Game of the Week (4/1/18) – Hockey/Tennis on the Fairchild VES/Channel F

There used to be a time when including a “pack-in” title with a gaming console was a given. Not only was it a given, but the game included with the console should be considered a top tier game if the intention is to draw consumers to purchase your console over the competition. There has been a long history of pack-ins with consoles dating back to Combat packed in with the Atari VCS to Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt packed in with the NES to Sonic the Hedgehog with the Sega Genesis and Super Mario Sunshine with the Gamecube. At some point in the early 2000s, the concept of a pack-in title became antiquated. However, long before that, some companies took a different approach to providing a console owner with a gaming experience without having to make another purchase. This was done by including a built-in game with the console itself. Some notable examples of this strategy included Minestorm built into the Vectrex console and Sega including a number of built in games with their Master System (Hang On/Safari Hunt, Wonder Boy, Missile Defense 3D and of course, Snail Maze) depending on which console variation was purchased. The Fairchild VES, later renamed the Channel F, was the first cartridge based console to do this, however.

Prior to the release of the Fairchild Video Entertainment System (VES) in 1976, all “consoles” were simply just devices with built in Pong variations. It was to be expected when you bought one of these machines that you’d have everything needed to play right out of the box. Considering that the VES/Channel F was the first cartridge based system, it would still be reasonable to assume that a purchaser would expect to be able to play games right out of the box with no additional software purchases. As a result, the Fairchild VES/Channel F included two built in Pong-like games titled Hockey and Tennis, available simply by plugging the system into the TV and power and turning it on.

Anyone who has ever played Video Olympics for the Atari VCS/2600 will have a very good idea of how these two variations of Pong work. In Hockey, you battle an opponent (Hockey and Tennis are 2 player only) by controlling both a hockey player (as a vertical line on the screen) and a goalie (as two vertical lines on the screen positioned in the goal on the far side of the playfield) simultaneously over a white playfield. The hockey player can move left/right and up/down covering the entire rink while the goalie can only defend his goal by moving up and down. What makes Hockey on the Channel F/VES a bit more unique & challenging is how you have to manipulate the controllers to switch back and forth between the hockey player and the goalie. This is done by pulling up (to move up) and pushing down (to move down) on the knob that sits at the top of the controller. Fortunately, this only takes a little while to get the hang of. Additionally, you have the ability turn your hockey player 45 degrees to achieve those all important angled shots by twisting the upper knobs. Just make sure you don’t accidentally turn the angle of your player the wrong way and score on your own goal! The combination of these features utilizing the innovative hand controllers are what make Hockey on the Channel F/VES that much more interesting and fun than on similar consoles. I definitely recommend playing at the highest speed (option 4) as the slower pucks in speed options 1-3 provide little to no challenge if both players are equally skilled.

Tennis is the second pack-in title and this one is a much more basic Pong variation than Hockey. Essentially you are playing a singles match against an opponent on a green playfield (grass court apparently) with the basic Pong rules intact. The goal is to try and get the ball past your opponent’s vertical line using whatever means necessary. Unlike hockey, you cannot move your player left or right on the screen nor can you rotate him 45 degrees. Your movement is strictly limited to up and down using angles to get the ball past your opponent. The game does not record tennis style scoring either, so it’s simply the first player to 15 or the highest score after the selected time limit ends wins, whichever comes first. There’s not much excitement on the Tennis side of this 2 for 1 game unless you’re craving very simplistic Pong-like gameplay.

Currently in my collection: built in Hockey/Tennis w/ manual

Hockey – A

Tennis – C

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