What the heck is Speedball? No, it’s not a special drug that the kids are doing but it probably has the same effect on your adrenal system. Speedball is a sport designed for cyborgs, played in a not so distant future. Combine football, rugby, and MMA and you have a pretty decent idea of what this brutal sport entails. Matches are quick, taking only a couple minutes, so it isn’t just a clever name. Destroying the other team’s players is just as important as scoring goals and as barbaric as it sounds, Speedball is a surprisingly deep game.
I have always been a sucker for ‘alternative’ sports. Give me Mutant League Hockey over NHL, Frozen Endzone instead of Madden, and Base Wars before MLB. If I’m going to play a vanilla sport I’m going to do it in real life, reserving futuristic robot sports for the video game medium. Speedball 2 HD is a remake of the Bitmap Brothers’ most successful game, Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe. It’s been over 20 years since the last decent Speedball game and this is the most accurate representation of the sport/game you are going to find. Vivid Games has done the series justice and thank god Mastertronic had the balls to publish the damn thing.
Speedball is astonishingly simple thanks to a refined control scheme, and two basic rules: The first is to put the biscuit in the basket and the second is to devastate the other team with sick tackles. This is all made very easy by having only one button for all actions, and I highly suggest you have a controller while playing as this will make things much easier. When you have ball possession, pressing the action button will throw the ball in that direction and holding the action button will lob the ball in the air. Pressing the action button without the ball initiates a tackle and your player will slide in the direction he is facing, mauling any opposing player in the way. I’m going to level with you, this ain’t no graceful ballet and Speedball games can quickly devolve into all out brawls since points are rewarded for injuring players on the other team. Once a player is injured by having all their health depleted, they are carted off by medical bots and replaced by a substitute. It’s not my favorite tactic, but beating the other team down so you have a player advantage is acceptable in Speedball, and a great way to win games.
Aside from mashing up the other team and scoring goals, there are a number of variables on the field that can change the game. The permanent structures such as bumpers will not only change the course of the ball, but will award bonus points if a team manages to score after the bumper is hit. Bumpers can be used for both offensive and defensive purposes, conjuring up some interesting plays. If you thought it was fun dunking in NBA Street after launching the ball off the backboard...Speedball 2 HD makes that look like child’s play. Ramps on the sides of the field will accelerate the ball and give a 50 percent bonus to points scored on that run, however this is cancelled when the opponent puts it through the ramp. This makes controlling the sidelines paramount to success as it can effectively half the amount of points you need to score during a game. This is especially important when you’re up against a stronger, faster, better team and you don’t have Michael Jordan or Bill Murray on your roster. Other structures on the field include stars on the side that can be used for extra points, as well as portals that will teleport the ball to the other side of the field. Take note playmaking wizards. Finally, random powerups will be littered across the throughout the game that can temporarily boost a player, or harm the opposing team.
There are several modes in Speedball 2 HD including quick play, tournament, and a career mode. Career mode puts you in the role of a GM of a team, which you can name and choose a logo, but that is about it when it comes to customization. As you win games, you get cash that can be used to train your players and increase their stats. I found after a couple seasons my winnings had allowed my team to surpass everyone in the galaxy stat-wise so games became terribly easy and I was blowing out teams by 100 points every game. That being said, the AI isn’t great and Speedball 2 HD is best played on a couch with a friend. Multiplayer is unfortunately limited to local only so you are going to have to convince people to come to your house.
Speedball 2 HD is a great remake, and as I mentioned previously the best version of the game you are going to find. It’s not bustling with features but it has some depth to it. The career mode will keep you busy enough to get your money’s worth and a decent sense of progression across multiple seasons. No online multiplayer is a shame, but if you can manage to get a group of friends over for a small tournament it will be a great game to have. It’s fast, and easy to learn and a hard hitting little gem that satiate your need for a Murderball game.