Razer Kitsune controller review: Odd design choices for an already niche product

Leverless controllers for fighting games are all the rage these days, and the Razer Kitsune is just one of the many choices in the market.

The Razer Kitsune controller with its packaging on a wooden table.
The Razer Kitsune is a compact leverless controller made for fighting game players. (Photo: Yahoo Southeast Asia)

The Razer Kitsune leverless arcade controller is Razer's new product in their line of peripherals for fighting game fans.

Razer is one of the few mainstream gaming companies that produces products for fighting game players. The Razer Atrox and the Razer Panthera arcade sticks were beloved by the fighting game community (FGC) for years because of how robust they were for the Xbox and PlayStation consoles.

Fast-forward to 2023, and with the release of Street Fighter 6 and the PlayStation 5, Razer is once again attempting to create something special for the FGC in the form of the Razer Kitsune.

But did they really?

Moving away from traditional arcade sticks

Before we go into the product and details, for the uninitiated, leverless controllers are all the rave these days in fighting games.

Unlike arcade sticks of the past (and also arcade machines) that use a lever to control the directionals of your character on screen, the leverless controllers use buttons instead for control, much like a computer keyboard.

A Victrix Pro FS, Hori RAP N and a Razer Kitsune on a wooden table.
The Razer Kitsune is what the fighting game community call a leverless controller, an 'arcade stick' that does not use the traditional lever. (Photo: Yahoo Southeast Asia)

Theoretically, this improves execution (you are able to accidentally overshoot a certain direction on a lever) and also reduces 'travel time' when switching control directions, because, instead of moving the whole lever from left to right for example, you only need to press a button instead.

Top fighting game players like Daigo Umehara and Tokido of Street Fighter fame have fully transitioned to using a leverless controller, and although they have admitted that it was a steep learning curve (since these players needed to unlearn many years of playing fighting games with a lever), they have not looked back since.

The first mainstream leverless controller was the Hit Box, which is why you may sometimes hear these being called "Hitbox controllers".

So, what's up with the Razer Kitsune?

The Razer Kitsune is a thin and light controller, a complete opposite from the fat arcade sticks of the past. It has a full aluminium plate for its top, which gives it a very premium and robust feel for such a small device.

The buttons are also pretty nice to press, which contains Razer's low-profile optical switches that you can find on the Razer Deathstalker V2.

It comes with a USB-C to USB-A cable in the packaging to connect it to a PlayStation 5 or a PC, which you can lock in with a mechanism on the Kitsune to prevent the cable from being accidentally pulled out.

The Kitsune works extremely well on both platforms (sorry Xbox players), and you do not need to install Razer's, Synapse, to change the RGB on the device. Yes, you can manually change the RGB colours.

The device itself works flawlessly, and I actually have no issues with it at all.

It is extremely responsive in game and I have no gripes with its functionality........except for one major subjective point.

Odd button placement

Now, the major thing I want to highlight with the Razer Kitsune is the button layout of the device.

To preface this, this gripe is definitely a personal preference. But with the device being priced at S$459 in Singapore, or US$299 internationally, it is definitely not a cheap investment for a product.

If I were to spend this much money on a peripheral, I'd expect to not have any major gripes with it.

I want potential buyers to consider this design quirk before throwing your hard-earned cash at a Kitsune, and not ending up feeling like you've wasted your money in the end.

A typical leverless controller uses 11 24mm buttons and one 30mm button. A normal arcade stick with a lever uses 8 30mm buttons. Because of this, the buttons are spaced out in a way that accommodates these button sizes, as shown in the picture below.

A composite image of the Razer Kitsune against another leverless controller and an arcde stick with a lever.
The Razer Kitsune's button layout is more spacious than your typical leverless controller, and is almost spaced out like a typical arcade stick with 30mm buttons. (Photo: Yahoo Southeast Asia)

The Kitsune has 24mm buttons like a typical leverless, but is spaced out a little more.

In fact, it is spaced out almost like it has 30mm buttons, which makes absolutely no sense to me in terms of ergonomics. There is an abundance of empty space in between the buttons.

Granted, you have 'more' of the 24mm button to press, since the Kitsune's buttons do not have rims like your typical 24mm button, but I still do not understand the logic of the button spacing on the device because I still have to reach out a little bit more than a typical leverless to hit a button.

When I asked Razer for comment on this design choice, they responded with:

"We decided to spread our buttons out a bit more and also increase the button sizes a bit in order to create a less crammed layout. This makes the buttons easier to hit and allow players to execute combos more accurately, with less cramped hands over time."

Razer wanted to create a less crammed layout for this, but it in turn made it extremely hard for people with small hands (like me) to hit the buttons that I want to consistently.

The buttons are definitely not "easier to hit" because it really depends on the player and the size of their hands.

If you are someone who is used to playing on a leverless controller like a Hitbox, or something with a standard 24mm button layout, you will notice that the button spacing is definitely a little odd at first.

Moving back and forth between a conventional leverless and the Kitsune is a big no-no, since the button spacing is very different, and may affect your muscle memory.

Also, if you are really unfortunate like me (or skill-less, some might say), you will never get used to the button spacing. Even after using the Kitsune extensively and exclusively for two weeks, I still miss button presses due to the odd spacing and button sizes.

If Razer is certain that this is the button spacing that they wanted to go with, why didn't they slightly increase the button size to compliment this change?

This reduces the chances of missing a button press, since the buttons now are easier to hit because of the larger size. Right now, I still run the risk of hitting nothing because I may hit the space in between the buttons (which happens way too often for my liking).

There is a leverless button layout in the market called Shiokenstar layout, where the buttons are all 30mm buttons except for the directionals.

Personally, being someone who has used this layout, I find it easier to play fighting games on the Shiokenstar due to the button size, despite the more spread-out buttons.

The Razer Kitsune with another version of a all-button controller on a wooden table
The Shiokenstar button layout is very close to what the Razer Kitsune offers. (Photo: Yahoo Southeast Asia)

Should you buy the Razer Kitsune?

Like I mentioned earlier, the Kitsune is expensive. S$459 for a controller, albeit being a niche product, is not cheap. Everything about it screams quality, though, and it is a very good product despite its price.

But the biggest thing that you will need to consider will be its button placement. If you are someone that isn't able to get used to this, it will definitely affect your performance and enjoyment of the games that you play.

Not to mention, the buyers remorse for paying that much money for something you ultimately will not enjoy using.

However, if you are someone who is new to leverless controllers, have no prior experience with one, and are looking to purchase the Kitsune, I'd say go ahead and pull the trigger, as you won't have any preconceived notion on what a leverless should feel like.

You can buy the black Razer Kitsune on Razer's website for S$459.90 at the moment, or wait till 31 October 2023 if you would like to get the special edition versions with a Chun Li or Cammy design for S$509.90.

Dominic loves tech and games. When he is not busy watercooling his computer parts, he does some pro wrestling.

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