like throw a Sonic Boom with Guile and immediately start charging another one at frame one.

Or here we have the recently discovered Guilty Gear -Strive- “shuffle” which requires you to hold back and forward at the same time and activate faultless defense. It catapults you across the map in neutral for the expenditure of a small amount of meter. This is only accessible on a controller that can press one direction on a d-pad and another on an analog stick.

“But wait!” you might scream. “That’s not intended by the developers!” Well, yeah. Most high-level fighting game concepts aren’t intended by devs. They are emergent techniques discovered by fans. Unless techniques like this are specifically banned at tournaments, pad users will use them. The Cross|Up just grants stick users access to them as well.

That’s the beauty of the Cross|Up. It’s not letting you do anything you couldn’t do on a standard pad. It, by definition, cannot be illegal unless pads are as well.

What if I told you the Cross|Up can take things a little bit further? This is where things get super advanced. The Cross|Up can store different control schemes in onboard memory, which are accessed by holding a button while plugging it in. There are several default control schemes built around different fighting games, but you can use the bundled software to set up any control scheme you want. Want to devote all your buttons to Zangief’s standing 720? You can do that.

There’s also a switch that determines how the unit treats simultaneous opposing directions (some tournaments ban these sorts of inputs so it’s good to be able to turn them off) both for right-left and up-down. On top of that, there is a port for external controllers, including a Nunchuck port, you know, for the Wii? That way you can have an analog stick in one hand and buttons in your left if that’s your Jam.

All of this probably sounds like pro-fighting gamer mumbo-jumbo. Yes, I admit it, we are weirdos who will drop hundreds of dollars on a specialty controller for only one type of game, and while we might not be as crazy as, say, the sim racing community and their thousand-plus dollar rigs, a couple of hundred dollars is still a lot to spend on just one game genre. Why would anyone other than the hardest of hardcore be interested in the Cross|Up?

What if I told you that all video games used to be controlled with arcade joysticks and that the Cross|Up can take us there again? You see, games in other genres tend to use everything on the controller, that is, the d-pad and both analog sticks. Since the Cross|Up allows you to map these on your arcade stick, it renders many games that used to be unplayable on an arcade stick playable once more. In fact, it comes with control schemes for two popular Nintendo games: Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild.

Another great feature of the Cross|Up? It’s console agnostic, which is a fancy way of saying it works on every console. Plug it into your Switch, and it works just fine. Plug it into a PS4, Xbox One, or PC, and it works just fine! The only thing it doesn’t work on is PS5 exclusive games, but it will work on any game booted in PS4 mode on the PS5. Unfortunately, there are no native PS5 sticks on the market right now and the Cross|Up is no exception. Hopefully, Sony will fix this software side by the time Guilty Gear -Strive- comes out.

I’ve gone on at length about the upsides of the Hit Box Cross|Up, but what about the downsides?

Well, first of all, this big boy is heavy. Like REALLY heavy. Like, the heaviest arcade stick I currently own. It comes with a carrying case, and you are going to need it because this is not the most trivial thing to transport.

Second, the included quick-release cable is just a little bit short for my taste. It works just fine if you are sitting right up close at a computer monitor, but it stretches an unfortunate amount if you are sitting on a couch in front of a living room TV.

Finally, the lowest button on the Cross|Up is in an awkward place. I actually find myself accidentally fat-fingering it often, simply because my thumb rests where the button is. Personally, I don’t have an issue as I simply disable that button in all my control schemes, but of course, that means I have one less button to work with.

Other than that, I can’t honestly find a flaw with the Cross|Up. I initially thought that all the hype surrounding using this with traditional games and not just fighters was overblown, but it’s really proven itself. This is now my default controller and remains plugged into my PC at all times. I use it for everything, from platformers to shooters, and my gameplay has improved dramatically. Seriously! Try using it in combination with a mouse for an experience that KBAM just can’t match.

This is simply one of the best feeling controllers I have ever gotten my hands on and you should try it out for yourself… when you get the chance. Unfortunately, orders still aren’t open to the public just yet, but they should be opening up soon. Keep your eyes on the official Hit Box website for news on when and where it will be sold.