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. To my mind, it’s still one of the best sports games around and one of the Commodore Amiga’s finest moments.
Fast forward 25 years and the game has been remade for the iPhone with the input of Sensible Software’s Jon Hare, a man who knows a thing or two when it comes to sports games. So, does Speedball 2: Evolution go to the top of the league or is it left fighting a relegation battle?
The good news is that Speedball 2 captures the essential elements that made the game so great. It’s as fun to play Speedball 2 now as it was in 1990 and the £1.49 download price will give you hours of fun.
Let’s start off with the graphics which capture that distinctive Bitmap Brothers metallic sheen. They might not be quite as impressive as they were back in the day, but the player and arena graphics convey a suitably futuristic feel, whilst the top-down perspective gives a nice wide view of the arena, allowing you to play a surprisingly tactical game.
Sound –a let-down in so many iPhone games – is very good. OK, so the collisions between players don’t sound meaty enough and crowd noises are slightly weak, but the other ambient sound is excellent. Fans will also be delighted to know that the iconic shout of “Ice Cream, Ice Cream” is present and correct. Like the graphics, the sound has been suitably updated, but in a way that is sympathetic to the original.
A range of different game options help long term playability. There’s a traditional league and cup competition (with some limited management options), a single one-off game, or the option to take on a human opponent. Within the league structure, there are also several leagues to work your way up, with promotion and relegation increasing the challenge.
The action is fast and furious, something which is both a blessing and a curse. The ball flies from end to end. The game can change in the blink of an eye and a seemingly unassailable lead can quickly vanish. This gives matches a real frenetic feel, where you can’t relax until the final hooter sounds. This makes Speedball 2 an exhilarating, adrenalin-fuelled experience.
On the downside, it can also make the game a little frustrating. Sometimes the action is so fast it can be confusing, with the ball zipping around so quickly that you are reduced to the iPhone equivalent of button mashing (speed swiping?!). In fairness, this was also an issue with the original game, but it’s slightly disappointing that the new developers didn’t take the opportunity to iron out this particular wrinkle.
The scoring mechanisms give the game a strong tactical element. The quickest way to build a lead is to score a goal (worth 10 points), but you can also pick up points by hitting a line of stars along the arena wall (2 points per star plus a further 10 if you light them all) or hitting the “bumpers” in the middle of the arena also scores points (2 points each time). Injuring an opponent so badly that he has to be stretchered off scores as much as a goal, meaning you can use skill or thuggery to try and win the match.
Injured? That’s 10 points to me then!
As with many iPhone games, two control methods are available. Somewhat unusually, both actually work pretty well. The first e relies on tilting the phone to govern movement and swiping the screen to tackle or throw the ball. It’s this mode I personally prefer as I find it more responsive. The downside is that in the heat of the action, you can sometimes find yourself tipping the phone too far, auto-rotating the screen 90 degrees, so you’re playing the game upside down! The alternative on-screen joystick also works pretty well, although I’ve found that after a few games, my hand starts to ache.
It’s a shame that the difficulty level isn’t better balanced and fans of the original may feel it’s been toned down too much. For veteran Speedballers the early seasons in the lower leagues are too easy. It’s not until you’ve been promoted several times that the game starts to get even a little challenging – and there’s no option to start in a higher league;, you always have to start in the lowest league and work your way up. Whilst this gives people who’ve never played the game a chance to get used to it, for experienced Speedballers, it’s a bit of a chore.
The difficulty level for the entire game has been significantly lowered. In one sense, this is good news for people like me (who never got close to completing the original), but purists will hate it. Even with my limited gaming prowess, Speedball 2: Evolution is rather on the easy side and I managed to do the top league and cup double without breaking too much of a sweat. Brutal Deluxe are no longer quite so brutal, it seems! Even with the multitude of game modes, once I had won the top league and the cup, I found the game held no further attraction and I’ve not played it since.
Speedball 2: Evolution gets extra points for some nice touches. During 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.
Overall, whilst the difficulty has been massively toned down, Speedball 2: Evolution is a faithful remake that’s a lot of fun to play, offers a decent medium term challenge and is incredibly addictive whilst it lasts. It might not have quite the same re-playability once completed, but it remains a great game that’s easily worth the £1.49 asking price.