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August 01, 2009

Hyperball: A Forgotten Piece of Arcade History

From the very first time I played it, I knew I had to have it. A friend and I had driven a good two hours north to pick up a Space Invaders machine I had bought off eBay. I had recently gotten it into my head that my dream job would be to open an arcade, and this was my first purchase. The man who owned it had an entire basement full of arcade and pinball machines, but it was clear that he liked to rotate them out frequently as he immediately tried selling me on some others. One of these was Hyperball.

He tried explaining it to me but I was sort of lost, so I just started to play. Housed in a pinball cabinet, Hyperball is anything but a pinball. The center of the playfield is empty, and instead of flippers there are two triggers that launch a volley of balls out of a cannon at the center. All up the edges and across the top are holes labeled with different letters of the alphabet. Lightning will began traveling up either side from hole to hole until it reaches the nine letters across the top. At that point it will shoot down the center from any one of these spots toward your 'energy center'. If you didn't cut off the lightning, by shooting a ball into one of the holes while it was still there be it on the sides or at the top, it would hit your energy center, and you would take damage.

I fired carefully, trying with each shot to hit a desired goal. The man quickly informed me that I would never get very far doing that. "It'll shoot as fast as you fire. You've just gotta fire away." So I began pounding on the triggers as fast as I could, directing the stream of balls toward wherever the lightning happened to be. It was at that point he informed me the game was even deeper then that. While keeping the lightning in check, the game would flash words that you could spell out by sinking a ball into the respective hole of each letter. This is where the real points were obtained.

I knew at that point that there was no way I could master the game with only a few plays, and that it would be a quarter sink for anyone as addicted to it as I already was. So I made plans right then and there to come back and pick it up later that week as it wouldn't fit in the van with Space Invaders. It was the best decision I've made when it comes to buying arcades. Owning several machines makes you grow tired of them rather quickly, but I always enjoy playing Hyperball. So why was it so obscure to me, and difficult to find a lot of information about online?

Hyperball was Williams failed experiment, not actually being an video game or a pinball it didn't fit nicely into a category. The pinball kids didn't want to play it and neither did the arcade devout. It might have slowly gained popularity through word of mouth but it was something of a mess to keep maintained, so eventually it just died out. I'm experiencing the maintenance issues myself as the cannon doesn't fire anywhere near as fast as it did the 3 or 4 years ago that I bought it.

It's sort of sad that it never took off like it could have. It could have spawned a whole new kind of arcade/pinball game. Imagine if all pinballs had evolved in this direction and had become so popular that arcades were still a thriving business venture, full of unique hybrids of video games and pinballs. It probably wouldn't have worked out that way, but I'd love if it had. Instead I'll just have to enjoy my Hyperball machine as it is, a forgotten, except to a cult group, piece of arcade and pinball history.

Before I end, I thought I'd share an image I found while searching for pictures to accompany this article. Apparently Hyperball made an appearance in a recent movie. If I had gone to see the movie I probably would have been ecstatic to spot it, but I doubt it would have been enough to make Paul Blart a worthwhile purchase. If anyone has a cheap, broken Hyperball machine then let me know. I'd love to replace some broken parts on my machine.


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