Speedball 2 was originally released over a decade ago to multiple platforms. Back then, it was an engaging fantasy sports game. The premise is loosely based on soccer and handball. Two opposing teams face off each other in a rectangular arena. There are nets posted at the bottom center of either end. Moves include beating your opponent to a pulp to wrest the ball from them, a sort of variation from the fancy footwork required in soccer. The resulting gameplay is actually fairly pleasant and enjoyable, particularly with the league play but you’ll have to spend a small amount of time to actually get started. There is a definite learning curve to the game, beginning with the three letter character attributes of your players.
Once you get started, there are lots of things to look forward to. In league play, you can actually retrieve upgrades from the field and use it on your players as well as buy upgrades for your cast of players’ attributes. Speed, for example, is one that would come in handy. This promotes some character development and includes a little depth into the game beyond merely keeping track of your win-loss records.
Graphically, Speedball 2 looks like a decent recreation of the old title. The cartoonish players are still all here and are of a large enough size so you don’t have to squint. A good balance between character and arena sizes prevents the game from falling into an oft-sprung trap for PDA games. The arena spans several screen lengths but the developers have made it so it’s not too vacuous that you’ll get lost in it. The motif itself, however, is very generic and Speedball 2’s visuals suffer because it lacks many of the niceties we take for granted today. Real-time shadows and animated backdrops are notably missing, making the overall title look bland in comparison.
The ambient sound doesn’t manage to distinguish itself either. It too is dull and colorless, consisting of nothing but a repeating crowd roaring. Think of a one to two second sample of a crowd cheer repeating over and over until the game ends. The only exception to that rule is when you score a goal. The crowd will then get significantly louder.
This is disappointing considering Speedball 2 starts off with one of the loudest music settings. The menus being dotted with music, I wonder why some of this couldn’t be thrown into the game itself, like basketball rallies, football marches or baseball tunes do in real life stadiums. Chants and shouts of defense could easily have been added.
If I had my headphones on at the time, as I would if I was playing on the go, the blaring music wouldn’t have been a pleasant first impression. It didn’t take long to scroll through the options to turn it down though. Speedball 2 has plenty of options for you to configure, including a fair bit of flexibility on how to control your characters.
The controls are actually not at fault. They do a good job of letting you control your man (they seem to be all men) on the field. The fault lies in the predictive mechanics of the title. It has a tough time guessing which player you should be playing. Again, think of it as a soccer game where each player is responsible for a specific zone. Often times, I found myself chasing someone and getting stuck hopelessly behind. Up ahead, a friendly AI player has decided to come down to assist me. Lo and behold, I couldn’t automatically skip to him and by the time I got control of him, he’s not in the optimal position to stop the opposing player with the ball. Worse yet, the opposing team may have already made a pass that I was sure I could block. On the flipside, there were also times when I was chasing someone outside of my zone and suddenly was switched to someone I thought was at an even greater disadvantage. This quirk is workable and you can get around it. Humans are one of the most adaptable creatures and since I knew exactly where these ‘control of zone’ problems would crop up, I was able to steer clear of the situation. But it shouldn’t really be my responsibility.
In spite of the aging graphics and the gameplay problems, Speedball 2 still racks up points when it comes to sheer fun. This game was originally released on platforms such as the Atari ST. It also made the leap to gaming computers such as the Amiga and what we would consider traditional consoles in the NES and Sega Master System. After a decade of hiatus, it’s finally brought to the Pocket PC. Has it aged since then? Yes, appreciably. Is it still enjoyable on modern hardware? Undoubtedly, and I’m sure most people who like sport will find it so.
[09/10] Program Size
[10/15] Learning Curve