[Has it really been two years since the release of Retroaction issue 1? It seems to be, so to celebrate this miniscule occasion, we’re revisiting some of the articles that were published within those digital pages…]
Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe, to give its full title, is arguably the Bitmap Brothers’ most famous and best game. The game was released for many formats including the Amiga, Atari ST, Mega Drive, and even the C64. Taking the basic ideas behind the original Speedball, the Bitmap Brothers used the best parts of the first game and incorporated them with a whole host of new features for the sequel.
When the game loads up, it’s hard not to notice the impressively thumping opening soundtrack, which is suitably futuristic and brutal. The game’s main options include the league (which consists of two divisions with eight teams in each), the cup competition (which is played over two legs), and a knockout tournament. There is even a full-on management option, although the game is best played with you in direct control.
The player takes control of a struggling team called Brutal Deluxe, apparently the worst team in Speedball history – they certainly look it. It’s the player’s job to transform this team of losing wimps into winners by gaining promotion from the second division and going on to win the first division league title, all within two seasons. As player manager the gamer has the ability to train the players with specific talent or just replace them with better players. Players can be sold and the credits used to purchase upgrades for your players.
The gym is where that hard-earned money can be spent to improve the slack jawed yokels in the team. Areas that can be improved are attack, power, speed, defence, stamina, aggression, and intelligence. It’s also a good idea to have a good centre forward as he is always involved in the face offs and scuffles. The transfer market is a good way to gain a decent player quickly as all kinds of players, of different abilities, appear for sale throughout the game. However, for long term success, it’s best to train the raw talent at the player’s disposal, as their skills can improve beyond that of any player brought in.
The speedball sport itself is a futuristic handball/football hybrid and is played in an indoor arena with two teams of six players: one goalkeeper, two defenders, two midfielders, and three attackers, who are all body armoured and ready to do battle over the small steel ball. The sport lacks any sort of rules so any physical contact is allowed and is often necessary to succeed.
When a match begins, the extent to which this sequel had been improved becomes apparant. Whereas before, the pitch was only a few screens high, fit the whole screen width and scrolled vertically only, the new arena spans across horizontally and vertically, and boasts a number of new improved features. While the mainstay of the game – scoring goals – hasn’t changed, each side of the pitch now contains a useful bonus scoring wall panel and a score multiplier where players can often be found racking up the multiplier by 50% or 100% for bigger scores.
The playing area is also randomly littered with credit tokens and power-ups, which have a limited time of use. These include the ability to freeze the opponent team, forming a shield around the player, transport the ball to the attacker, boost all or certain skills of a player and more. There’s also the ability to electrify the ball and laugh menacingly as the ball flies through an opponent’s goalkeeper, electrifying them in the process, and straight into the open goal. The electrified ball can even go through one or two opponents, depending on the score multiplayer setting at the time.
As well as the many attractive additions to the pitch, the game is faster, more frantic and even more violent. Each player has their own attributes and can only withstand a certain amount of punishment from the other team. As the match progresses, a player will take more and more beatings and, depending on their armour and stats, their energy could decrease to zero and they will collapse to the floor only to be stretchered off the pitch by two robotic medics. And to rub salt in the wounds, the team who knocked the poor chap about are awarded points for injuring a player.
The control system is easy to use: the joystick controls the players who can move, slide and tackle, depending on the situation. When in possession of the ball, the player can throw it, while the strength is determined by how long the fire button is held down for. Gameplay is fast, furious and fun: the three Fs. Graphics are typically Bitmap metallic and suit the game style perfectly. Sound is also great with bone crunching sound effects and an atmospheric soundtrack. One minor niggle is that there isn’t a career mode – but then there wasn’t for many games at the time – so hard core gamers may complete the game rather quickly. However, as is the case with many games, the two player option increases the game’s lastability infinitely.
The Amiga, Atari ST, DOS and Mega Drive versions are barely distinguishable from each other and either version is worthy of a look. The Commodore 64 version, which naturally has downgraded visuals, still keeps the great gameplay we all know and love. The game also went mobile as a version for the Gameboy and GameBoy Advance were released. The Gameboy version, while obviously monochromatic in presentation, is still a worthy attempt, while the GBA version is more colourful and polished. The Master System conversion plays similarly to its 16-bit Sega relative, but features slightly inferior graphics and sound.
One of the best games on the 16-bit computers, without a doubt. It retains the basic gameplay of the original, but expands on practically every part of it. The new enlarged pitch makes for a faster, game which involves more passing and dodging skills and the new pitch features add even more variety. As the manual states, the game is “100% bigger and includes a host of new features…. Speedball 2 is a different ball game.”
[This Speedball 2 article was originally published in Retroaction issue 1, which can be found here.]