The Game: Climb onto your trusty four-legged ride for a good old fashioned game of horse hockey. Try to knock the ball into your opponent’s goal, but don’t put yourself in a position where you can’t defend your own. (Atari, 1978)
Memories: One of the earliest Atari VCS games to go unreleased, Polo was never intended for general release as its own game; rather, plans were apparently afoot within Atari to offer the game as a premium giveaway item to buyers of Ralph Lauren’s recently-introduced Polo cologne. (If that sounds a little difficult to believe, keep in mind that, in its early heyday, the $200 VCS was very much a high-end luxury item – not unlike Ralph Lauren’s products.)
It’s surely telling, then, that even Ralph Lauren passed on this video version of Polo. Normally, marketing partners in a premium giveaway have a fairly limited interest in the quality of the item being given away (see Chase The Chuckwagon), so it says something that this flickery, vague version of the sport didn’t even pass muster as a giveaway. The large (and fairly detailed for 1978) sprites of the horses and riders flicker madly, making Polo a hard game to keep an eye on, and to make matters worse, actually trying to play the game can be confusing as well, with strange collision detections (one would assume that hitting the ball with the lower half of the horse would produce the best results, but this isn’t always the case) making things strangely unpredictable. Horse Pong, it’s not.
Like any sport where contact/impact is involved, there are very specific physics to the game of polo, and Polo simply doesn’t reflect that, with the ball careening around in response to unanticipated impacts. It’s just possible that the surviving version of the unreleased Polo still needed additional programming.
For all of its faults, though, Polo is an interesting glimpse into Atari’s marketing mindset shortly after the introduction of the VCS, and a reminder that the console itself was once the height of luxury.