I spent the better part of a year traveling for work. I was on a plane twice a week and lived in hotels, and always in tow were my Xbox 360 and Mad Catz TE-S FightStick. Since the fantastic Mad Catz FightStick Carrier bag didn’t exist at the time, I used an Evo messenger bag which was unpadded but fit the stick — except for the protruding stick ball which gave the bag a definitive bag boner look and caused more than a couple issues with stick performance. While the FightStick Carrier bag is definitely well designed and provides ample protection for your TE stick, it’s large and somewhat proprietary so those looking to rock a Hori stick or to travel light would be out of luck. Enter The Link Quick-Release JLF Shaft replacement mod from PhreakMods.
The purpose of The Link is to replace the JLF shaft in your existing arcade stick with one that allows detachment of the ball top. When detached, the only protrusion comes from the buttons and allows for your arcade stick to pack for travel wherever you could fit a dictionary or a mid-90s laptop. Installation was very easy and went from unpacked to installed in less than ten minutes. The only tools required are a 3mm hex key (included), a slotted screw driver, and a Philips screw driver. The Philips screw driver is only needed if you wish to remove your joystick for installation, which I would recommend. The slotted screw driver is needed to remove the ball top. From there it was simply a matter of popping off an e-clip, removing a spring cover and spring, and swapping the JLF shaft. You will have to remove the bottom dust washer to use The Link.
After installation, I put my TE-S FightStick back together and tested it in Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition v. 2012, and Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3. I went through about a dozen trials in each game and then played in arcade mode for approximately thirty minutes per game. I saw absolutely no difference in effectiveness or performance of the stick with The Link installed. The only thing I did notice, and I verified this with several other FightSticks, is that there is a noticeable amount of play in the stick with The Link in place. Again, I didn’t notice any false inputs or input lag, and I have seen no complaints about The Link among users at top level play.
Although I found The Link to be a very clever and useful product, using it does come with a caveat. When your stick and ball top are removed, there is a substantial opening that could allow lint and dust to get inside the stick base. PhreakMods suggests that a 24mm button plug will work if you remove the snaps. They also point out that the material can be magnetized to allow users to get creative with how they keep the opening covered. One important note is that you should never attempt to lift or carry your arcade stick by the ball or bat top with The Link installed. While it is guaranteed never to come loose during play, there are limits to the strength of the connector and it could come apart when supporting the full weight of the stick.
Aside from the minor inconveniences introduced by installing The Link, it is a very well made product and solves a rather annoying issue for anyone who travels with their arcade stick. I would highly recommend this for anyone looking to safely transport their stick without risking damage to the joystick itself. Hopefully the next version will include some sort of custom fit cap and possibly address the issue of the stick feeling loose after installation. [UPDATE: Clayton of PhreakMods has said he is aware of the slight looseness issue and is working on a fix in the next revision.]