It's just a shame that the actual gameplay itself is so over-complicated and unbalanced, even if it is impossibly moreish.
For years we've pondered why game developers don't use the potential of the interactive medium to create new sports. Numerous publishers do a great job replicating the on pitch action of the real-life sports we love year-after-year, but never dare to push their wares into uncharted sporting territory.
Our lust for unique sporting experiments has taken us to dark places in the past. Believe it or not, we once had Quidditch World Cup for PS2 sitting in our eBay Watch list. Thankfully we managed to avoid the regrettable deed. But until recently our desire for experimental sports remained unfulfilled.
We'd heard of The Bitmap Brothers' Speedball series of course. Iterations of the popular cyber-punk sporting series have appeared on practically every video game system in existence, with PlayStation Minis being the latest platform to scoop up an updated version of the massively popular franchise.
Thing is, contrary to our opening paragraph, we'd never actually played Speedball. Turns out it was the game we wanted all along. Sort of.
Developed as a collaboration between Tower Studios (comprising of former Bitmap Brothers employees) and Vivid Games, Speedball 2 Evolution is a futuristic sports game based on pinball, football, rugby and ice-hockey. The game's cyber-punk presentation has a cynical edge, with brutality being rewarded as you're encouraged to take down opponents as nastily as possible.
The sport itself is quite simplistic, if a little cluttered with too many rules. You control a team of nine players — three defenders, mid-fielders and attackers. Each player has a unique set of statistics which can be upgraded in the gym or transfer market.
The objective of the game is to use your team to hold back the threat of an opposing nine players, and put the ball into the back of their futuristic, electronic net thing. So far, so straight-forward. You can move with the ball in any direction and pass forwards or backwards. The ball can be lobbed upwards using the Circle button, and curved by switching direction of the analogue stick immediately after release.
Unfortunately the game falls into the overcomplicated trap from there. There are stars on the side of the playing field that can be lit for additional points during the game, as well as bumpers that dish out a couple of points each time they are hit. There is also a ramp to the right of the pitch which allows the team to multiply their potential points tally at the threat of losing possession. But it all feels a bit too much. Why not just aim for the goal as opposed to lighting up stars and hitting ramps?
The point allocation is odd, with ten points awarded for a goal and an additional ten for taking out an opponent. Seeing as neither team will avoid having at least one player dramatically subbed — by a group of floating ambulances no less — during the course of a match, awarding points for this element of the game feels pointless and uneven.
So ultimately, it comes down to whichever team is capable of beating the, erm, unbeatable goalkeepers at either end. There's some skill involved in scoring — we managed to curl a few into the net, as well as score one lucky lob — but most of the time you'll find yourself trying to knock out the 'keeper and scramble the ball to a striker who's left with an empty net.
It's all heavily unrefined and unbalanced, but good fun regardless. The game's cyber-punk aesthetic is complimented by a 16-bit technology cap that makes the game look both ridiculous and retro. The victory dances that players perform upon scoring a goal is golden, so is the call of "ice cream, ice cream" that sales-men scream to potential customers watching the game in the side-lines.
The campaign mode is long and moreish, with the desire to improve your team's statistics surprisingly compelling. You'll want to qualify for the best leagues with the best players, and that can take a good number of hours. In addition there are separate challenges to complete as well as unique achievements, so it's a big game.
Sadly it's lacking a multiplayer component, but that's down to the limitations of the Minis platform rather than the ambition of the developer.
Matches run for no longer than 3 minutes a time, so it's a perfectly suited to the Minis format. And it does everything we thought we wanted from a futuristic sports game. But despite getting totally and utterly addicted to Speedball 2 Evolution, we still came away a little disappointed. The game's unbalanced, over-complicated and unfair. But can we put it down? Can we heck.