Speedball 2 is a faithful translation of the 1990 Bitmap Brothers futuristic, ultra-violent sports game, but what passed for good gameplay has changed a lot in 17 years. Like many other XBLA remakes, Speedball includes a straight port and an enhanced version. If the enhanced version offered more than updated graphics, it might have appealed to everyone, and not just fans of the original. Speedball shows its age, and it’s just not as fun as many of us would like to remember.
There are many scoring avenues available to the player: throw the ball into the opposing team’s goal, throw the ball into one of the targets scattered around the field, or injure a player severely enough that he is removed from the game. The concept is great, but its execution is flawed, particularly when taking the 360’s control pad into account. There’s no reason for almost every function to be mapped to the A button when you’ve got four face buttons, two triggers, and two shoulder buttons to work with. Leave the controls alone in classic mode, but a control upgrade would be a welcome addition to enhanced mode.
Each team is composed of five players. Most sports games either let the player control only one player or whichever player he or she chooses. Speedball chooses for you. Control is constantly shifted to whichever player is closest to the ball. When the insanely talented AI has the ball it isn’t uncommon for the player-controlled team to do nothing but switch which man is controlled by the player while the AI runs the ball all the way down the field. These abrupt changes are particularly noticeable and bothersome when control is shifted to the goalie with no warning. Play is more fun against a human, but like most other retro ports Speedball has very few online players.
Speedball isn’t a good game anymore. It’s a classic, but unless you played and loved it in 1990 it’s difficult to recommend that anybody drop $10 on it. Games used to be simpler, and it’s easy to look back on them through rose-colored glasses. Speedball 2 is proof that games don’t always age as gracefully as we’d like.