Looking Back At The Happy Days 1976 Arcade Game: FONZ - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Looking Back At The Happy Days 1976 Arcade Game: FONZ

Goodbye grey sky, hello blue...

Prior to 1976 Happy Days was facing cancellation. After debuting in January 1974, the first two seasons of the 1950s based series focused mainly on the experiences and dilemmas of "innocent teenager" Richie Cunningham, as played by Ron Howard, his family, and his high school friends, attempting to "honestly depict a wistful look back at adolescence". Never more than a moderate success, the series' ratings began to fall drastically during its second season, causing creator Garry Marshall to retool the show, emphasising broad comedy and spotlighting the previously minor character of Fonzie, a "cool" biker and high school dropout.

Following these changes, Happy Days became the number-one program in television in 1976–1977, Henry Winkler became a major star and Fonzie became one of the most merchandised characters of the 1970s. Even getting his own very early arcade game, and a groundbreaking one at that...

Developed by Sega and published by Sega-Gremlinin November 1976, Fonz was released with the slogan "TV's hottest name, Your hottest game" in a bid to get arcade and bar owners to install a machine at their venue and lure the public to part with their hard earned quarters. And what did that quarter get you? Well, as the advertising above attests you "can literally become" your motorbike hero, the Fonz! Clearly advertising standards were very different in 1976.

The general premise for Fonz has the player controlling Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli on his motorcycle using the handlebars on the cabinet. The player has to go as fast as possible to rack up maximum points without skidding off the road or colliding with other racing bikes on the screen. Turn the handlebars, and the bike will corner and bank. Twist the handle throttle open, and it will accelerate. Get past 1000 kilometers of racing track and you unlock extended play, giving the player an extra 45 to 100 seconds of gameplay for their quarter.

As well as being an early three dimensional third-person perspective arcade game, with sprite scaling (as in, they get bigger as they come towards Fonzie's bike), Fonz is especially notable for introducing haptic feedback. What's that, you cry? Well if a collision with another bike occurs during gameplay, the handlebar controller would vibrate. Simulating the 'shock' of the crash to the player. A common place addition to most home gaming system controllers today, and indeed for the last quarter of a century, but quite unique in an arcade cabinet circa 1976.

But (and it's quite a but), Fonz itself wasn't exactly unique. The game was simply a rebranded variant of Sega's earlier August 1976 game Moto-Cross, also known as Man T.T., in a customized Happy Days/Fonz themed arcade cabinet. In turn, Moto-Cross and Man T.T. were motorbike variants of Sega's Road Race, a car driving game released in February 1976.

At the time Sega's American branch was owned by Charles Bluhdorn's Gulf+Western Company and thus had access to Paramount Television's intellectual property, so they found a new way to shift those unsold expensive arcade cabinets by rebranding their game around "TVs hottest name", Fonz.

Because of this simple rebranding, no other aspects of the Fonz or Happy Days were included in the game, only the character's motorcycle, but with the picture of Fonzie on the side and the TV show branding adorning the cabinet, rebrand or not, Fonz is very likely the first ever arcade game based on a TV character. Add your haptic feedback to that and you have a true video game firsts legend.

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