Back in October we reported that the classic Bitmap Brothers Atari ST / Amiga / DOS Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe would be making its way to iOS in the form of Speedball 2: Evolution. Moments ago, the game went live in the App Store as a Universal application for both iPhone and iPad [link] and we’ve taken a close look over the past few days.
Speedball 2 is a futuristic cybersport that’s something of a mix between handball and ice hockey. The game takes place between two opposing teams — nine players to a team — in an enclosed, metal arena littered with power-ups and arrayed in warp portals and various score-enhancing mechanisms. Points are scored by getting the metallic ball past the opposing defense and into the goal, but brutality and violence are rewarded along the way. The overall feel is something akin to Atari’s earlier, football-inspired arcade cybersport Cyberball, I’ve always felt. It’s nicely visceral.
The first thing to say about the iOS version of Speedball 2 is that it’s an enhanced version of the classic Atari ST original. I note that right off, due to the fact that a remake of the game was released on the Xbox Live Arcade, featuring “enhanced" 3D graphics…which were anything but. They were 3D, but they were awkward and poorly animated and did not compare to the “classic" mode’s top-down, 2D graphics of the original. Speedball 2: Evolution for iOS takes the original’s 2D graphics and enhances them while leaving them in their original orientation, making the iOS release the best looking version of Speedball 2 to date.
The list of things Speedball 2: Evolution brings to the table is vast. There are 336 individual players, 20 in-field power-ups, 16 classic Speedball teams along with 12 new intergalactic teams, a 10-season career mode, 10 single-player modes, a multiplayer mode (Bluetooth & WiFi), six arenas on four different planets, and 22 achievements in all. It’s an impressive list. The various play modes allow for long-term team-building or just a quick detached match — whatever suits you.
I, personally, spent more time with the original Speedball back in the day, than with the sequel, and so certain enhancements over said original stand out to me. Among them are the arrays of stars for each team on the arena walls that add points when illuminated by a tag from the ball, sets of spiral ramps situated on the sidelines that alter point-multipliers, and the electrobounce chargers that turn the ball into a weapon. That’s not to mention the many power-ups that can be collected during the game, such as those that provide faster movement, body armour, or even freeze the opposing team in place.
Speedball 2 offers tilt controls as well as an optional onscreen D-Pad. I found that I like the tilt controls better than those of most iOS games, but more precision is offered by the onscreen D-pad, which is centered where you touch, adding a nice bit of flexibility. It’s a tap anywhere to pass the ball, and a tap-and-hold to perform a high, long-distance pass or to jump to catch such a pass.
In evaluating the game for this review I spent notable time with the Atari ST original to see how it compares to the iOS release — and had fun in the doing. After playing both titles side-to-side, I have to say that the iOS version is a bit steeper in the difficulty department than the ST original. Also, graphically the iOS version is notably superior to the ST version. I’d call the two pretty well matched on the fun scale, though I was a little more successful on the field on the ST due to its somewhat lower level of difficulty. And, I don’t think it was about the controls — of course the Atari version with a physical stick controlled better, but it was more about the game as presented.
Speedball 2, and its classic predecessor Speedball, brought the excellent Cyberball mechanic to the home, and Speedball 2: Evolution does likewise to the App Store. This is a classic arcade-style sports game that is more about fun than about simulation and accuracy. And, if you’re the kind of gamer that takes sports on a pretty casual level like I do, that’s a win.