Speedball is the sport of the future. A rough, tough game where only the strong survive.
Inspired by the film Rollerball, in which James Caan plays a futuristic gladiator, Speedball is a vicious sport of the future where no prisoners are taken. Punching your opponent and bribing the officials are essential tactics.
These guys are mean. If you thought Wimbledon's Vinny Jones was a bit of a lad then forget it. He wouldn't last five seconds with these crash-helmeted bruisers.
Speedball players dress to kill. An opening sequence shows on of the players pulling on a leather glove, impregnated with metal studs.
Their metal and leather garb sets the scene for the game which is very absorbing to play - as well as creating a totally believable sci-fi world.
The game itself is fought out between two five-a-side teams. The metal ball spins out from a revolving dispenser which comes up out of the centre of the pitch and sinks down again once the ball is in play.
The action is fast and furious as the five players scroll up and down screen on the relatively small play area.
The ball can be bounced off walls - thrown or punched nearly the entire length of the pitch and almost anything is allowed in the frenzied struggle to get the ball in the net.
If you have ever played Xenon you will notice an immediate similarity. The hallmark of the hot new programming team - the Bitmap Brothers - is their neat metallic graphic effects and smoothness of scrolling. Speedball is near perfect in these two departments.
There's bags of strategy in the game. Passing is difficult but worthwhile. Just like any good computer soccer game, the key to it is making the passing of the ball a key element of gameplay. Moving the ball one player to another, gaining ground, and positioning your attacker to make a strike.
Further strategy elements are offered by the revolving coins that appear on the pitch periodically. Your players have to grab as many as possible to trade at the end of each game for extra speed, stamina and power.
Building the team is essential as Speedball is on a league table basis with full save game facilities for maximum long term enjoyment.
There are eleven teams in the league with their names taken from Greek mythology. The team captains are also named and the game gives you a full status report on each squad.
The Bitmap's couldn't resist getting a little plug in for their shoot-'em-up Xenon. One team captain being named after the game.
As well as the trading element with the coins, there are also eight letters and a question mark. When picked up these range in their effects from reversing the joystick direction, decreasing your opponent's stamina, getting the ball automatically, freezing your opponent and making you tackle-proof.Off the ball gamesmanship includes a feature where you can punch an opponent if neither of you are in possession and my notes on the game include this charming little tip - "Another plot is to lob the ball towards the opponent's goal from halfway upfield, then foul the goalie with another player as he attempts to catch it".
The real key to Speedball is mastering the art of passing and catching - the ball can be plucked from the air by making your player leap by pressing the fire button.
There are a number of moves that can be implemented with the joystick which all add up to making Speedball must more than a mad dash around the pitch in an attempt to score goals.
Playing against the computer in Speedball is fun but is really only for practice. This game comes into its own as a two player challenge.
It is difficult to fault Speedball. You know as soon as it boots that you have a piece of quality software in your computer. If I were to pick on anything I would say that the sound effects could have been improved together with the method of picking up and using lettered power ups.
That said, Speedball is going to be a monster hit. It turns the well worn sci-fi theme of future sports into a thumping good computer game.