Before there was Faceball. Before there was Blast Chamber. And yes, before there was Ballistix, Battle Sport and Unreal Tournament, there was Speedball. Originally released in 1988 for the Amiga home computer, Speedball took Europe by storm and spawned a number of equally popular spin-offs and sequels. Although it was released on a number of other formats (including the Sega Master System, Nintendo Entertainment System and Commodore 64), Speedball was only able to make a name for itself in Europe.
But as they say, everything old is new again. Thanks to the Xbox Live Arcade, Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe has been given a second chance at making it big in the United States. While this $10 update/remake from 17 years ago may be old, there's no reason why Speedball 2 can't enjoy a small taste of popularity in this country. The game remains as fast and exciting as ever, offering gamers a unique sport that takes everything we love about basketball and turns it into a violent game of life and death.
Don't worry if you don't know the rules, because in the distant future sports aren't any more complicated than they are now. Basically Speedball is a competition between two teams. The goal for each team is to score the most points, and you do that by taking a ball and delivering it to something that looks suspiciously like a soccer net. But it's not going to be that easy, in order to score you're going to have to deal with a whole team of steroid-enhanced athletes who are dead set on making sure you don't get even an inch closer to that goal. It's a sport so extreme that it makes Rollerball and American Gladiators look like golf. At times Speedball resembles a pinball game more than an actual sport. As you are rushing for your goal you'll be bouncing off of just about every player on the opposing team. And all this is made even more brutal when you realize that it all takes place in a steel cage.
Thankfully there are a few ways of actually scoring the ball, so this isn't all about rushing from one side of the court to the other trying to get the ball in the goal. For example, you can snag a small number of points by hitting various targets on the floor and on the walls. Also, if you're brutal enough, injuring one of the other players is worth as many points as a real goal. And if that wasn't enough, there are score multiplier targets that show up at the halfway line and can do some real damage to the other team. You never really know what's going to happen; you can be down by dozens of points and ultimately squeak out a win with a few well-timed goals. It's all very exciting, especially when playing against your friends.
To make things even more intense, Speedball 2 features a number of power-ups scattered around the large steel cage. While the effects of these power-ups will only last a few seconds, that should be enough to turn the game in your favor. While some of the power-ups are fairly obvious (an armor power-up, for example), there are some items that make this game stick out. For example, one of the power-ups will stop your opponents dead in their tracks, which should make it a little easier to dodge the other team and toss that ball into the goal. And it's not just power-ups for single-player games; there are items for multiplayer games as well. A good example of that is the power-up that literally flips the second player's controls around, confusing them long enough for you to score a few extra points. Knowing how to use each of these power-ups effectively is the difference between a win and a loss, and at the end of the day all of this adds to an already deep sports game.
Speedball 2 isn't just a deep experience on the court, you'll also notice that there's a lot to do and see before and after each match. While the original 1990s Speedball 2 only offered 16 different teams, this Xbox Live Arcade version doubles that and offers a whopped 32 teams to choose from. As a single-player game Speedball 2 words, there are several modes set up to simulate league games and a full season play off, while at the same time you'll have to figure out who you want to play and who you will want to sit out. What's more, as you progress through these modes you will find that your player's improve their skills, giving you even more incentive to keep at the game.
But while the single-player stuff is fun, the real excitement comes when you play against another real person. Thankfully you have a couple of ways of going about this, including both online and offline options. The online modes probably won't blow you away; Speedball 2 offers a choice between a non-ranked player match and a ranked match, both of which allow you to play your own custom league against the rest of the world. Unfortunately this is kind of a niche game, so the online mode suffers from two very distinct (and very troubling) problems. One problem is that very few people in the United States are actually playing this game, so finding an online game can be somewhat tricky (even at the peak hours). The other problem is that once you do find somebody to play against it's generally somebody who has been playing the game since 1990. This can make for a very uneven experience, which isn't a lot of time when you're just starting out.
Like a lot of classic games revived on the Xbox Live Arcade, Speedball 2 gives you the option of playing it with the classic 1990s graphics or the brand new polygonal visuals. Don't get too excited, though. While the graphics have definitely been upgraded, there is still a lot of work to be done before they can be considered up-to-date. Still, the graphics get the job done, even if the straight overhead perspective makes everything look a little funnier than it needs to be. If you were to take a side by side picture of the two visual modes you would see a big difference, but in action these two games look oddly alike. Part of the reason for this is because the animation is right out of 1991, which is kind of jarring when you're looking at slightly updated polygonal characters. I suppose that when it comes right down to it the graphics don't matter that much, but it would have been nice if this game wasn't so depressing to look at.
While there are other futuristic sports titles already available on the Xbox Live Arcade (see: Cyberball 2072), Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe is the only sport worth downloading. With its strong (albeit limited) multiplayer modes, slightly updated graphics and quick matches, Speedball 2 is a fun way to waste away an afternoon. Even if you've never played Speedball 2, I have a feeling that once you get into the swing of things you will find that this is your new favorite professional sport.
Speedball 2 doesn't offer a lot of frills and extras, but it does prove to still be a solid action/sports game that is just as violent today as it was 17 years ago. Fans of Speedball should be impressed with what Bitmap Brothers have done with this franchise and new players shouldn't have much trouble seeing what the appeal is. It's not for everybody, but Speedball 2 is worth checking out.