Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe

“Speedball” was something we would play every year in gym class, and for those of you who never experienced it, the main thing you need to remember about the game is that, much like the Humpty Dance, no two gym teachers would ever have us play it the same way.  Usually, it was kind of like soccer, with teams trying to kick a ball into a goal, except you were allowed to use your hands if the ball came up off the ground.  Sometimes, it was more like football, with players trying to catch the ball in an end zone.  Aspects of dodgeball were occasionally involved.  You might play with everyone all at once, or there may be substitutes, who in some (but not all) versions you would be allowed to pass the ball to in a pinch.  And one time we played it with Nerf Frisbees and it was apparently perfectly legal for the girls to kick the boys in the nuts, since the gym teacher didn’t call any penalties for it.  By the way, thanks for that variation, Miss B. – I didn’t want to have kids anyway

Now while a sport with ever-changing rules could theoretically make for an awesome Genesis game – Infinitely customizable!  No two games are ever the same! – the designers played it safe and went in a different direction for Speedball 2:Brutal Deluxe, giving us a fixed set of rules that don’t change from game to game.  Can’t say I blame them, as most “real” sports don’t rewrite their rulebooks every year either, with the obvious exception of the NHL.

Sports of the future will be 75% more metallic.

Speedball in the world of Sega Genesis plays similar to soccer, except with players running with the ball in their hands and throwing it either to teammates or into the net.  As you may recall from the previous paragraph, this was one of the many versions of speedball I was a bit familiar with already.  Really though, that was more a matter of probability than anything else.  You could describe pretty much any activity at all and chances are it would have been like some version of speedball I’ve played in gym class.

Of course, the biggest difference between the Speedball I played in school and the game represented here is that the Genesis version takes place in the future.  Specifically, 2022.  There seems to be a rule amongst developers that any video game that invents a new sport must take place in the future.  Because apparently nobody could possibly imagine a world exactly like our own present day, except with one new sport in it.  Such a concept would be far too taxing on our imaginations.

And of course, if it takes place in the future, then things are going to be a bit different than they are now.  For one thing, everyone’s equipment must be made out of metal.  That’s only logical – for as long as they’ve existed, sports have always striven for equipment that is lighter, more flexible and enhances the athletes’ ability to perform – and what material possibly achieve this better than good old metal?  Naturally, a metal suit of armor, being a cutting-edge, futuristic piece of technology never seen before, is so expensive the teams can’t really afford them, so fans offer financial support not only through ticket and merchandise sales, but by actually throwing cash onto the playing field during games for the players to pick up.  Apparently “making it rain” is going to be just as popular, if not more so, in the near future.

Ultimately, one cannot play Speedball 2 and not feel a bit let down about human progress over the last 19 years.  Back in 1991, when the game was first released, it seemed perfectly believable that all of this could happen by 2022.  But we’re more than halfway to that date now, and there still isn’t a consensus on how speedball is even supposed to be played, let alone an organized league.  It’s beginning to seem far-fetched that in the next 12 years there could be anything even remotely resembling this game in real life.  How can the world be ready for armor-clad athletes playing for teams like “Brutal Deluxe” and “Violent Desire” when today’s sports seem so tame by comparison?  In a sports world that condemns athletes like Pac-Man Jones, can we really expect fans to not only embrace his behavior, but mimic it?  There was a time when I wanted to believe so, but these days I find myself having serious doubts.

Then again, maybe my disappointment stems more from the fact that this game just isn’t nearly as good as I remembered it being.  This was one of my favorite games back when I was a teenager, but playing it now, I have no idea why.  The control is loose and generally limits you to one action (throwing the ball on offense, slide tackling on defense), the game changes the player you’re controlling without warning, and you can only see a tiny, tiny portion of the play area – not really enough to find open teammates or scope out where your opponents are.  It’s almost as if the people who made it had originally tried to make a soccer game, and then when it turned out to be neither much like soccer or any fun, they decided just to change some things around and call it a brand new sport.

All those things would matter if the game had any kind of strategy to it at all, but since it’s almost completely mindless, I guess it’s not a big deal.  That’s probably not the best way to compensate such shortcomings, though.  I guess nobody suggested “make the game not suck” at their brainstorming sessions.

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