In May of 1979 Atari released Atari Basketball. There were four sport titles they released around that time: Atari Football, then Atari Basketball, followed by Atari Baseball and Atari Soccer. All of them featured their largest 4.5” trackball as a way to control the player(s). Basketball was the only one of the series to be placed in an upright cabinet as opposed to the Cocktail style of the other three. I assume they did this because they wanted a side view of the court opposed to the overhead view of the field that the other games use. The controls for this game are a Trak-Ball and a single button used to shoot or block. You can either play 1 player against a computer opponent or two players where you play against another human.
A year earlier Atari had released Basketball for the Atari VCS (2600) and the arcade’s game play is very similar to the console. The main difference between the two is the use of a Trak-Ball to control your players direction and speed instead of a joystick and as you would expect the graphics and sound effects found in the arcade game are a lot better. A portion off Sweet Georgia brown plays at the start and at the end of the game. You can also hear the crowd cheering when you make a basket or steal, which is a nice touch.
It’s a very simple game of 1-on-1 basketball. If you are playing one player you can play on the white team or the black team and the computer will play the opponent. If you start a two player game then the two players will play against each other. The game starts when the ball drops to the center of the court and both players must run to grab it. The button is used to shoot the ball and as you hold the button your player will start to raise the ball over his head and then will start to lower it again. The higher the ball is when you release the button the farther the ball will go. If you are playing defense the button causes your guy to jump up to block shoots and if you position your guy directly in front of the man with the ball, you can steal the ball from him. Each time a basket is scored you are awarded 2 points. The game ends when the clock at the top of the screen reaches 0:00 but you can add more time to the clock by adding more credits before time runs out.
This game won’t wear you out as fast as Atari Football will but if you play a few games it will get to you and be warned the Trak-Balls have been known to pinch hands too. This game is the most fun with two players so if you get a chance to play bring a friend because single player mode suffers from “rubber band” AI. As I mentioned earlier Basketball for the Atari VCS or the Atari 400/800 plays very similar so if you can’t find the arcade give the home version a shot.