Every time I see a story about a cutting-edge video baseball game like Out of the Park Baseball 22 or MLB the Show 21, I’m jealous of the kids (and the grown kids) who can master this and other sports video games, but I think too : Yes, but we had Strat-O-Matic and Atari Home Run and Computer Baseball.
Not to mention Bas-Ket, Sure Shot Hockey, electric soccer and let’s not forget that little sign you hung on your bedroom door so you could play a raw game of one-on-one Nerf hoops with your little brother or your best friend told your mom or dad to turn it off and wash your hands because dinner is in five minutes and we’ve got pork chops and mashed potatoes and peas, so hurry up.
Some of those old-school games from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s rocked, but some of them sucked. They were awful. We told ourselves they were great.
Example: electric football. There was nothing electric about electric football other than the fact that you plugged it in. I got an electric soccer game for Christmas when I was about 10 or 11 and at that point it was the coolest gift I’ve ever gotten this side of a burnt orange Schwinn Sting-Ray bike, and I couldn’t wait for my cousins to follow stopped by the church so we could set up the game. Bears vs Vikings!
The metal field, which was scaled to the dimensions of a real football field, was a beautiful thing. The little players with their detailed uniforms were great. Each man was mounted on a green plastic base with pegs, and you could bend and twist the pegs so that a lineman would hold his ground or a running back to the left; at least that was the idea. Quarterbacks and kickers had movable parts so you could throw passes or try field goals; at least that was the idea. The ball itself used to be a small oval made of felt.
For each game you would line up your 11 players and your opponent would line up their 11 players and then you would flip the ON switch and the field would start shaking with a mighty roar, and 22 little soccer guys would go and go again, here and there, until one of the defending boys made contact with the ball carrier, and you would turn the switch off and then you would have to meticulously line up all those players AGAIN. Has anyone ever played a game of electric football? I think our limit was played about six times, including one wrong pass with the felt football, before breaking out the Hot Wheels.
Other old-fashioned sports were much more satisfying and exciting to play. With table hockey, you have cool metal guys painted in the uniforms of the Chicago Blackhawks or Boston Bruins or New York Rangers, and you had rods to control the defenders, forwards, center and goalkeeper. Those games would get so violent that the rink would move all over the place and bend the handles.
Even Sure Shot Hockey, table hockey’s simplified sibling, was a lot of fun. Unlike standard table hockey, which could hold a full six-man squad on the rink, Sure Shot only had two plastic men on each team. The box said Fast Scoring Hockey Excitement. Fast paced action for 2 to 4 young players. I don’t know how FOUR users could have thronged around that little blue plastic ice rink. This was a one-on-one game, with a lot of scoring.
Another cool one: Bas-Ket, and yes, it was spelled Bas-Ket. That’s the one with the spring-loaded levers placed over a dimple court, with a ping-pong ball serving as a basketball. When the ball settled into one of the holes in the course, you had to use just the right touch on your levers to send it through the ring. I say about 60% of my Bas-Ket shots sailed over the board and landed on the shag carpeting somewhere in the living room. But when you dropped a shot, it was pretty cool.
I was also a big fan of Strat-O-Matic Baseball, which was kind of a precursor to Fantasy Baseball because you could choose your players in a draft. Each Major League player had a card with a unique rating that was linked to the frequency of certain numbers coming up with a three-dice roll. Basically, if you had Willie Stargell, you were much more likely to hit a homer than if you had Vic Davalillo. Strat-O-Matic can get really complicated and complicated, or you can just pick guys and roll the dice.
In the mid-1970s, one of my friends got Pong. We spent a LOT of time that year playing Pong, Atari’s tennis-style video arcade game, where you used a two-dimensional paddle to play volleyball back and forth with your opponent. It was incredibly simple and cool when everyone gets out, and somehow you could be really good at Pong, or not that great, which was a bit embarrassing because the score was there in big numbers on the screen. All I said about my skills was that I am neither now nor have I ever been in the Pong Hall of Fame.
Strat-O-Matic, on the other hand, I’ll play you now.
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