[Games/Retro] Review: Speedball 2 Evolution

Of all the many classic Amiga experiences that the remain in the memory years on from the system’s demise, the Bitmap Brothers’ seminal Speedball 2 is perhaps the most perfect. A delicious blend of arcade gameplay, violence and humour it was the first and last word in futuristic sports games from the second it was released. Inspired partly by the classic movie Rollerball, Speedball 2 was a sequel to 1988’s 8 and 16-bit hit Speedball. But where the first game was a slower paced 5 on 5 affair where goals were everything, the sequel mixed things up considerably. Games were 9 versus 9, matches lasted just 90 seconds each way and points could be scored not just by netting the ball, but by bouncing it off stars, bumpers and ramps – and even by knocking out opposing players.

It was an instant smash, helped in no small part by gorgeous graphics and thundering intro music composed by the late, great Nation XII. Mostly though, players kept coming back for the gameplay. Matches were frantic and violent, but with so many ways to score points they always remained close. With just ten seconds left on the clock it was possible for a canny player to pull back a deficit of more than twenty points and snatch victory.

That big red thing in the bottom left is the onscreen d-pad. Subtle.

That big red thing in the bottom left is the onscreen d-pad. Subtle.

Despite critical acclaim and commercial success, there was no proper follow-up, save for the abomination that was Speedball 2100 on the PlayStation and the equally poor Speedball 2 Tournament on the PC. The Bitmap Brothers moved on to other well-recieved titles like Gods and the Chaos Engine, and Speedball 2 was left alone, still yet to be bettered in its own small gaming genre niche.

Last year, though, the series was revived for a (now deleted) outing on Xbox Live Arcade. Running off an adapted form of the original Amiga code and retaining the top down, high speed insanity of the original it was one of the better 16-bit polishes released on Microsoft’s console. It also proved just how well the original version had aged, offering the same blast of refreshing violent fun as it had back in 1990.

Now it’s recieved another warmed over outing, this time on the iPad and iPhone (it’s a universal app, with a proper HD iPad mode). £2.39 buys you this the latest iteration, Speedball 2 Evolution. It’s more homage than update, with menu screens that share the look of their Amiga forbears. There’s even a loading noise that sounds like the A500’s floppy disk drive churning away. Graphically, everything looks very similar to the now 21 year-old original. The colour palette is broader, and there’s more detail, but the sprites are similarly sized, and the arena’s proportions are near identical. It even sounds similar, with the familiar cries of “ice cream” from vendors in the audience punctuating the cheerw of the crowd during goal replays. In fact there’s very little difference between this new version and the original Speedball 2. To quote Alan Partridge it really is “evolution, not revolution”.

Unlike the Amiga original, the crowd is now visible

Unlike the Amiga original, the crowd is now visible

Sadly, where it can’t match the original is in the control method. It’s a well worn furrow of criticism to plough, but arcade gaming really suffers on the iPhone’s touchscreen. Speedball 2 Evolution tries to cope with this by offering two distinct control methods. The first is tilt-based, and while it fares better than many similar attempts from other games, it still sees you wrestling your phone around like an idiot, and doesn’t offer the ability to change direction with enough speed and precision. The fallback, then, is an onscreen d-pad. It’s better, but still no substitute for a chunky plastic digital joystick or control pad. It is, though, the price a title has to pay if it wants to appear in front of Apple’s massive user-base.

The Speeball Arena looks just as lovely as ever

The Speeball Arena looks just as lovely as ever

After the initial bout of nostalgia, controls aside, there’s lots here to keep you coming back. As well as the original cup and league modes, you’re now offered a full career, with new arenas and tournaments to unlock. For those who value progression over money, in-app purchases allow you to circumvent the grind and get hold of huge tracts of in-game cash for a couple of quid.

It’s great to see Speedball back and being offered to a new generation unfamiliar with its 16-bit origins. It’s also great to have a perfectly playable version of one of the best sports games of all time available for a reasonable price in the App Store. The developers have done their best to wrestle with the iPhone’s control problems, and to a limited extent they’ve succeeded. Still though, a few minutes playing Speedball 2 Evolution is more likely to see you scuttling off to dust down the original than it is to get you hooked on this update.



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Categories: Games, Retro

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