Developed by The Bitmap Brothers and published by Image Works in 1988, Speedball is a violent futuristic sport game where two teams try to score goals by throwing a metal ball into openings at the top and bottom of an enclosed court.
Speedball was likely influenced by the comic stories of 2000AD (notably: Harlem Heroes or The Mean Arena) and films such as Rollerball, and it allows players to knock each other down while off the ball and to aggressively score goals by any means possible.
Each team has a goalkeeper, who stands in front of the goal area and tries to stop the ball going past, and four outfield players. At the start of a match (and after every goal), the ball is ejected from a spinning device at the centre of the playing field, and then it’s pretty much a free-for-all as players desperately scramble to gain possession and to throw the ball to each other – ultimately to try to throw it past the opposition ‘goalie’ and score a goal.
That is easier said than done, though. I’ve always liked the idea of Speedball as a game, but have never liked how it played. To me, the game just doesn’t play well and the one-button control system doesn’t allow for nuanced play.
Playing it now, it’s just as frustrating as I remember it being when I first played it. When you want to throw the ball low, it goes high, and vice versa. Being knocked over by an opposing player happens all the time, and it effectively takes you out of the game for five or more seconds. Switching players – or at least: selecting the right player – is a mystic art it seems, and scoring a goal is more down to luck than judgement.
Some might argue that Speedball is easy to play, but I disagree. It really does lack subtlety, pick-up-and-playability, and is a very frustrating game to master. Most people will give up on it long before they manage to win a game.
A much better sequel – Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe – followed in 1990 and was more successful and popular than the first Speedball.
More: Speedball on Wikipedia
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