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Maybe you heard, Mad Catz is back from the dead. And so far it’s been a rousing return! We looked at the return of the famed R.A.T. earlier this year and came away impressed. Sure, it’s not to everyone’s taste, but you won’t find a mouse that modular anywhere else. It’s a unique design, befitting a comeback.
But the S.T.R.I.K.E.? I admit, I don’t have the same nostalgia for Mad Catz’s keyboard efforts. Nevertheless, we went hands-on with the Strike 4 (because there’s no way in hell I’m typing that as a faux-acronym every time) to see whether Mad Catz could become a multi-market threat, or whether it should stick to mice to avoid a second bankruptcy.
Note: This review is part of our best gaming keyboards roundup. Go there for details about competing products and how we tested them.
The market may have largely moved on from the “gamer” aesthetic that dominated peripherals for years, but Mad Catz has not. The Strike 4 is brand new, but in many respects looks like a relic from 2011 or so. The prominent Mad Catz logo along the bottom edge is fine, but the adjacent cyberpunk-looking circuit-board nonsense is completely unnecessary. The shape is edgy and aggressive as well, and while I’m sure some people enjoy that style, I, for one, don’t.
Not generally, anyway. I admit, I actually liked Mad Catz’s design efforts with the Rat, stating in my review, “The Rat goes to such an extreme, I find myself drawn to it. It’s ugly and unrefined, but in a way that feels purposeful and raw and intriguing.”
The Strike 4 “matches” the Rat, but it doesn’t achieve the same sense of purpose, doesn’t ask the user to question why a keyboard’s constructed the way it is, or whether we could perhaps create a better keyboard by divorcing form and function. Not in the slightest. It’s just a normal-looking keyboard with some awkward angles.
But you know what? Mad Catz once put out the Strike 7, a keyboard that looks like Megatron lost a fight with a garbage disposal. So count your blessings we got the Strike 4, I suppose. It could be worse.
In fact, all things considered, the Strike 4 is a solid effort from Mad Catz. The uneven edge along the front, those garish lines, and even the squat typeface on the keys—again, all harkening back to gaming keyboards circa 2011—are, in the end, aesthetic criticisms, and wholly subjective.
Setting those things aside, my only real complaint is the lack of media keys. Worse, volume controls are double-mapped to F2 through F4. Omitting dedicated media keys is already a serious misstep given how prevalent they’ve become, but to then design a gaming keyboard where adjusting volume—easily the most important function—requires both hands? That’s a major annoyance.
The exposed metal backplate is thoroughly modern though, and gives the Strike 4 a pretty sleek profile. Mad Catz is also to be commended for going with real Cherry MX switches. That’s surprising, given Mad Catz’s reputation for less-than-stellar quality. Deserved or not, I assumed Mad Catz would be a prime candidate for Kailhs, Gaterons, or some other Cherry MX knockoff.
The presence of the Cherry MX Reds probably explains why the Strike 4 lists for $130. It’s a questionable move, as it puts Mad Catz into a weird no-man’s-land at that price point—too expensive to be entry-level, but not premium enough to compete in the $150-plus tier.
Still, as a Cherry MX devotee it was a pleasant surprise to see Mad Catz stick with a reliable classic. I’ve grown to love some of the Cherry knockoffs over the years, but it’s still weirdly reassuring whenever the real deal shows up.
Cherry’s RGB lighting is also top-tier, though, per usual, the “stem” design relegates the backlight to the top of the keys. Thus the double-mapped Function keys are only half-illuminated—and only the F1 through F12 bits, at that. The important parts (like the volume controls) are dark, which can be frustrating at night.
And since this is the first Mad Catz keyboard we’ve reviewed since the brand’s resurrection, it’s worth taking a quick look at the software end. One annoyance, up front: All of Mad Catz’s software is segmented. Every version of the Rat has a different software install, as does every model of the Strike. It keeps the size down perhaps, but feels very outdated.
Nevertheless, it works. The Strike software is very basic, but has the usual selection of rainbow-colored presets. Some of the names are questionable, like “Lighting By Click” and “Swift Lighting Jump,” but you can usually parse the intent. There are some oddities though. Software colors don’t always match up with the real-world colors, with bold primary colors generally showing up as Easter pastels for me. The process for setting up per-key custom lighting is also a bit weird, hidden under the inconspicuous “Game Setting” preset.
Oh, and the macro interface is inscrutable at first glance. I’ve never seen the word “Uptop” used to refer to moving an action to the top of a queue before, and clicking on “Clear” results in a dialogue box that says, “Really need to clear the macro action?” A little localization work could go a long way here.
It’s perfectly functional though. Not the prettiest software, nor the most intuitive, but presumably you won’t spend much time in it after the initial setup.
The Strike 4 is a perfectly fine keyboard but nothing about it really stands out. I find that disappointing. The Rat mouse is so weird and unique, and I wish Mad Catz could inject that same quality into its keyboard offerings.
There’s a lot of competition nowadays, plenty of it cheaper than the Strike 4’s $130 list price. Mad Catz’s strength is that it can get away with trying all sorts of weird ideas, and it should use that to its advantage. I’m not asking for an experiment so bold it’s unusable, a la the aforementioned Strike 7—but something to point to and say, “Only Mad Catz would try this,” lest it become another also-ran peripherals company.