Speedball 2: Evolution (PS Mini)
The good thing about the PS Mini version of Speedball 2 is that it's not a remake. Surprising given this is supposed to be an 'evolution', although the title has more to do with the 20th anniversary release on smart phones and I-Pads than any serious messing around with the core game mechanics. That way lays the blunder and fluster of the 2008 PC version, which kind of forgot what made Speedball 2 genius in the first place and in the process of making it look new and fresh properly bodged the game to shit.
Instead it's back to basics for Evolution with the metallic and fascist styled hyper violence looking very much like a straight port of the Amiga version. Oh, goody! Everything you expect to feature in Speedball 2 is there; bonce domes, warp gates, score multipliers, the little jig players do after they score and the now iconic shouts of 'ice cream' are all present and correct alongside the 2D playing field and crisp multi-directional scrolling. Even though some additional controls have been implemented you can still mash your way through teams using one button, just like back in the day with the mighty zipstick. So far, so much like the Amiga version.
Of course some additional material has been added. The graphics have been given a little gloss and are more colourful than the pure metallic tones of the original. This may irk some purists, but it does little to distract from the fact you're playing Speedball 2, a game enshrined in the 16-bit ethos, on a next gen system. Most of the main differences lie within the management screens and the league structure, which have been re-vamped. The management section does nothing new - it's still all about training your players and dipping into the transfer market - but it's now much easier to navigate through the newly furnished (and somewhat colourful) management screens.
The league structure has been lengthened to include seven additional teams that form a longer challenge than the simple two division season play and knockout cup of Brutal Deluxe. The knockout form of the game remains unchanged, but an Intergalactic Cup and Champions League now follow the regular Division 1 and 2 seasons, obviously with the pretence to elongate the game. The additional teams are largely alien based, tougher than their human counter-parts and each has their own individually styled pitch that deviates from the typical metallic playing field. Again, this is likely to piss off purists, but is no big deal.
So, all spectacularly perfectomundo then? Well not quite. Rather sadly Evolution is more Milk Cup than Champions League. Whilst on the surface Evolution looks like Speedball 2, tastes like Speedball 2 and sounds like Speedball 2 it soon becomes obvious that one is not quite playing Speedball 2. There are two game-breakers that prevent this from being so. The first is the manic pace. It doesn't exist. The PS mini version is pedestrian and lethargic in comparison to the original. Even against the best teams available the player can take their time implementing strategies in a largely unhurried manner. The frantic hyper pace, so essential to making Speedball 2 an absolutely brutal and hardcore challenge has, rather sadly, not been maintained. When this is coupled with a less intuitive AI that frequently neglects to use the score multiplier (even when standing right next to it) or constantly fails to ruthlessly beat ones players to a pulp, it makes for a Speedball that is way too blinking easy.
Bolting on further elements of competition in the season mode, therefore, simply exists to perpetuate the longevity of the game in the absence of any real challenge. There really should be no reason for you to completely obliterate teams from the off. And whilst the new alien races do pose rather difficult to beat at the start, trouncing five star-rated teams, constantly, by the time you have a fairly mediocre three star team just makes Evolution less fun than it should be. Worst of all, Super Nashwan have been nerfed to buggery. I said SUPER NASHWAN HAVE BEEN NERFED TO BUGGERY. Beating the arch-nemesis by a clear 100 points first time round is just plain unforgivable!
On the surface this is Speedball 2; it just doesn't feel or play like Brutal Deluxe. For older gamers looking to rekindle the old magic of the Amiga original, this is a rather tepid and disappointing evolution. It provides a short burst of fun at the start, but after 30 or so matches of outright victory, interest predictably wanes. The Intergalactic Cup and Champion's League are merely fraudulent bystanders compared to Brutal Deluxe's bastard hard approach to keeping one intrigued with slow tantalising progression. Newbies who were just a sproggling in their parent's eye circa 1990 may get more out of Evolution. It might be a bit tougher for those without previous Speedball clout and pose a greater challenge, particularly where the alien teams are concerned. But for this jaded old git, Speedball 2: Evolution is a disappointing, missed opportunity to reach out to younger gamers and expose them to what gaming used to be like. Instead it simply lends more weight to the argument that few modern games have a decent level challenge. Which is a damn shame...
Back in 1990, The Bitmap Brothers released Speedball 2, a violent futuristic sports game that was a mix between American football, Rugby League and GBH, requiring you to score more points that your opponents by whatever means possible . It might have lacked originality (it was essentially a computerised version of the James Caan film Rollerball), but it was damned addictive.
Fast forward 20+ years and the game has been remade for the iPhone with the input of Sensible Software's Jon Hare. I could scarcely be more excited: the prospect of Bitmap Brothers game plus Jon Hare influence surely has to equal genius? So, does Speedball 2: Evolution top the league and live up to its illustrious predecessor or is it relegation fodder?
Well, the good news is that Speedball 2 captures everything that was good about the original: the graphics, the sound and the gameplay. Speedball 2 is as fun now as it was in 1990 and, whilst not perfect, is definitely worth the asking price. At £2.99 that asking price might be a little above your average app cost, but believe me, for the hours of fun and entertainment it offers, that is money well spent.
Let's start off with the graphics. They might not be the greatest in the world, but they are highly effective and capture the spirit of the original. Bitmap Brothers games always had a distinctive look and feel and Speedball 2 reproduces that. The top down view and metallic look gives the game a futuristic look, whilst enabling a clear overview of the arena so that you can try and pick off that defence splitting pass. The graphics also have a slightly quirky look and a clarity and simplicity that is lacking in many modern games.
Sound -a let-down in so many iPhone games - is very good. OK, so the collisions between players don't always sound meaty enough to convey the violence of the game and crowd noises are slightly weak, but the other ambient sound is excellent. Lovers of the Amiga original will certainly be pleased to know that the original cry of "Ice Cream, Ice Cream" has been retained! Like the graphics, sound is quirky, but perfectly suited to the game, adding a lot of atmosphere.
There are plenty of different game options available too, which seriously enhances long term playability. You can play in a traditional league and cup competition (which includes some limited management options), a single one-off game, or take on a human opponent. Personally, I like to get stuck into the league to pit myself against the computer opponents in a long term challenge, but even here there is are several leagues available, with promotion and relegation in each, adding to the long term challenge. You have ten seasons to get your team to the top.
The action is fast and furious which is both a blessing and a curse. The ball flies from end to end and (particularly with the new scoring mechanism discussed below) the game can change in the blink of an eye so that a seemingly unassailable lead can quickly vanish. This gives matches a real frenetic feel, where you can't be certain of the result until the final hooter sounds. The game is so quick that one minute you can be desperately defending your own goal, the next you are pressing your opponent's line. This makes Speedball 2 an exhilarating, adrenalin-fuelled experience.
On the downside, it can also s make the game a little frustrating. Sometimes the action is so fast-paced that it can be confusing. The ball zips around so quickly that you are reduced to the iPhone equivalent of button mashing: unsure of where the ball is or exactly what is happening, you resort to swiping madly across the screen in the hopes that something good will happen. In fairness, this was also recognised as an issue with the original Amiga game, although it's slightly disappointing that the new developers haven't taken the time to iron out these niggles.
The scoring mechanism has been tweaked to make it more satisfying and more tactical. The quickest way to build a lead is to score a goal (which nets you 10 points). However, you can also pick up points in other ways. Hitting a line of stars that line the left side of the arena will net you 2 points per star (and a further 10 if you light them all up), as will hitting the "bumpers" in the middle of the arena. Best of all, injuring an opponent so badly that he has to be stretchered also scores ten points. This introduces a huge tactical element. In tight matches, you have to decide whether to try and edge ahead by scoring 2 points here and there, or whether to go for broke and try to get a goal which will probably win the match for you. It's a simple adjustment to the original scoring mechanism, but one which adds a huge amount of depth to this iPhone version.
It's true that the difficulty curve is a little odd on this title. Veteran Speedballers will find the early seasons in the lower leagues rather too easy and win them at a canter. It's not until you've been promoted several times that the game starts to get particularly challenging - and there's no option to start in a higher league - you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. Whilst this means that people who've never played the game have a reasonable chance of making progress, for us experience Speedballers, it's a bit of a chore.
As with many iPhone games, two control methods are available. Somewhat unusually for iPhone games, both actually work pretty well. Better still, the game gives you the option to try both methods during the tutorial level and then decide which suits you best. The first mode relies on tilting the phone to govern movement and swiping the screen to tackle or throw the ball. I tend to prefer this method as I find it a lot more responsive (although in either mode, accurate passing in the heat of the action can be a bit hit and miss). The downside is that sometimes it's a little too responsive - tip the screen too far forward and the whole thing flips round 90 degrees leaving you looking at an upside-down playing area for a few seconds before you frantically turn the phone around or flip the screen back again. The other option is to use an on-screen joystick. Initially, this was the method I favoured. However, after just a few games, I found that it was hurting my hand, so switched to Tilt mode, which I found far easier.
Aside from the fact that this is about as faithful an adaptation of Speedball as you could ever hope to find, it also drips with nice little touches. During brief loading screens, for example, the game reproduces the sound of an Amiga disk being accessed, which will instantly bring memories flooding back for gamers of a certain age. It's a lot of fun to play, packed with plenty of long term challenge and incredibly addictive. Quite simply, it's one of the best iPhone games out there and well worth the £2.99 download cost.
© Copyright SWSt 2012
Update of the classic 16 bit future sports sim