Basketball games (mechanical)

Basketball games (mechanical)

Retro Coin Op Synopsis

Since the advent of the penny arcade, basketball games have been munching the coins of wannabe hoop shooters. Some operated on puffs of air, others with flippers, others with mechanical levers, and still others with more advanced electronics, but the nature of the game remained the same: trying to get that little ball (or balls) through a netted hoop.

In the 1920’s and 30’s, manufacturers like Bally and A.M. Emenheiser released mechanical basketball games to test players’ skills. Players controlled color-coded holes that lined the floor of the glass-enclosed court. When the ball landed in the red holes, the red player could pop it back out, trying to launch it into the blue player’s hoop, and vice versa. The concept was updated several times through the late 1930’s and early 40’s in games like Bally Baskets, then resurfaced in a handful of hit 60’s and 70’s basketball games (more on that later).

The next wave of basketball games arrived in the form of Chicago Coin’s 1947 smash, Basketball Champ. Completely reinventing the concept of coin-op basketball games, Basketball Champ gave a single player control of a metal figurine with one mission: swish the long ball. A squeeze of the handle-grip launched the ball toward the basket, hopefully avoiding the metal defender that stood in its way.

Basketball Champ was a long-time arcade favorite, inspiring other companies to try their own variations. Of these, Genco’s 1954 creation Two Player Basketball is probably the best remembered. Instead of one player working against an inhuman defender, the game pitted two human competitors against each other in a shooting duel. Four different hoops were available to shoot at, each with a varying point value (from two to eight) that changed during the course of the game. Each player’s handle-grip rotated, allowing the metal b-ballers to aim at any hoop they chose. With these new features and the thrill of one-on-one competition, Two Player Basketball was another mammoth success.

Chicago Coin released its own two-player version of Basketball Champ, titled Pro Basketball, in 1961. The game scored well with players, but it was one of the last hits of its kind. Exidy tried to revive the old-school mechanical fun with 1976’s Old Time Basketball, but children of the emerging video game era weren’t willing to give the retro-styled machine a try.

Other types of basketball games were released during Basketball Champ’s reign as well, including flipper-style games like Victory’s Professional Basketball in 1947. The original color-coded hole games managed to hold on as well, thanks to Richmond Corp.’s Set-Shot Basketball and a handful of others. But the renaissance of that style of basketball game didn’t arrive until the mid-1960’s. Midway Basketball, released in 1964, brought the hole-filled playing field into the emerging trend of dome games. A number of holes lined the uneven court, and players on opposite ends of the dome tried to be the first to launch the ball out, using a numbered series of push-buttons on their control panels.

In the early 70’s, Sega’s Basketball used a similar formula to Midway Basketball’s, finding great success even in a Pong-obsessed world. Sadly, it was a last hurrah for mechanical basketball games, which have now completely given way to video hits like NBA Jam and traditional (or non-traditional) hoop-shooting games with full-sized hoops and balls. The old-school games still fetch a high price at auctions, however, proving the enduring appeal of these mechanical classics.

Arcade Machine Release History

1937 - Bally Baskets - Bally
1947 - Basketball Champ - Chicago Coin
1947 - Professional Basketball - Victory
1954 - Two Player Basketball - Genco
1961 - Pro Basketball - Chicago Coin
1964 - Midway Basketball
1976 - Old Time Basketball - Exidy

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