TBT - Arch Rivals, A Basketball Game That Had Nothing To Do With Basketball
A few weeks ago, I confessed my fear of arcades despite having my joy at playing arcade games. It was self-contradictory, but hey, we humans are like that. Of course, one of my most beloved memories at an arcade machine may surprise some readers.
When folks speak of the great sports games of the last century, many would cite NBA JAM as the seminal two-on-two basketball game. I don’t disagree; in fact, my affection for NBA JAM is on record here at Gaming With Swag. But years before NBA Jam took the world by storm, another basketball game was thoroughly etched into my childhood memory.
Ironically, I discovered the game at a pizza party to commemorate the end of a season of community soccer. Given my general disinterest in sports, this two-player arcade game had little pull on its own merits, but I believe it was the only arcade machine at the location, and my teammates were playing, so I figured I would too—childhood decisions are like that.
The game in question: Arch Rivals, from Midway. The 1989 arcade game was simple enough: on its surface, it was two-on-two indoor hoops, with generic teams in solid color uniforms in red, green, or yellow, from both real and fictional locations. I don’t recall if the players had names, but I know that they had large personalities and< i think, specialities— one even had a mohawk (in hindsight, one wonders if Dennis Rodman borrowed some his look from this title). Of course, these generic qualities were not what made this game stick out in my mind.
I just remember Arch Rivals being comically cartoonish and excessively violent. Sure in later years NBA JAM would allow for stealing and swatting, but Arch Rivals was almost Double-Dragon on the three-point line. From what I recall, a button existed solely to punch another player before stealing the ball with great satisfaction and scoring baskets from ridiculous distances. I think that was the point: colorful players that could play the game dirty, without upsetting the NBA establishment.
Further this combination of absurdities made the game more appealing to guys like me. Why? Well, because even a person who knew nothing of basketball could play the game without having a handle on players, statistics, or what team was good that season (although, granted, in the 90’s you could pretty much bet on the Bulls). Playing arch rivals, you would not need to fear questions to which you would have no answer, much to the embarrassment of everyone involved; other than the hoop and backboard goal, I think the only basketball-rule rule in the game had to do with shot clock.
Of course, memories are made not from objects but from experience, and that’s why Arch Rivals has remained in my mind. See, the funniest thing happened playing this game with kids from my soccer team: I felt more connected to them at this machine than I had throughout the season of playing a real sport. Again, I was not much of an athlete, so I never felt very useful or valuable to the team. But I could mash buttons at the pizzeria with the best of them—or at least the most adequate of them. When I look back on the many seasons of my playing soccer, I remember few things: the time I saw the ball knock the wind out of a tough teammate; the terror I felt playing goalie or defense (or offense), the delicious nectar of orange slices, and the dew, chill, and sunlight of Saturday mornings.
And Arch Rivals. A basketball game that had nothing to do with basketball.