Speedball 2 - Tournament Reader Review
Back when I used to play the original Speedball 2 in the Amiga days, it seemed quite good, because it was a more primitive time back then, so it didn't have much to compete with.
Today though, I think this game has very limited appeal. I only used to play the original Speedball 2, mainly because I didn't have much else to play back then. Nowdays, there is the internet, and there are millions of games out there, which I am much more interested in. So I would never want to play this game out of choice.
So if it has "limited appeal", who is it limited to? Well the only people I can imagine playing this game, are: 1) The original Speedball 2 players who have been waiting for 20 odd years, to play it with better graphics. 2) People who just like simple sports games. 3) People who bought it by mistake. Or perhaps people who saw the pretty screenshots and the hype, and got sucked in.
So maybe I am wrong, but I think all of those groups of people, will be very limited in number. I am not a big sports fan anyway, so I was never likely to give this game a rave review anyway. But really, I can't help thinking that this game looks back to a time when games where... well... games. Nowdays, games are much more. Look at something like WoW or Oblivion for example, and it is basically like an alternative reality for some people. You make a character just like you, or like whoever you want... and then you explore an enormous world doing fun stuff and being a hero, solving riddles and completing quests, fighting evil creatures along the way - either with offensive magic, defensive magic, swords, bow and arrow, stealthily - with daggers, or even a mixture of some or all of those things. Many of these modern games are just enormous in terms of complexity, scope, and depth. So when I look at a game that involves two teams chucking a ball into each other's goal... it kind of makes me wonder why they even bothered.
Having said that, many people buy NFL, NHL, and Fifa Soccer games, so there must be plenty of people who still enjoy a more down to earth, plain sports game. So the important thing with this review I think, is to try to describe it enough, so people can figure out for themselves if it's worth buying or not. I think it is like a tired old relic from the past, that shouldn't have been updated, but you may disagree, and hopefully if I describe it, you can decide.
Anyway, opinions aside, I can describe what I actually played, so you can hopefully see if that sounds like your idea of fun or not. First off, for those of you who don't really know what this game is exactly, I will explain it briefly. Otherwise, you can skip this section.
What is Speedball 2, and how do you play it?
It is basically like like a strange mixture of Soccer, American Football, and Hockey. It borrows from all those sports, and it is kind of like playing all 3 of them at once. But it is VERY much simplified too. Also, with fewer players and a smaller arena, don't expect anything as large as a big soccer game. The smaller scale, makes it more like 5 a side match.
It is played in an arena which is basically the same as an ice hockey rink, but with a normal floor instead of ice. You then have two teams, and they use a metal ball which they hold and throw, and the objective is to throw it or run with it, into the opposing team's goal.
Then there are a few unusual twists. Firstly, there is no offside rule, so you can basically just throw the ball all the way down to your front guys, and then go and score. This makes midfield and defence, very important, because losing possession can be very bad.
Also, it is brutal rather than sportsman like. So you don't really "tackle" people like in soccer. Instead, you punch them in the face, or just slide into them and bully the ball off them.
The main unusual differences though, are that it adds some kind of pinball elements to the game too. On the sides of the arena, are some little stars that give you a couple of points if you chuck the ball at them, and there is a dome in the middle of the arena that works in the same way. So you can get some fast and easy points that way, but you run the risk of losing possession, and you are also sacrificing two quick points, for a possible 10 (or more) points if you just went and scored a proper goal instead.
There are also pinball kind of holes, where you chuck the ball in, and it comes flying out, further down the arena, or even on the other side of the arena. So you can use this to your advantage, or it can lose your possession if you mess up. And lastly, there is some kind of electric thing... where if you throw the metal ball into it, it electrifies the ball, so you can then throw it and if an enemy player tries to intercept and steal the ball.. they will be electrocuted.
What are you meant to do?
To put it simply, this is a very simple game, and there is very little depth, and very little to master. I'm not a big fan of Soccer or NHL or NFL games either, but I have played all those games, and really, I think most people will be much better off playing those games instead of this.
But there may still be some people who would prefer this, so my only goal in this review, is to try my best to guide those people towards this game, and everyone else away from the game.
Perhaps it would be a good choice for people who struggle a bit with Fifa Soccer etc, or can't be bothered with it all. Or perhaps it might not just be people who struggle, but even people who are skilful, but still just prefer something a bit more action based.
You see, there are no formations, there is no real team management, there is no offside rule, no penalties, no throw ins, no playbook, no real strategies, etc. It is just a simple game about getting a ball in the goal.
A lot of the time, you do this without even passing. Sometimes you pass once, maybe twice, and on rare occasions, more than a few times. But this is different to the likes of Soccer, where passing the ball around skilfully (dozens and dozens of times...), is just as important as actually scoring. This game seems to have much less emphasis on passing. And that shouldn't be surprising either. There are fewer players, so really, if you can just sprint past two or three people, there usually isn't anyone else left to get in your way.
Also, when you realise that you can just chuck it to your most forward player... the game becomes all about possession. So you CAN pass the ball around like a legendary soccer or NHL team if you like, but you are most likely doing more harm than good, because if a pass is intercepted, they can just chuck it to their forward guy and score a goal.
THIS is how the gameplay works in reality
You start off in the centre of the arena, face to face with the opposing team. The ball is launched about 10 feet or so into the air, and you both run and try to grab it first.
After winning a match in the league, you get credits to upgrade your players. This is the ONLY bit of gameplay this game has, outside of the actual matches themselves. So I wouldn't call it team management.. it is just a bit of points spending (and you can just choose to let the game do that automatically).
So anyway, after the ball is launched, my upgraded centre player would win the ball 9 times out of 10.. I would run at the ball, and press jump. My player would leap 10 foot into the air, clear over the top of the other player, and snatch the ball in the air. I would then run forward towards the enemy team's goal. Their 2 midfield players would dive at me and miss, their few defenders did the same, so I would just run through the middle of them. I would then reach the enemy goal and it was just me vs the goalie. But the problem I found, is that the goalie just dives directly at you when you get quite close. So I would then just casually run to the left or right of him, and run into the goal with the ball and score. They then also gave you a "dodge" button, which allows your character a short burst of incredible speed. So you can also just run across the face of the goal, and when you see the goalie charging at you, you just tap dodge and you zip out of the way easily. You can then just chuck the ball in the goal, or just run into the goal with it in your hand...
At first I thought I got really lucky, but then I started doing this exact same simple routine, consistently in every game, and in my last game, the score was 200 points to me, and nil to the other team... I knew the game had major issues at this point. I could unnecessarily complicate it by jumping as I reached the goal, and the character could then chuck the ball at high speed, over the goalie's shoulder. I quite liked doing that, but it seemed pointless seeing as the quick dodge trick worked every time. Lastly on the subject of goal scoring, I was disappointed at the lack of low shots. You either run into the goal, throw it at about shoulder height, or jump and chuck it down. What you can't do, is chuck it down to go through the goalie's legs, or as in NHL games, do what I think is called a "deek", which basically spoofs the goalie and does a low shot across the ice, into the goal.
Besides the easy start and the easy scoring, there are other issues too. When a player ends up knocked down, the enemy AI doesn't seem to realise, and doesn't seem to have any contingencies. So the enemy player will just end up running on the spot, because they are stuck on a fallen player. So playing the AI is pretty boring, because you can often just walk over to one of these stuck enemy players, smack them in the face and steal the ball, and go and score (as easily as I described above).
There are other bugs too. When I was playing it earlier, and I had to answer the phone, and as I was winning by about 200 points.. I didn't even bother pausing the game. So I wasn't playing it, and I was just watching it. The enemy managed to actually take the ball and get it to my goal. He chucked the ball at my goalie who saved it by diving to the left. He was lying on the floor with the ball in his hand, and just as I was expecting him to stand up and then choose someone to throw it out to... the ball shot out of his hands and into the back of the goal, in the blink of an eye. The AI also does silly things at times, like reaching my goal, and he could shoot and score.. but instead, he chucks the ball all the way back where he came from - for some strange reason.
I'm assuming all this will be fixed in patches eventually, and I'm assuming that if you play it online, some of this wouldn't matter thanks to not needing the AI. But right now, the game has some issues when playing against the AI.
My main gripe though, is that even once these bugs get fixed, I just don't think the game has a lot going for it. It is just TOO simple. I do actually appreciate simplicity sometimes. I already explained I am not a fan of sports games, and I am not a fan of sport at all. So a game which gets rid of all the formations and stuff, could have been interesting for me. But it just isn't. It is too simple, and it is too repetitive, and it is too boring.
The arena is about one third the size of a soccer pitch, and there are less players than a soccer team, so right away it is simplified in that respect. They aren't on ice, so you don't have to learn to understand how the players "flow". The only real interesting feature in this game, are the gadgets on the walls, and even those aren't very special.
If you are losing badly, they are never going to help you, and if you are winning, you don't really need them. The only time they really seem to work well, is in a close game, because a quick thinking player could end up with a sneaky 2 points, which could win them the match. And all the extra points over a larger game can really add up too. But what it gains from those few gadgets, is a mile away from compensating for all the things this game lacks.
Graphics + Sound
The few sound effects are verging on none existent, and the few that there are, are pretty terrible. The game still has the well known "ICE CREAM!" shout, but you can barely even tell what they are saying. The music is retro, and I find it annoying, and there isn't enough of it. I feel like I am having the same 1970's idea of a "futuristic" song, blasted in my ears every match.
As for the graphics, they are unusual. When viewed close up, they look really good. The arena is highly detailed, and the armour on the characters looks good too. Some of the character faces look very good, but many of them have that "shininess" problem I see a lot of people talking about, where they look like a doll's face covered in Vaseline.
The problem with the graphics though, is that you are only zoomed in for about 1% of the time spent playing the game :( So when you score, the camera zooms in, and you get to see the instant replay which looks as good as Unreal Tournament's graphics.
But the entire rest of the time, you are looking down on the characters in the arena, from about 100 feet up... And consequently, all the characters are about half an inch tall. You can't see the detail on them, and you can't see the textures, and the whole thing goes from looking as graphically advanced as a modern FPS, almost life like, to looking like a game from the 80's with a touch of polish... Take a character out of Crysis, shrink him down to half an inch tall, and put him inside a pinball machine... and that is what this game looks like.
Another very disappointing thing, is that the animations are cheap and lazily done. They are sometimes "ok", but never great. There is very little variety. They walk, run, and have a couple of poses. When you consider how small and simple this game is... and then you compare the amount of animations in an enormous RPG like Oblivion or WoW or COD4 or Crysis something, I think it is pathetic that a game this small can't have better animations. The few they have, aren't even that fluid either.. and some of the female characters with big bootylicious hips, just look stupid when they run.
The main problem though, is that the 8 way directions of a gamepad or keyboard, means the characters are only really running in one of those 8 directions... So if they are running "up+right", and then you decide you want to go "up+left", the character kind of snaps from one direction to the other instantly. So they don't smoothly transition like they do in modern Fifa Soccer or NHL games.
So the overall result, is that, again... it looks like a game from the 80's with a lick of paint. There are no modern, advanced animations here, which emulate real life. It looks primitive, and it looks very much like a game. It is a game, I know.. but when you see some of the screenshots, the graphics look so good, I bet some people assume the game looks like real life, or atleast, as good as Unreal Tournament or Hellgate London or whatever. But it doesn't. Again, view Unreal or Hellgate from 100 feet up in the air, and it ends up looking more and more like a Nintendo DS game than a cutting edge modern game with the U3 engine. The only time it looks as good as the screenshots, is during those occasional moments in between the action, where the camera gets down low and looks at the characters in an instant replay etc.
There are spelling mistakes, a couple of crashes, the user interface is pretty ugly, and the customisation of the controls is pretty terrible. For example, some people want to play with just the keyboard, and the game only allows you to use keyboard AND mouse. The only way around that, seems to be edit some files and whatnot.
Basically, it looks very rushed to me. When you combine that with the bugs I mentioned earlier, it seems very amateurish, like a budget game.
I know most games nowdays are rushed out, but this is a bit buggier and a bit more unpolished than most games. And when you consider how simple this game is.. I find it quite unacceptable. This isn't a budget game... This is a full price game, the same price as COD4 and Crysis and whatnot... When I game like that has a few bugs, I can understand it, even if I don't like it. But those games have about 500 times more complexity and depth than this game, so when I see bugs and lack of polish in something like this... it is just... well... rude.
Worth a mention
First off, the problem I mentioned with the 8 way directions of a gamepay or a keyboard on a PC, might be avoidable if you had an analogue controller. I don't, so I couldn't try that out. But its worth a mention because if you have a good joypad with analogue aswell as digital controls, it might allow you to have a bit more control over the ball. If you have played the NHL or Fifa games though, you will know what I mean, and you will already be used to it.
Anyway, there are three things that I did quite like in the game. They aren't anything special, and without them, the game would be a complete joke. But seeing as there isn't a whole lot else to get excited about, I may as well mention them.
There are the stats that you choose for your players. It's nothing to write home about, but atleast you can distribute them to specific characters, so you can boost the characters on the team, that you use the most.
There is a circle under the player that you are controlling, like in other sports games. But this circle becomes less and less complete as the player gets injured/tired. So at a quick glance, you can see players who are worn out, and players who are still fit. This lets you identify who is best to pass to, so you know you have someone who isn't tired/hurt, who can run with the ball and score a goal.
A few times I have bounced the ball of a wall and had another player collect it. I quite liked that. If you have a team mate behind you, but there is an enemy team mate between you both, you can't pass to them. But if you can bounce it off the wall, you might get away with it. It is rare that this works though, because you don't have that much control over the ball, and it is just too risky to do stuff like that. But I have seen a couple of nice little things like that. One time I shot at the goal and I accidentally used the throw high button. He threw it at the wall above the goal and the ball ricochets off the wall back towards my player. My player got taken to the ground by the goalie, but then the character behind my player picked up the ricocheting ball, and I then just ran it into the goal. So it is nice when stuff like that happens, but it isn't a big deal, and it also doesn't happen often.
Basically, I just think this is a very simple sports game. That is as honest as you are going to hear from anybody. If you ignore what I personally enjoy or don't enjoy, you should hopefully be able to make your own decision to buy or not, based on the fact that it is just a simple sports game.
The Fifa Soccer/ NHL / NFL (maybe even baseball and rugby games too etc.), all have more depth, and are more challenging than this game. So I suggest you stick to those games if you want a good sports game.
If you are like me, you would be bored of "Speedball 2- Tournament" within an hour or two. And even if you did decide to stick with the game much longer than that, I doubt it will keep you interested for TOO long, because there just isn't much to learn or to master. As a single player game, it is currently pretty much useless. As an online game, I'm sure it is much more fun, but still.. very simple.
For those of you who played Speedball 2 many years ago, this is basically the exact same game all over again, just with improved graphics. And don't think the graphics are amazing now either, because they really aren't. They look nice close up, but you spend most of your time looking down on the entire arena, and it looks very simple from up there. There are no great special effects, and all the details are lost from that height. The poor sound and music compounds the lack of impressiveness further, and just makes the overall experience, quite boring.
Bugs, lack of polish, and lack of eye candy aside, this is still just a simple sports game. If you have been craving a simple sports game for a long time, then lucky you! Because here it is. For most people though, I suggest you skip this game.
As for scores, based on what I feel is right, but also based on Eurogamer's "Scoring Policy", this is what I have chosen for scores.
5/10 - for me (even a 4 if I was feeling bold) 5.5/10 - if they patch it up well in the future
If you are a huge sports game fan and you don't mind something simpler than usual, and without a lot of the depth and features of the Fifa and NHL/NFL games etc... then perhaps this might even be as high as a 6 for you, or a 7 if you got hooked.
If it was a bargain bucket game for $9.99, I would have scored it higher too. But it isn't. This is a full price game, and it is simplistic, doesn't have a whole lot in it, it is rushed and buggy, and they have shown NO innovation at all. They have taken an old game, and given it a lick of paint and little else. They also didn't even respect it enough to run it through a spell checker. So I can't pick a score that suits everyone, I am choosing based on how I felt playing it, and that is a 5. As I said, if I was feeling bold, I would probably even give it a 4. Hope that helps.
5 / 10