Gaming for Grown Ups
7th January 2014 09:00:00
Posted by Edd Harwood

Speedball 2 HD

PC Review

The Digital Fix look back at the future of sport in their review of the remake Speedball 2 HD.
Memories. Like clicking disks failing in the drive. Misty nostalgic memories, of the games we played. Scattered floppies, of the games we left behind...

Speedball 2 was one of them. Letting my mind drift back to those halcyon days, I can almost feel my hands tingle in anticipation. Ramming the floppy disk into the side of the Amiga A500 keyboard, grabbing the nearest Zip Stik joystick and (barring that all too common disk-fail and having to blow on the ribbon underneath that far-too-tempting-to-play-with metal sliding guard) starting another insane match of rugby meets basketball meets hockey meets The Running Man.
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The ball will crush all...

Here’s some things I can remember from those heady days twenty-three years ago (oh god, how long?): when you throw the ball long distances it grows disproportionately in size as if the camera is hung at a bizarre skewed perspective. There are strange lumps on the side of the pitch and if the ball is pitched against them it becomes a weapon of death that wipes out all opponents it rolls into, and when players collapse injured on the floor (and in every match this is inevitable), two futuristic floating medical robots emerge onto the pitch to take the body away.

I guess the point I’m trying to make as I load up the high definition update of the game, aptly named Speedball 2 HD, is that we’re entering the realms of pure nostalgia. If you’re too old, too young, didn’t own a relevant format or simply never played the original Bitmap Brothers’ series of games, this release will mean nothing to you. You may wish to go on with your day.
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Robin quickly became known as the Vinnie Jones of Speedball.

For that niche audience then, Speedball 2 HD is a very faithful remake. It maintains that slick futuristic metal-clad interface, comic book style characters and at random points during the match a vendor will still scream ‘ice cream!’ above the wailing noise of the audience. The familiar single-button fast paced action remains, with players sprinting around the pitch or throwing the ball forward before being smashed to the ground by several opponents. Power-ups that change the state of the game (from teleporting the ball to making your team unstoppable for a few seconds) are still littered across the floor and point boosters still line the surrounding walls. It is still, all these years later, great arcade fun.

Points are awarded for getting the ball into the opponent’s goal, usually after wrestling their keeper to the ground, leaving the goal wide open. Also, rather ingeniously, players can throw the ball at bouncers placed around the edge and in the middle of the pitch for smaller gains. Finally injuries to the opposition provide just as many points as scoring a goal, which encourages brutal tackling and horrendous off-the-ball rumbles on players with low health. The result is some feverish action with scoring potential from anywhere on the pitch and last minute plays that leave everyone involved screaming at the screen.
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Practising the classic one-two manoeuvre.

Yet some of my memories seemed to have failed me. I do not recall the original being so stupidly easy that winning a match, even against the formidable intergalactic teams, being child’s play. Sure I may have been a child back then, but I remember being constantly challenged in the battle to climb the divisions and finally win the Speedball cup. Twenty-three years later I’m having to invent my own special achievements just to stop myself winning by hundreds of points. I’ve played games where I’m only allowed to score if I’ve run the length of the pitch, or only using the two-point bumper pads, or only scoring through injuries, and still won by over a hundred points. Sometimes I wonder whether the opposition are even trying.

Similarly in career mode, when managing the team between games, I am sure money used to be tight. It was always a struggle to decide which of your team needed upgrades on their tackling or throwing, or whether you should save to purchase an all-star player. Small upgrades off the pitch could be the difference between a missed tackle and a goal, between winning and losing. Now money seems to flow in after every game and before long you are fielding an impenetrable team of semi-deities against puny mortals. An area of the game I used to relish as I carefully considered my options has become somewhat of a farce.
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Winning by over four hundred points is sadly all too common. At least clean sheets are tricky.

It seems that the team at Vivid Games have even gone to the trouble of maintaining the buggy nature of the original. Menu screens constantly seem to lock up, with buttons becoming unresponsive and at times forcing complete resets and strangely during one season my team disappeared from the league table never to return, replaced by a clone with fake scores. Far, far worse however, while listening to the ironic floppy disk reading noises that signal the game is loading, the game froze and my career save game was corrupted. Subsequent attempts to load caused the game to crash out and the only viable solution was to restart the career. Never mind. I’d already won every title available by then anyway.

Outside of the career mode, there is a quick match option and the ability to play any cup unlocked in career mode or even create your own, but there is very little substance behind any of it other than simply replaying matches that you’ll most likely have won elsewhere. The multiplayer area, which is the only place you might find a challenge, is also sadly underwhelming. Players can go head to head on one machine, either cramped horrendously over the keyboard or using a controller. There is also the option to set up a custom tournament with up to eight human players leading to some entertaining evenings yet with no matchmaking, or even any online options available at all, it’s strictly limited to party occasions. Like the good old days I guess.
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The replays are a neat feature but are never long enough to show the complete move.

I guess I could have been wrong. This is the problem with nostalgia. Memories, that lie like precious jewels sprinkled across the void of the past, often turn out to be fool’s gold. Speedball 2 may have been a game for an era long lost and probably better left dormant. This remake is faithful and still encapsulates the glorious fun I remember fondly, yet something stings each time I boot it up, reminding me that the past is very much a country we no longer inhabit. It is so simplistic, so silly, that there’s barely more than a couple hours of entertainment to be had before you’ve leeched it for all it has to offer. Speedball 2 HD is a purchase for those who want to rekindle the early 90s, the glory days of gaming, the Amiga, the Master System, the Atari… however the resultant fire will barely light the soul, sizzling out all too quickly. Take it away Babs...

Memories may be beautiful and yet, what's too painful to remember we simply choose to forget, so it's the laughter we will remember.
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Here’s a funny story. I once sent a friend’s mum into Virgin Megastores to buy a Zip Stik joystick. She came out looking horrified after being laughed at for asking for a dipstick.



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Details and Specifications
Review Platform: PC

Publisher: Mastertronic

Developer: Vivid Games

UK Release Date: 2013-12-05
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