ESWC ’07: Early Speedball 2 impressions, shaky-cam

One of the most interesting areas of the ESWC floor was a section totally devoted to small, independent, European game development companies. Here is where I spent a majority of my time, talking to developers and trying out what new, low-profile, games will be coming out of Europe this fall.

Once such game is Kylotonn‘s Speedball 2, a souped-up PC remake of BitmapBrothers‘ 1990 Amiga classic. The game will drop sometime in autumn and is being published by Frogster.

The premise is simple: post-apocalyptic street gangs play Speedball in the anarchic streets of ravaged cities. The game is violent mix of handball and football — think NFL Blitz meets Double Dribble. Incidentally, present-day street gangs do speedballs to get high and stay that way. I scoured the floor for Candyflip Warriors or DrainO MethMan Adventures, but, alas, I couldn’t find them.

Hit the jump for my impressions on an early build of Speedball 2, as well as some gameplay.

It may be that the player I chose to film simply wasn’t any good. Or it may be that, like me, he found the controls to be totally unintuitive. I couldn’t find a single control scheme that made any sense — in every sports game known to man, the “pass” and “switch player” buttons have been in the same, but not here. The result is a lot of jumping when you want to shoot, sprinting when you want to tackle, and other general shenanigans. After 15 minutes, I still didn’t have a firm grasp of the controls.

The AI seemed to very weak all around — your team mates just mill about, and opponents just seem to charge at you like horny rhinos. The textures and colors are also pretty bland and uninspired, featuring lots of next-gen browns and greys.

But, after you get past the weird controls, silly AI, and drab visuals, the fun starts. Oh, boy, does it start! The fact of the matter is that Speedball 2 is fun. Gobs of fun. The controls, if you can get the hang of them, are responsive and fluid and the passing and shooting are sensitive and accurate (that is to say, they go right where you directed them, not necessarily straight to one of your players).

There are two ways to score, but hitting the walls in certain places and by shooting into the opposing goal. There are also three types of players (men, women, and droids), each with certain skillsets. Thus, the gameplay can be a straightfoward and meat-headed, or as strategic and tactical as you want it to be. And the ability to absolutely destroy people is viscerally satisfying, much like beating young siblings.

The game is very much still in development and needs a lot of polish. I also can’t see paying full price for it — it would be much better suited for XBLA or a handheld, instead of a full-fledged PC game. On the other hand, Speedball 2 is only 50% finished. Here’s hoping that Kylotonn can fix some of the control and AI issues, as well as add enough content to make it worth my while. It would be a shame to see a game this fun fall by the wayside because of botched presentation.

[Huge thanks to the good Reverend for help with the video]

Joseph Leray