This is the first game in the series that introduced us to this popular futuristic sport. Earning above-average marks but less popularity than its more famous successor, Speedball aims at fast-paced and adrenaline-filled play, combined with simplicity - and it hits the spot!
Speedball is a very rough sport played in the future, when science makes the required equipment and body-fitness possible. It's a more violent variation of today’s contact sports, being similar to handball in that players can carry and throw the ball; only here the ball is a steel one. Each team has five players, one of them being a goalkeeper. The game is played in a narrow rectangular arena surrounded by walls, much like indoor soccer, or more precisely like five-a-side football, due to the number of players. Still, the goals are much wider, almost as in football (soccer). It may be similar to hockey in some ways, and it surely resembles American football, since players use tackles. But it is most reminiscent of another futuristic sport called “rollerball” which was seen in the movie of the same name starring James Caan (1975), although the two sports have many differences: Rollerballers wore roller skates and played with a steel ball on a circular track wearing equipment much like that in Speedball. There is even a fist hitting a hip in the game's intro, but there is no official relationship between the game and the movie.
So, there are five players per side, goals, and only one time period that lasts around two and half minutes, and no rules about how to play. Combine the lack of rules with the lack of free space, and the result is constant, fast-paced action and fighting. As you probably understand by now, players, including goalkeepers, will be beating each other as much as they can. They will run, jump, fall, throw, hit, kick, push, beat each other up, and even cheat - anything to score, defend their own goal, and win.
The controls are as simple as possible: arrow keys for directional movement and only one fire button (Enter), with a joystick also supported. You get the hang of the controls right away and only need some time to work on your speed and skills. The player you control on the field is always highlighted. When carrying the ball, hold the fire button for a second to throw the ball high or press the button quickly to throw the ball at waist height. When not carrying the ball, press the fire button to perform a sliding tackle if the ball is at waist height or to jump and try to catch the ball if it is higher in the air. When your team has the ball, you will always control the player carrying it, while the player you control when defending is changed automatically. When your goalkeeper is on the screen, you control him as well as the highlighted player, which can be tricky. The goalkeeper moves only left and right and will dive when you press the fire button. This means that you have to take care with regards to what you are doing with the infield player, or you may move your goalkeeper in the wrong direction. This may sound unfair, but your opponents have the same problem - even the computer-controlled team. That’s right; the computer uses the same behavior patterns for non-highlighted players in both teams and special ones for the highlighted player and goalkeeper.
Naturally, this game is most entertaining when playing against your friends in two-player mode. In single-player mode you can play either a knockout cup or league. You can choose between three strong teams; each team is represented by a team captain and his attributes: height, weight, stamina, power, and skill, with the last three being the most important. Although there are only three important attributes, they affect everything in the game: shooting, speed, tackling, fighting, etc. The captains represent the attributes of an entire team.
A mechanism in the floor throws the ball out at the start of the game and after each goal is scored. There are also several bumpers in the field to make the game more interesting. During the match, upgrades and coins will pop-up from the floor, and these can be picked up only by the highlighted player of either team. Upgrades may increase your attributes, make the ball invisible for a while, etc. Coins are used between two matches to perform unfair deeds, like increasing your attributes, decreasing your opponent’s attributes, bribing the referee or timer, and so forth.
The technical parts of the game are great: Its EGA graphics look very good, and everything is well designed. There will be no problems when playing the game, as nothing is too obvious, nor confusing. It's certain that you won’t always know where the ball is, but that will be the result of several players battling around the ball. Regarding the sound, only PC speakers are supported, but the game really manages to get the most out of them. The music sounds very good (it's the work of the famous David Whittaker), while sound FX in the game manage to create a good atmosphere. The players respond immediately to your controls, so everything works well and quickly.
This game may not be as popular as its more advanced successor, but at the time it appeared, it was a masterpiece for DOS. The two games have some differences in gameplay, since the arena in Speedball is much smaller and thus the game is faster. For this reason, some may prefer this one over the sequel. Some aspects may not be top-notch, and player-switching will surely give you headaches, but the game is incredibly fun and addictive. Once your skills have improved, you will have a lot of hard and fast playing matches. Sometimes it may seem as if an entire match is finished in a few seconds of non-stop battling in the arena. You can’t go wrong with this one, whether you are playing alone or with your friends.
Game works in WinXP, but use DOSBox to lower the cycles. Use EGA.EXE for EGA graphics etc.