Air Hockey

Air Hockey

Retro Coin Op Synopsis

Imagine yourself floating on a cushion of air, gliding and spinning without effort, all in a state of virtual weightlessness. Now imagine being thwacked by a circular fiberglass mallet over and over again. Congratulations. You’ve now lived the life of an Air Hockey puck.

Ice hockey enthusiast Bob Lemieux (and with a last name like Lemieux, how could you not be an ice hockey enthusiast?) dreamed up this popular table game for billiards manufacturers Brunswick back in 1972. Almost instantly, the craze spread across the country, and eventually to the world. Money tournaments sprang up, professional organizations were formed, and an arcade classic was born.

The game itself was utter simplicity: Using the hand-held, circular “mallets,” players on opposite ends of a table tried to knock a thin, round puck into their opponent’s goal slot. Each goal earned a point, and games were generally played to seven. What made Air Hockey so innovative were the thousands of tiny holes covering the table, each blasting out a steady stream of air. Riding this blanket of air, the puck literally glided across the table, and the lack of friction meant high-speed action for the Air Hockey competitors.

The game prospered through the rest of the 1970’s, as other manufacturers began producing their own tables and equipment. With its one-on-one competition, Air Hockey was perfect for tournament play, and enthusiasts made sure that the tables were packed on weekend nights.

With the coming of the video game era in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Air Hockey suffered a bit of a setback. It was a simple matter of economics: Three video game cabinets could fit in the same space as one Air Hockey table, leaving many arcade owners with no choice but to pull the plug on this table game favorite.

As video games entered a downswing in the mid-80’s, Air Hockey staged a comeback. Most video games (excepting the occasional Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga or Centipede) had a popular life of a year or two, maybe even a few months, before they started to collect more dust than quarters. Air Hockey, however, still drew the same faithful following it always had, playing the faithful Tortoise to video games’ speedy, but inconsistent Hare.

Today, Air Hockey and video games have managed to achieve a peaceful co-existence, living side by side in most arcades. New table designs, some engineered for speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour (130 kilometers per hour), have maintained the game’s popularity, and professional organizations like the United States Air-Table-Hockey Association (USAA) continue to organize tournaments on a regular basis.

In the fickle world of the arcade, Air Hockey’s enduring success is a testament to the appeal of simple competition. Unlike video games, there is never a computerized opponent in Air Hockey. The game requires at least two living, breathing human beings (and one abused puck) to play, and that’s something that still can’t be beat, even with a fiberglass mallet.

Arcade Machine Release History

1972 - Air Hockey - Brunswick

Arcade Game Sub Categories

table games

Machine Manufacturer

Brunswick, others

Other Arcade Game Links