Sunday, November 11, 2012

"Arch Rivals", NES, 1990.

As I mentioned before, my minimal interest in actual sports was reflected in disinterest at best in sports video games. But there were some titans of their field that were inescapable even before EA's (local) campus redefined their annual formula with major league franchising -- Mike Tyson's Punch-Out, Blades of Steel, Jordan vs. Bird (Erving's earlier show-down with him was a more obscure B-side, practice for the main attraction), and this one.
ARCH RIVALS,
IT'S A REAL BASKETBRAWL!
THE ARCADE SMASH FOR YOUR NES(r)
Get ready for an outrageous basket_brawl_. It's slam dunkin' full court action with a twist. If you can't block your opponent's shot -- knock his block off. But with Arch Rivals you still need real B-ball skills to win -- like passing, shooting and sinking those 3-point shots.
So if you're ready for some "in your face" head-to-head arcade action, get Arch Rivals... where breaking the rules is the rule!

Retrospect has it that this was itself just a warm-up for the fun that NBA Jam would deliver a few years later. The promotional artwork hits all the right Mad Magazine notes -- mohawks, big grins, the notorious pantsing, and I don't know what is going on over at the basket there. The art suggests perhaps a more Harlem Globetrotters madcap and zany slapstick game while its central premise was more one of constant fouls being perpetrated with no refs to call them -- strangely an extreme, unruly idea that would become a much stronger selling point in the decade following. They still had to sell it as offbeat rather than the curb-stomp that would set the tone to follow. But the '90s had just begun, and we hadn't all gotten the "grim and gritty" talking points. (Midway would later synthesize these perspectives with Mortal Kombat cameos in NBA Jam, including a hidden Kourt. But was ever there a basketball game with Fatality moves?)