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CES 2019: This modern Pong table is better than it has any right to be

An analog recreation of the first commercial video game hit expands with new cocktail table and arcade-ready versions.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

There's plenty of high-tech gaming gear at CES 2019, from massive gaming laptops to VR headsets, but the most fun I had demoing a gaming product this year involved motors and magnets.

This decidedly analog recreation of the classic Pong game -- originally created by Atari and designer Al Alcorn in 1972 -- has gone from a Kickstarter idea funded to the tune of about $335,000 in 2017 to a commercial product manufactured by a major arcade game company.

It made an initial appearance last year at CES 2018, but new for 2019 are a taller cocktail table version and a colorful, customizable coin-op version designed for arcades. Prices for those are TBD, but the basic coffee table version is $2,999 (about £2,350 or AU$4,175).


The new cocktail table version of Pong. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

This is one of those ideas that seems underwhelming on paper, but is absolutely amazing in person. The simple two-paddles-and-a-square-puck game is recreated in 3D by two foam paddles and a foam square puck, which are controlled by a series of magnets and motors underneath the table, while you spin the control wheel to move your paddle. There's one-on-one or you-versus-AI modes, with three levels of difficulty. There's a zen-like quality to the repetition of simple actions (spinning a control dial), combined with the minimalist white-on-black visuals, that I found unexpectedly addicting. 

Unlike the (also very fun) Arcade1UP machines, which attempt to mimic the original products they're based on as faithfully as possible, this modern Pong filters its inspiration through the current vogue for analog entertainment (vinyl records, tabletop board games), and wouldn't look out of place on a '70s sci-fi TV show, or in my living room. 

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