Tuesday 13 September 2016

Hockey / Tennis (Fairchild Channel F review)

Developer: Fairchild
Publisher: Fairchild
Released: 1976

Hockey / Tennis are Pong style clones that are both built into the Fairchild Channel F console.

The object is to score more goals than your opponent by batting a ball off a paddle until it lands behind them. In Hockey, the playfield is surrounded by walls (even on the vertical axis) and you control both an attacker and a goalie independently. In a brilliantly simple twist, you can change the angle of your paddle; this allows for some sharp angles where the ball bounces unpredictably, making the gameplay more fun and intense. Controlling the goalie with Up and Down on the plunge is a great idea but it's not particularly accurate. Another unique aspect is that you can move the paddle across the entire horizontal width. While this might sound like you can stand in front of your opponent's goal for many cheap points it actually adds another layer of strategy; that's because you leave yourself open to attack if you miss the ball, and have to rely on the imprecise goalie controls to deflect incoming shots! Overall, it's a unique version of Pong that you can sink a lot of time into. Tennis is a more traditional variation where you control a single paddle and only have to contend with walls on the horizontal axis. Although you can't twist the paddle, you can angle your shots depending on which part of the paddle the ball hits (e.g. the top and bottom force the ball to careen off at sharper angles). This adds a fun risk-reward element, as being successful can pay dividends, yet you chance missing the ball completely due to the pixel-perfect precision that's required! However, there's not much variety here; after a few games enthusiasm starts to wain and it's impossible to escape the feeling that you've seen it all before.
While Tennis is a perfectly good Pong clone, it's Hockey that's the clear star of the show due to its more substantial and innovative gameplay. Sure, it might use existing ideas but it also expands upon the formula and creates an engaging game that's perfect for multiplayer sessions. 
Random trivia: Few consoles had built-in games but notable ones include the Atari 7800 (Asteroids) and the Sega Master System (Alex Kidd, and others).

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