Also available on: iPad
Developer: Vivid Games
Publisher: Tower Studios
Genre: Sport / Action
As one of the Goliaths of the Amiga era, Speedball 2 amassed a dedicated cult following and set the benchmark for futuristic sport sims for years to come. Combining elements of rugby, ice hockey and handball, this ultra-violent offering never lost its shine, making it an ideal candidate for the iOS remake treatment. Many retro games are rehashed on Apple platforms with touch-screen controls lazily shoehorned in, but the developers have gone above and beyond here. Evolution is true to its Amiga roots without feeling like a cut-and-paste job. The interface has been reworked from the ground up and an abundance of new features brought in to enrich the experience.
This isn't the first attempt at reviving Speedball 2. There have been numerous re-imaginings over the years, most of which have been flawed. It's difficult to improve on what is already perfect in the eyes of many, but if Evolution proves one thing it's that developers can learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. Rather than attempt to significantly shake up the core formula, Vivid Games has focused on playing to the iPhone's strengths. The game has been given a facelift, but still maintains all of the original's hallmarks, and comes loaded with enough bonus content to make it feel fresh.
Anyone unfamiliar with the series will have no problem diving straight in. The rules of the sport are refreshingly simple. As we mentioned earlier, it's a science fiction-themed game with its roots in rugby, ice hockey and handball. Controlling a team of nine players, the object is to outscore the opposition by hurling the ball into their goal, hitting the ball off targets and taking out their players. As beating opponents to a pulp is worth just as many points as putting one in the back of the net, contests usually resemble a Rangers vs. Celtic football match. It's intense, end-to-end stuff, frantic grappling and tactical prowess. In short, this is the most fun you can possibly have with a single button interface.
As with any sports game, there are numerous game modes on offer, including quick match, challenge mode and career. Career is a substantial player-manager experience that borrows heavily from age-old classic Sensible World of Soccer. Starting out controlling a lowly second division team, the object is to guide your side to league and cup glory before taking on teams from other solar systems in the intergalactic equivalent of the UEFA Champions League. As this is a gameplay driven experience, team management takes a backseat, but still plays an integral part. Winning games accumulates cash, which can be used to purchase new players or train up existing ones. There's a good balance between strategy and all-out action, making this mode of play thoroughly engrossing.
Although developers are gradually learning how to get the best out of the iPhone's touch-screen interface, it poses problems more often than it should. Fortunately, Vivid has invested a lot of time and effort into devising two separate control schemes equally well suited to the game's mechanics. The default option is tilt controls, which the developers are clearly trying to push as the preferred interface. This method may not be for everyone, but it works well enough. Tipping the handset in any given direction moves your players and a tap of the screen performs a shoulder barge or hurls the ball. It definitely takes longer to get used to than the alternative virtual stick option, but once you get the hang it you won't look back. The virtual stick will feel more natural to iOS users experienced with this widely-used input, though it's not without its drawbacks. The directional stick can be repositioned by dragging edges in the desired direction. Slight problems arise when you unwittingly shift it to a position of encroachment and are unable to move it back without disrupting the flow of play. However, both control methods are generally reliable aside from minor gripes.
In terms of presentation, graphics and sound have been polished, but none of Speedball 2's identity has been compromised, as is often the case with remakes. This is Speedball 2 exactly as the fans remember it. From the shouts of 'ice cream' that ring out around the stadiums to the blistering on-court action, the key ingredients that made up the original have been left intact, and the minor alterations simply bolster the product. Core gameplay also remains unchanged. While this will no doubt please the die-hards, it could be seen as a missed opportunity to rectify the complaints of old, such as witless AI and the overly-lenient difficulty level. This notwithstanding, there's still enough fun and innovation on offer here to ensnare a new generation of mobile gamers as well as those who were raised during the Amiga's heyday.
Speedball 2: Evolution is a solid fit for iOS devices and an apt celebration of old-school values. Favouring minor tweaks over dramatic overhauls, Vivid Games has delivered a remake that embraces its roots and harnesses its platform's strengths. The Amiga faithful might disagree that there was ever room for improvement, but the sharpened visuals and expanded game modes makes this a richer offering, and the inclusion of WIFI and Bluetooth multiplayer guarantees longevity. This one's a knockout.
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