As part of my overview of Pong, I also planned to look at some of the few variations over the years on the game. I guess there's only so much you can do with the core theme. I came upon a couple of games from the Neo-Geo era called Battle Flip Shot and Bang Bead (Bang Bead came out a couple of years after Battle Flip Shot and was from the same company). As far as I know, these games were only released in Japan. One disclaimer I should give before proceeding is that I always do single-player in these games. I do feel that these types of games would probably be a lot of fun with two people, and my impressions of these games are solely based on the single-player experience. Let's look at BFS first.
Battle Flip Shot tries to integrate Pong with Street Fighter II. The first thing you do after inserting the coin is choose from 5 different characters. Then you go to an arena-type field, equipped with a shield, which you use to hit the ball back. Your goal is to hit the targets behind the opponent. When the last target is hit, you win the round and move on to the next (each level is 2 out of 3 rounds, just like any fighting game). Of course, you must protect your targets as well.
This game is very fast. Unlike Pong, you can also move forward and backward, in addition to left and right. The A button gives you a more powerful shot, and the B button lets you slide. To be honest, I really didn't see much of a difference in using these buttons, and feel the game can usually be played by just moving the pad to hit the ball. Obviously, for a late 90's title, the graphics are much better than Pong, but certainly not revolutionary. If anything, I found the graphics a little behind the curve, and they could have been pulled off on a Super Nintendo without too much difficulty. The music isn't anything outstanding, but will make you feel right at home if you're used to playing Neo Geo/arcade games.
The only caveat I have with this game is that it can be very difficult. The ball moves really fast, and you must always be on your toes if you hope to win. The AI also has some quirks. For most of the game, it's relatively easy to bash its targets, but when you're down to the last one, the AI suddenly becomes very stubborn and will protect that last target like its child. A lot of times, I'd have 3 or 4 targets to the computer's one, and I'd end up losing out of the computer's fierce defense in protecting that last target. For that reason, the game would probably be preferable with two people.
Bang Bead is pretty much the same as Battle Flip Shot, with a few differences. The graphics are slightly better. There are more characters (7 characters, along with two hidden ones). There is more variety in the backgrounds. The only gameplay difference I noticed was that after hitting the targets (9 stars), the round isn't won, but the force field behind the targets will break, which means that placing a shot behind your opponent will lead to a win. There is also a super attack that can be filled up via a gauge. Hitting the A button for attack seemed to make a difference in the gameplay, unlike BFS. Like BFS, the gameplay is very fast, and I found the AI slightly easier this time around. Again, I'd imagine that this is a gameplay experience that would be superior with two people.