In the early nineties there were friends I used to visit only because they had an Amiga 500, and only to play Speedball 2. I know, such a user. But I’d chosen Atari early on and my teenage self had not the means to jump ship.
Fast forward to one excited ‘adult self’ as I discover ‘Speedball 2: Evolution’ in the App Store, for a meagre $6.49. Now, for those of you not in the know, Speedball 2 is a futuristic cross between handball and ice hockey. You control nine sporting cyberpunks as they tackle, punch, and gratuitously pummel their way up the court with the bloody-minded purpose of throwing one steel ball into one heavily guarded goal.
That's not the only way to score points, mind you. Bouncing the ball off one of two light globes on the court, or the five stars along the wall, and you’re in for more points. And you even get a tidy ten for taking out an opposing player. Yes, for those Speedball stalwarts out there, you’ll hear the vendors calling out ‘ice cream!’ as the limp player is carried off by robotic medics.
Off court you can spend your winnings on enhancements and training for your team. Faster, stronger, smarter, meaner - whatever you can afford. And if you feel like your team needs a fast injection of talent, you can trade out your dead wood from some off-the-shelf stars. I always spend big on a ring-in Centre Forward, a strategy that has yet to fail me.
Now, I know there are a few reservations out there when it comes to playing Speedball 2 with a virtual joystick. A D-Pad for the iPad. Yes, it takes some getting used to, but after a little stumbling about I was back up and playing like the halcyon days. And without risk of rupturing my friend’s joystick during a particularly harrowing set play. I got quite good at replacing springs in the old Quick Shot 2 Turbo. The D-pad is suitably sensitive, and can be shifted from one side of the touch screen to the other depending on whether you’re a righty or a lefty. And you can always opt for the Tilt control. Not my preference as the screen kept inverting every time I got near the opposition’s goal. Very disorienting. And while I’m complaining, tapping above the opponent’s goal pauses the game and brings up the Options menu. Why is this a problem? This sensitive spot is only millimetres above where I’m vigorously tapping in an attempt chuck the ball into said goal. Way to break the ‘flow’. But apart from these relatively minor foibles, the game play is smooth and frenetic enough to get the old red sludge pumping. No caffeine necessary.
For fans of the original, rest assured, this is a lovingly detailed remake. From the original 16 bit aesthetics to the nineties techno soundtrack, it’s all there. Remastered and clarified, of course, but in a good way, as opposed to a horrible ‘Han Solo walks over a tacky CGI Jabba the Hutt’ way. The add-ons, mercifully, are the icing on this cake of tasty brutality.
If I’m tired of the soundtrack, I can opt to play tracks from my media library, and still retain all of the in game sound effects. Something I wish a lot more games would do. And once I’ve played through the initial two leagues, the ones featuring the teams from the original game, I can progress on to battling off-world colonists, robots, and mutants in pursuit of the Intergalactic cup. Then there’s the multiplayer option whereby I can take on another iPadder via WiFi or Bluetooth. Unfortunately no web-based competition yet, but surely it’s only a matter of time.
So my inner teenager finally has Speedball 2 to play at home, on the iPad, thanks to Bitmap Brothers and Tower Studios. Hours of futuristic sporty goodness to be had. To my old Amiga buddies, come on over for a round of King of the Court. Just remember to bring those steel balls of yours.