Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe
One of the best innovations that the Xbox 360 brought to the gaming table was the introduction of the Live Arcade. Initially a dumping ground for cast asides and afterthoughts, the service soon came to be seen as an essential part of the next generation experience, as can clearly be seen by the two competing consoles both offering similar programs (the Playstation Network and the Wii Virtual Console, specifically). As better games got offered, Microsoft was also able to broker deals to obtain older and often long sought after titles for inclusion. Thus we got Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Marathon: Durandal, and the original arcade version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. However, not every game is going to feel so fresh after so many years.
Take Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe, for example. Since its 1991 release, Speedball has gained a small but loving following. The violent sports title has seen many re-releases on several different platforms, the latest being the XBLA. I did not feel that time had been very kind to the game, with its sluggish controls and low level graphics hampering it beyond the point of repair.
The point of Speedball 2 is exceedingly simple. As part of a nine man sports team, you get a ball and score goals with it, by hook or by crook. The game plays out in a metal arena, looking like a football field in some dystopian future. While scoring through goals nets you the most points, it's not the only way to win. Throughout the arena are targets that you can hit for different levels of points. You also score when you tackle opponents and for other similar actions.
At the halfway mark of the arena stands a score multiplier, making it that much easier for you to gain the advantage over the winning team. But you can't get complacent. Randomized power ups can turn an easy victory into a shocking defeat in mere moments, and the enemy A.I. is twice as vicious as you wish you could be.
Aside from the standard three-minute matches, this upgraded version of Brutal Deluxe offers some new gameplay options. If this is your first time with the game, you can read up on the rules, and then jump into a practice arena for some time to learn the controls. Once you feel you're ready to start, you can either tackle the game's thirty two teams (a much expanded collection than what has been available previously) or go into a team management mode. While I often find that managing teams in sports games is frustratingly difficult (here's looking at you EA), Speedball makes things just as bad in the opposite direction, offering so few management options that you'll feel like you're not playing the game at all.
If you're feeling lucky (or skillfull), you can hit the online circuit, playing in real team against other players in a variety of ranked and non-ranked configurations. Be sure to find someone with a good connection, as this game seems especially sensitive to lag, perhaps due to the changes made in the graphics.
Two problems really bring down Speedball 2. The first is the controls, which switch between too sluggish and hyper fast. There never seems to be a good balance where you can comfortably play. The second lies in the nature of the game itself. While people may complain that sports games suffer from too little innovation, that doesn't mean that Speedball feels like a breath of fresh air. On the contrary, its carnage football-cum-pinball aesthetics feel far less satisfying now than they did over a decade ago.
Catalogue titles have had a spotty history on the Live Arcade. Some come out as they were, untouched by time, for better or worse. Others go through slight retoolings to look more presentable in today's world of HD gaming. And others still get a complete overhaul. Speedball falls somewhere in the middle of those latter two options. The game's 2D models have been replaced with 3D characters, as well as a new set of camera angles from which to view the action. But the character animations have not been updated, making their movements bizarre to behold. Add in that in general the only difference between teams is a little bit of coloring on their uniforms, and you have the makings of a disaster. After all, if you can't tell who's with you and who's against you, how can you expect to win?
Annoying. Speedball 2 relies on a small selection of vocals and sounds. If you play the game for more than five minutes, you'll have heard everything that it has to offer, and will hear nothing else for as long as you continue playing. Just another nail in the game's coffin.
Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe used to be fun, but time has not been kind. Despite a variety of new gameplay options, this Xbox Live Arcade entry is not worth a second glance, due to poor controls, graphics, and sound. Skip It.